I love Jonathan Schell’s books on nuclear weapons, The Fate of the Earth (1982) and The Seventh Decade (2007). In the same clear, unabashed style, he throws down big knowledge about the News Corp phone-hacking scandal.
The Murdochs call News Corporation a journalistic enterprise. In fact, it is, first, an entertainment company, with the bulk of its revenue coming from its film and television holdings. Second, and more importantly, it is a propaganda machine for right-wing causes and political figures.
This is News Corporation’s main face in the US, in the form of Fox News, whose hallmark has been relentless propagation of right-wing ideology. Whereas political propaganda had once been the domain of governments and political parties, Fox News is formally independent of both – though itoverwhelmingly serves the interests of America’s Republican Party.
In Britain, News Corporation has been creating a sort of state unto itself by corrupting the police, assuming police powers of surveillance, and intimidating politicians into looking the other way. In the US, it has behaved similarly, using corporate media power to breathe life into a stand-alone political organization, the Tea Party.
All of this is far removed from what a journalistic organization is supposed to do. Journalism’s essential role in a democracy is to enable people to fulfill their roles as citizens by providing information about government, other powerful institutions, civil movements, international events, and so on. But News Corporation replaces such journalism with titillation and gossip, as it did when it took over the 168-year-old News of the World and turned it into a tabloid in 1984, and with partisan campaigns, as it did when it created Fox News in 1996.
Not surprisingly, at Fox News, as at many other News Corporation outlets, editorial independence is sacrificed to iron-fisted centralized control. News and commentary are mingled in an uninterrupted stream of political campaigning. Ideology trumps factuality. And major Republican figures, including possible contenders for the party’s presidential nomination, are hired as “commentators.” Indeed, its specific genius has been to turn propaganda into a popular and financial success.
Given The News of the World’s profitability, no one should be surprised if the Murdochs have been replicating their sunken British flagship’s reprehensible behavior elsewhere. But, whatever else is revealed, the UK phone-hacking scandal is of a piece with the Murdochs’ transformation of news into propaganda: both reflect an assault on democracy’s essential walls of separation between media, the state, and political parties. The Murdochs are fusing these entities into a single unaccountable power that, as we see in Britain today, lacks any restraint or scruple.