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Think Again: Rupert Murdoch and the Myriad Means of Misinformation

SOURCE: AP/David Karp

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is an empire of many media properties in many places—all of which are at the disposal of political conservatism.

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Much of the media world is understandably agog at the size of the million-dollar donation Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation gave to the Republican Governors Association, or RGA. “Looking at the quotes from News Corp, they seem pretty open and comfortable with what they are doing,” said Amy Mitchell, the deputy director of Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “I don’t think News Corp is trying to deny or step away from what these actions suggest. I think the most important thing is, we don’t know why they are doing it.”

Jack Horner, a spokesperson for the company, explains that News Corp. has always believed in the power of free markets, and organizations like the RGA, which have a pro-business agenda, “support our priorities at this most critical time for our economy.” The New York Times reported, however, that “a late-afternoon search of Fox News’ Web site produced no mention of it.” Nothing to see here. Keep moving along.

To be sure, it was an audacious move. After all, the RGA is not exactly hurting for cash. According to Politico, the Democratic Governors Association lags $18 million behind the RGA in fundraising for the first six months of the year. Nathan Daschle, the DGA’s executive director, said what many were undoubtedly thinking when he observed, “Time and time again, Fox News has defended itself against accusations that it is nothing more than a tool of the Republican Party. We know now that the reality is so much worse: they’re bankrolling the GOP.”

But while media commentary focuses exclusively on News Corp’s ownership of Fox News, this misses much of the point. The News Corp empire is vast and wide, and it deliberately slants the news while shamelessly promoting blatant disinformation in platform after platform all over the world.

Ask yourself, why does News Corp continue to publish a newspaper, The New York Post, which loses—according to Murdoch family sources—in the area of $50 million a year? Is it because the company is so proud of this terrible tabloid? Hard to believe. And why did Murdoch pay so high a premium to purchase The Wall Street Journal, an “investment” that has already cost the company billions and will certainly keep doing so as its value continues to diminish over time?

Murdoch controls so many media properties in so many places that the notion of focusing on one single donation to one group might be considered trivial by comparison. The entire empire is at the disposal of political conservatism. The Republican Governors Association is just one more vehicle.

In Antonio Gramsci’s now-famous prison notebooks discovered long after his death, the Italian communist philosopher identified, in the words of one of his interpreters, “an order in which a certain way of life and thought is dominant, in which one concept of reality is infused throughout society in all its institutional and private manifestations, informing with its spirit all taste, morality, customs, religious and political principles, and all social relations, particularly in their intellectual and moral connotations.”

This is what the Murdoch empire is all about. And it is why, as I addressed last week, his obsession with purchasing The Wall Street Journal makes so much sense.

This influence extends even to the Journal’s arts and leisure pages. (Murdoch publications make no distinction between art and politics, in the tradition of doctrinaire Stalinism.) Take a look, for instance, at a review that appeared on its pages on August 16 of Tom Geoghegan’s new book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by James K. Glassman.

According to the reviewer, the book is a “meandering stream of consciousness” by “an admitted nonexpert” who “details various boring conversations he had with anonymous Germans and Frenchmen he bumped into, drops a few statistics, cites some books and comes to the conclusion that we Americans would lead richer lives if only we adopted European social and economic policy—especially the part about high taxes…”

Glassman rebukes the book by arguing “Europe’s economic story in recent years—well before the current crisis—has been one of sluggish growth and high unemployment. As a result, a wide gap has opened up between Europe and the U.S. in the most revealing indicator of economic well-being, GDP per capita.”

This is an old story and one Mr. Gramsci would appreciate. Conservatives so consistently denigrate the amazing achievements of 21st century Europeans that one can’t help but wonder what has them so worried.

“If you want a lower standard of living,” conservative policy experts Grace-Marie Turner and Robert Moffit argued in a December 2006 op-ed, “the Europeans have the right prescription.” Their argument echoes views popular across the conservative spectrum, from Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson (“Europe is history’s has-been”) to the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg (“Europe has an asthmatic economy”) to The New York Times pundit David Brooks (“The European model is flat-out unsustainable”).

Conservatives have been making exactly these arguments for roughly five decades now, yet these same European nations have by almost every measurement—individual rights and community, capitalist enterprise and social solidarity, and even personal mobility—proven superior to the United States, as Geohegan’s book demonstrates.

Mr. Glassman believes per capita income to be the most valuable measure of a nation’s worth—as if I am somehow wealthier because some Citigroup trader who works in my city but pays little or no taxes there pulled down a hundred million this year. This is nonsense.

The current cover story of Newsweek ranks the quality of life in nations across the globe based on five categories of national well-being—education, health, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and political environment—and compiles metrics within these categories across 100 nations. The United States did not even make it into the top 10. Finland is number one—quite understandably if you’ve ever read anything about what life is like there—and most of the rest are also in Europe, particularly northern Europe, where tax rates are highest.

If Glassman had read Geoghegan’s “boring…nonexpert” arguments, he might have learned why. For instance, Americans work an average of 1,841 hours per years, while Germans work 1,473 hours. Yet 24.7 percent of elderly and 21.9 percent of children in the United States fall below 50 percent of median income, compared to 10.1 percent of elderly and 9 percent of children in Germany. France, Germany, and Sweden provide paid maternity leave, paid paternity leave, expanded holidays, shorter workweeks, and nursing home benefits. The United States provides none of these benefits.

Of course, millions more will see Glassman’s review than will ever get their hands on the book. What’s more, the myths the review purposely perpetuates will be consistent with the propaganda people receive in so many other places, like, for instance, Fox News. (Is it any wonder that more Americans are convinced that Barack Obama is a Muslim than at the beginning of his presidency when one considers the popularity of Fox News?)

And so the circle will be complete and no one will even have to address the fact of so many European nations’ success and American failure in providing the majority of their citizens with the health, housing, and economic security necessary to pursue “happiness” in a meaningful way.

I happen to subscribe to the Journal and to have read Mr. Geoghegan’s fine, albeit quirky new book. But I feel confident that this experiment would work with pretty much any one of Murdoch’s “news” oriented properties.

Oh, and one more thing. In Glassman’s author ID he is identified as “former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs” and “is executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.” All true, but the man is too modest. Mr. Glassman is also the author of the infamous work, Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market. The book is filled with advice about stock picking, portfolio allocation, and buying mutual funds. I’m guessing that readers who listened to him last time might know better this time around. How interesting, however, that the editors of the Journal—like the Bush administration—did not.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His most recent book is, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals . His "Altercation" blog appears sporadically here and he is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.

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Radio: Chelsea Kiene
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This is part of a regular column: Think Again

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