If Rupert Murdoch were the Angel Gabriel, you still wouldn't want him owning the sun, the moon, and the stars. That's too much prime real estate for even the pure in heart.
But Rupert Murdoch is no saint; he is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power he's carnivorous: all appetite and no taste. He'll eat anything in his path. Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract or the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash. He hires lobbyists the way Imelda Marcos bought shoes, and stacks them in his cavernous closet, along with his conscience; this is the man, remember, who famously kowtowed to the Communist overlords of China, oppressors of their own people, to protect his investments there.
The ambitious can't resist his blandishments, nor his power to get or keep them in office where they can return his favors. Mae West would be green with envy at his little black book of conquests: Tory Margaret Thatcher, Labor's Tony Blair, George Bush. Even Jimmy Carter couldn't say no. Now, Bill and Hillary Clinton, who know which side of their bread is buttered, like having it slathered by their new buddy Rupert. Our media and political system has turned into a mutual protection racket.
You will not be surprised to learn that Murdoch's company paid little or no federal income tax over the past four years. His powerful portfolio positions him to claim a big stake in Yahoo and his takeover of The Wall Street Journal, now owned by the Bancroft family, which, like Adam and Eve, the parents of us all, are tempted to sell their birthright for a wormy apple.
Murdoch and The Journal's editorial page are made for each other. They've both pursued the right's corporate and political agenda of the past quarter century. Both venerate what The Journal editorials call the "animal spirits" of business. But The Journal's newsroom is another matter -- there facts are sacred and independence revered. Rupert Murdoch has told the Bancrofts he'll not meddle with the reporting. But he's accustomed to using journalism as a personal spittoon. In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, he turned the dogs of war loose in the newsrooms of his empire and they howled for blood. Murdoch himself said the greatest thing to come out of the war would be "$20 a barrel for oil."
Of course he wasn't the only media mogul to clamor for war. And he's not the first to use journalism to promote his own interests. His worst offense with FOX News is not even its baldly partisan agenda. Far worse is the travesty he's made of its journalism. FOX News huffs and puffs, pontificates and proclaims, but does little serious original reporting. His tabloids sell babes and breasts, gossip and celebrities. Now he's about to bring under the same thumb one of the few national newsrooms remaining in the country.
But the problem isn't just Rupert Murdoch. His pursuit of The Wall Street Journal is the latest in a cascading series of mergers, buy-outs, and other financial legerdemain that are making a shipwreck of journalism. Public minded newspapers are being dumped by their owners for wads of cash or crippled by cost cutting while their broadcasting cousins race to the bottom. Murdoch is just the predator of the hour. The modern maestro of a financial marketplace ruled by money and moguls. Instead of checking the excesses of private and public power, these 21st century barons of the First Amendment revel in them; the public be damned.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of the weekly public affairs program "Bill Moyers Journal," which airs Friday night on PBS. This essay appears on tonight's program and you can watch a preview here.
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