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The Murdoch Muscle

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Before you know it, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is going to own the news, and we don't hear a peep from the press, or the mainstream media.

In his bid to buy Dow Jones for $5 billion, last week, the Australian-born owner of Fox News, Harper Collins, the New York Post, and The Times of London offered an unprecedented $60 a share for the company's remaining stock options, and nobody blinked, except members of the Bancroft family, owners of the Wall Street Journal, and controlling stockholders of Dow Jones. But, insiders say, that for $10 a share more, the Bancrofts, too, may be willing to give it up for Rupert Murdoch.

Not only is no one in the mainstream media speaking out against the proposed takeover, but some even suggest it might not be a bad idea for this master at corporate monopoly to have his way with Dow Jones, and the Journal, arguing that, if a bit disfigured, the news will survive. After all, salmonella kills people, not sensationalism. And, if anybody's squawking, it must be behind closed doors where only family members can hear. Where is outrage at the thought that, sooner rather than later, the Wall Street Journal will look just like the New York Post, and Fox News? Where is the angst not merely from the public, but from the press corps that a company called News Corp. can buy and sell what we read? No one is asking what will happen to dissent, and a free press when big business and big news merge. Corporate profit, which has consumed the heart and soul of America, as well as the middle class, now looks to devour the information age like a bowl of sushi.

If he prevails, and acquires Dow Jones, Mr. Murdoch will lay claim to the second largest paper in the country, and the lion's share of newspaper profit. And, Rupert Murdoch will, once again, get to demonstrate his unfailing ability to flex, censor, and sway his way to the top. But, allowing for inflation, the $60 million question is, while he's had his eye on the Wall Street Journal for many years, why is the Fox News owner so hot for the Journal now, this close to a crucial presidential race? Having watched the Murdoch muscle at work, over the past decade or so, a pattern emerges, one that is as transparent as it is trans-fat.

Arguably, only a shark has a better sense of smell than Rupert Murdoch. He already has The Times of London in his pocket, and has expressed more than a passing interest in that paper's leading competitor, The Financial Times, showing not merely how much he wants to be the big fish, but that he can ably breakfast, lunch, and dine on his competition. So, it's not too big a stretch to think that, having had his fill of Dow and the Journal, Mr. M. may have a craving for USA Today, the only paper with a larger circulation than the Wall Street Journal.

But, newspaper consolidation isn't the only thing we have to fear from Rupert Murdoch. His devout conservatism and penchant for silencing his opposition, as well as his well-documented campaigns against anything contrarian, may prove especially precarious in these times when not only the Journal, but every print newspaper is hemorrhaging readership as a result of the Internet.

For a look at how Murdoch challenges diversity of opinion, one has only to go back to the days when he acquired The Village Voice, some twenty years ago, to see that, while he likes to make money, he also has another agenda. Shortly after his takeover, two of the Voice's most liberal investigative reporters, Joe Conason and Wayne Barrett were let go. Murdoch's battle of the bilge includes, but is not limited to, purging his opposition in ways that would make Stalin envious. While Mr. Barrett was hired back, the message came through, loud and clear; don't mess with Rupert Murdoch. The Murdoch rubric appears to be comply, or perish.

Word has it that he hasn't even taken over yet, but has already mentioned to reporters, at the Journal, that he doesn't like "long stories" which, many think, is code for the fact that he doesn't want investigative work, and that only those will survive who tow the party line. And, which party would that be? The party that Fox endorses, of course. The party that wants to bring you the next president of the United States, a man Mr. Murdoch has had his eye on for almost as long as the Wall Street Journal.

The only time he appears to deviate from his rank and file Republican conservatism is when it lines his pocket as is the case with Hong Kong, and his tacit agreement to look the other way with regard to human rights abuses in Communist China, as well as to bend to the wishes of Chinese censors. Indeed, Murdoch went along with redacting anything pejorative about Communist China long before Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google caved in to demands of censors from Beijing.

Showing his capacity to flex his censor muscle, in the spring of 1998, Murdoch stopped Harper Collins from publishing the memoirs of one-time Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, because he alleged human rights abuses by Communist China. Murdoch himself sat down with a draft of East and West, Patten's book, and "ordered senior managers at Harper Collins to tone down the criticism of Chinese leadership." (Toronto Star) Clearly, Mr. Murdoch doesn't like it when anybody has something bad to say about his friends in Communist China.

Similarly, a few months later, Murdoch made it clear that he wouldn't want anyone to say anything bad about another friend, Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. Later that year, Fox Television dropped a television drama based on a book, Strange Justice, by (quell coincidence) two Wall Street Journal reporters that concluded that Anita Hill's allegations against Thomas were accurate. Once again, the News Corp. owner got his hands on the book, and demanded that the TV project be scrapped telling a colleague only that he was friends with Justice Thomas, and that Thomas had been "railroaded" in the court proceedings. And, Murdoch based his decision only on the book; he didn't bother to read the screenplay before stopping the teledrama dead in its tracks. Who cares about divine right of kings when we have divine right of publishers!

Aside from his loyalty to conservative Justice Thomas, that same month, that same year, 1998, Rupert Murdoch hosted a fundraiser for Senator John McCain who, at the time, conveniently happened to be chairman of the committee that oversees the Federal Communications Commissions. In a fundraiser invite, Murdoch called McCain "an outspoken leader for the telecommunications industry." (NYTimes) I'm sure at least one Republican presidential candidate will take one huge sigh of relief should Mr. Murdoch take the helm of Dow Jones, and the second largest newspaper in the country. How expedient to have, as a friend, the owner of Fox News, the New York Post, The Times of London, and now Dow Jones? That is, unless somebody wakes up before their snooze alarm goes off.

It isn't just the war the press has gone to sleep on. Who's been busy running the farm when we've been out betting it? If Murdoch prevails in his bid for Dow Jones, he may not just buying the Wall Street Journal, but the 2008 presidential election, as well.

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