Anyone who grew up, as I did, in Britain in the 1960s, well remembers the arrival into the British cultural midst of Rupert Murdoch. Like an Australian cross between Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan -- but without their charm and intellect. First he took over the UK Sunday-only tabloid -- the News Of The World. Then he very craftily acquired a middle-market daily newspaper, the Sun -- which at that point was a reasonably respected, center-left paper of middlebrow nature. A genial USA Today type of paper. For example, it had been commended for its coverage of the Biafran war.
Murdoch's smarts told him that he could profit mightily if only there was a permanent Conservative government in power in the UK. But how to do that when working class people selfishly insisted on voting for their own economic interests rather than those of Rupert? BINGO! It suddenly hit Rupert. Find a way to seduce working class people away from their natural instincts.
He decided to do that by creating a tabloid newspaper that would play to the inner "Alf Garnett" (the British TV sitcom character that was the direct inspiration for the Archie Bunker character) that he reasoned was inside every working-class Englishman. Lure them in with bare breasts (cue: the Page 3 Girls, a daily cascade of topless models. And damn, how it demeaned and cheapened women to parade them in a "family" newspaper this way). Add in garish headlines, bold graphics, simplistic sloganeering -- and then feed them a steady drip-drip diet of poison against progressive causes, women, unions, teachers, minorities, gays, students, idealists, peace-lovers, nuclear-protesters. Cynical reactionary stuff. And it worked.
It was a prototype of the game-plan he later used for the New York Post and Fox News.
(FCC regulations and American sensibilities precluded the use of topless models on Fox News so for that enterprise he has substituted brainless models with yellow hair).
By the time of the 1979 UK general election, the Sun had a vast working-class readership (partly lured in by lust) that had surpassed the previous tabloid leader -- the reliably left-of-center Daily Mirror. And the readers of the Sun had had a decade of vitriol drip-poured into their brains. And they proceeded to blindly follow the heartless, shrewish harridan Margaret Thatcher. Just as Murdoch wanted. Ushering in a cruel 18 years of Conservative Party rule that shredded the very fabric of British society and destroyed the infrastructure by selling off the nation's assets (such as North Sea Oil) to fund a bonanza of tax cuts for the wealthy. And this launched a golden economic boom for the Murdoch News International and News Corp. empire. And helped fund his expansion into polluting and poisoning America's media, cultural and political landscape.
It was reprehensible, but entirely understandable, that Tony Blair -- the leader of the British Labour Party (the Conservative Party's left-wing rivals) made an accommodation with Murdoch in the mid-late 1990s. Sort of like the cynical 1939 Non-Aggression Pact between Hitler and Stalin. It actually lasted longer. Until 2009, when Murdoch ratted on his new Labour Party ally and switched back to supporting his natural Conservative cronies.
Blair wanted power for his many-years-in-opposition Labour Party and he felt that it was essential to neutralize Murdoch's traditional support for the Conservatives. Murdoch was open to switching sides because Blair's party was going to win the next election anyway -- and Rupert was -- in the wonderfully incisive words of Tom Lehrer -- "a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience..."
Ultimately Murdoch has always been a man without conscience or qualm. To quote another couplet from the same Lehrer song about Nazi Germany's supreme military rocket scientist: "'Once ze rockets are up, who cares vhere zey come down. Zat's not my department!' - says Wernher von Braun".
The revelations of the last two weeks are no surprise to those who have followed the adventures of the scruples-free Rupert Murdoch. His is the law of the jungle. The only rule is that Rupert wins.
And who has been laughing most at the recent plight -- and dare we pray perhaps even the downfall -- of this venal buccaneer? From whence do these golden shafts of revelation emanate that illuminate the rotten state of Murdoch?
Why from heaven of course! They are glorious Pennies From Heaven.
That would be the heaven resided in by the late Dennis Potter. The brilliant writer of the 1981 movie Pennies From Heaven and the superb 1978 BBC TV series of the same name (starring Bob Hoskins) that was the source and foundation of the film.
In his famous last TV interview in April 1994, just months before he died from pancreatic cancer, Potter revealed that he had, with apt wit, named his cancer "Rupert" in honor of Murdoch and his contributions to Britain:
As a writer you will know that one of the favourite fantasy plots is where a character's told you've got three months to live, and who would you kill? I call my cancer Rupert. Because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time (I've got too much writing to do)... I would shoot the bugger if I could. There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press. And the pollution of the press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it's an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.
It was Dennis Potter who really understood exactly what Rupert Murdoch was. A cancer on the body politic.
We who live in the USA have also suffered for the past 25 years. The damage wrought on our culture and politics by Murdoch's Fox News and its cynical manipulation of gullible Americans helped lead to the "election" of Bush in 2000 and his narrow re-election in 2004. It fuels the putrid political climate we live in and the non-stop attempts since presidential election night 2008 to traduce and destroy the Obama presidency.
Does anyone seriously think that the poisonous culture that Murdoch engendered in the UK, miraculously stopped at the English shores of the Atlantic Ocean? Ha! Like the odious mind-set that Richard Nixon inspired in his administration, Murdoch's spawn and staff have spread his gospel and modus operandi throughout his empire. Let no one be surprised at what may be revealed from vigorous investigation of Murdoch and his rotten News Corpse in the coming months.
And as Rupert Murdoch's disgusting empire continues to disintegrate in Britain and starts to unravel in the US -- raise a glass to the courageous and perceptive Dennis Potter. Who named his cancer "Rupert" and who alerted everyone to Murdoch Most Foul...
For the record, Martin Lewis is delighted to state that he has never worked for Rupert Murdoch, never sought or wanted to work for Rupert Murdoch, never will work for Rupert Murdoch. This column is dedicated to the great Dennis Potter, RIP.