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So the US election is over and in theory at least 'the people have spoken'. Strangely the people have spoken in the one poll that matters very, very differently to the polls that preceded them. Just like Brexit.
At the moment everyone is crapping themselves about the Donald. But what if the Donald is actually only a symptom of a deeper malaise. A malaise that takes reality and twists it beyond all recognition. What if manufacturing consent has become conjuring mandates out of thin air. What if the problem is Rupert Murdoch?
Look at it this way. Murdoch wanted a Liberal victory in his native Australia in 2013. There was a Liberal victory in Australia in 2013. Against the rational economic interests of the UK Murdoch wanted Brexit. Brexit (despite all the polls saying to the contrary) was the result of the referendum. Murdoch switched to Trump in May 2016 and again, against all the polls, Trump wins.
If Rupert Murdoch wasn't the owner of a huge media empire, which was caught in Britain using hacking techniques in order to gain leverage over politicians (in addition to the considerable media power his outlets already have), one might think this was simply coincidence. But Murdoch's whole business is peddling influence. Who does he influence? Voters and politicians.
Murdoch is big in Australia, the UK and the United States. Murdoch is not big in Canada, Ireland or New Zealand. You may have noticed the Canadians elected Justin Trudeau of the centrist Liberal party in October 2015. But you may not have noticed that Ireland elected the progressive centrist Fine Gael in February 2016. New Zealand's National Party is nominally right centrist but libertarian parties on its right have not thrived. While elections in Canada, Ireland and New Zealand are robust contests they are largely free of the xenophobia, division and conquest that has accompanied recent Australian, British and US experience.
In 2013 (from Wikipedia)"News Corp papers were accused of supporting the campaign of the Australian Liberal government and influencing public opinion during the 2013 federal election. Following the announcement of the Liberal Party victory at the polls, Murdoch tweeted 'Aust. election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Other nations to follow in time.'"
Fast forward to the US in 2016. Trump didn't need to buy media. He got given it for free. Certainly he spouted headlines that would have not looked out of place in the Sun. With aggressive, unfair, dishonorable and unrelenting sound bites Trump muscled his way into the channels that fed working America's fear and resentment.The two worked together hand in glove.
Has Murdoch done anything illegal? Nobody has proved he had any direct knowledge of the phone hacking scandal in the UK but he has certainly stood by those staff who did time for it. Proving anything against a billionaire media tycoon takes some doing. Silvio Berlusconi's sole conviction was for tax fraud - he got off underage sex on appeal and his alleged links to the mafia are mere footnotes. Berlusconi conveniently remained in Italy while Murdoch's empire spans three seperate jurisdictions.
But illegality isn't the issue. Like the big banks who largely bypassed accountability because they were too large and too important to be interrupted with boring matters like prudence and fiduciary duty, (and lacking any direct evidence) it isn't the letter of the law that I raise here.
The simple fact is that Murdoch doesn't just own media like Michael Bloomberg. Murdoch weilds power. He isn't frightened to be completely partisan in distorting the public space with savage unrelenting media attacks to suit his own political ends. Like Bloomberg, Murdoch is a politician but unlike Bloomberg he's not elected nor has he ever been accountable to anyone. Indeed his method is to make the politicians accountable to him.
Obviously becoming the proxy for the people is not a new idea. Lenin as leader of the Bolsheviks was the first to act in the name of the people but without accountability to them. But it is Adolf Hitler who delighted in bitter divisions and emnity who became the manipulator of the people through vicious language and appeal to basest instincts that Murdoch most resembles. Like Hitler, Murdoch spawns hatred and remains gleefully unaccountable for his actions.
As with the big banks the solution is obvious. The tendency toward monopoly that is innate to capitalism has been allowed to develop out of control. Where the banks have run away with the money supply media moguls like Murdoch have cornered the influence market. Like the big banks which have created an environment where intervention is almost impossible so too has Murdoch created a political niche that is almost unassailable.
Murdoch himself must die in the not so distant future. The man himself, while problematic, is not the issue. What matters is the systematic subversion of the public space he has been able to pursue. Unless this is structurally denied by new forms of regulation and democratic control the institutions of democracy will whither and die.
As in the 1930s I fear we live in an era where the idea of democracy must fight if it is to survive. If this is true let us, at least, be clear who democracy's most virulent enemies really are.
Friday, November 11, 2016
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Posted by Peter King at 1:44 PM