Rupert Murdoch is a man whose lack of ethics should preclude him from being within shouting distance of journalism. Yet he is the world’s most powerful media mogul. He owns hundreds of publishing outlets around the world, including The Sun and The Times of London newspapers in the UK; The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, and The Australian in Australia; The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post in the U.S.; book publisher HarperCollins; and the TV channels Sky News Australia and Fox News.
He may also be the most powerful man in the English-speaking world. He can make and break presidents and prime ministers. Without Murdoch’s Fox News, Trump may very well have never become president. And no politician has become prime minister of Great Britain without Murdoch’s blessing since Margaret Thatcher eased the nation’s monopoly rules for him. The relationship between Murdoch and Labour PM Tony Blair was once described as “almost incestuous.”
Murdoch is s caricature capitalist. Making money consumes him. His mantra is give the audience what it wants. And if that means bringing journalism into the sewer and corrupting democracy in the process, both of which he has done, so be it. The Murdochs have been aptly referred to as “the first family of disinformation.”
Giving the rabble what they want in journalism is akin to giving the fans in the Roman Colosseum what they wanted even if it meant lions eating Christians. Hard on the Christians but great for the bottom line.
Typical of Murdoch’s values is Fox News, infamous for its mix of lies, fearmongering and right-wing propaganda, whatever pleases its rabid readership. In the 1940s, philosopher William Hocking, warned about how a publication and its readers could create a closed system that was rage-filled, self-reinforcing, and profitable. A prescient vision of Murdoch and Fox.
Now Fox is being held to account. It is being sued for $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems, purveyor of electronic voting hardware and software. Dominion was widely used in the 2024 presidential election and has been accused by Trump and his supporters of deleting and switching votes intended for Trump. There is, needless to say, no evidence of such behaviour and Dominion is demanding satisfaction. And waiting in the wings is yet another case against Fox by an elections company, Smartmatic International, this one for $2.7 billion. The New York state supreme court has ruled the case can proceed.
Murdoch was forced to close one of his flagship newspapers in the UK, the News of the World, in 2011 due to its scandalous, and even illegal, behaviour. The paper, like Fox News, like feeding Christians to the lions, was hugely popular, at one time the world’s highest-selling English-language newspaper. One can only wish a similar fate for Fox.
Looking at this from a democratic perspective, the purpose of the mass media is to serve the public, not advertisers and not billionaires, and it best serves the public by maintaining high standards for both reporting and opinion. Its purpose is served by providing an account of the day’s events that is truthful, comprehensive, intelligent and in context.
This has never been more necessary than now as we are plagued by digital platforms that, free of thoughtful editing and fact-checking, disregard fairness, accuracy and context. We are in need of more journalistic rigour, not less, not Murdoch/Fox.
Journalism requires wide latitude in order to do its job of providing us with news and views across a healthy range of fact and opinion. That includes latitude for honest mistakes. But there is no room for deliberate liars and their lies, for conveyors of disinformation.
According to Forbes, Murdoch has a net worth of $17.5 billion, so if Dominion should prevail and win $1.6 billion the old rascal won’t land in the poorhouse, but it would send a much-needed message. We have put a public trust largely into private hands and we should demand that they honour that trust.
I had barely posted the above when it was announced that, just after jury selection, Dominion and Fox settled. Fox will pay Dominion $787.5 million and has admitted they lied. A Dominion lawyer aptly commented: “Lies have consequences.”
Next up is Smartmatic and they can hardly wait, as can I. A spokesperson for the company said, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest.” Bring it on.