A cancer on our democracy

“I know perfectly well that it can’t last. Whatever we think, we are courtiers in an oriental Sultanate, and there is a corps of janissaries, with bowstrings at the ready, at the palace door.”  Hugh Trevor Roper

Imagine half a million Australians, a record 501,876 to be precise, petition for a royal commission into your patron, rabid reactionary, Rupert Murdoch, billionaire media monopolist and monster powerbroker. Does our PM, whose Liberal Party is effectively a wholly-owned subsidiary of News Corp, act democratically?

No. Head Office steps in. Sharri Markson and Richard Ferguson of Murdoch’s The Australian publish an article, Kevin Rudd’s Bangladeshi ‘bots’ in media royal commission petition, Thursday 11 February, quoting a “Nicholas Smith”, who claims to have paid an overseas freelancer to “sign” the petition “hundreds of times” in order to “demonstrate to you how easy it is to manipulate our own government’s website”.

Smear tactics. Neither mud-slinger Markson, nor feckless Ferguson take the next responsible step: concede that even without this stunt, there are more names on Rudd’s e-petition that any other. Ever.

And just who is this Smith and his podcast The Turncoat? The story is a fake.  SBS notes that The Turncoat’s Facebook page is littered with posts that have been flagged as misinformation, baseless claims about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, and others, expressing support for President Trump.

Shades of Craig Kelly, MP for Hughes, who despite his dressing down from his PM, immediately returns to Facebook to promote more toxic nonsense about fake cures for Covid-19 and to sow doubt about vaccines. Former furniture rep Kelly appears regularly from his chair on Murdoch’s Sky News, beaming his dangerous disinformation around the country and  -via the internet- around the globe – from whence it came.

There’s a restless, recycling in Kelly’s quest. As Crikey’s David Hardaker observes, “the outrageous nonsense spouted by the renegade Liberal MP is mostly spun from generic alt-right conspiracies and ideas.”

News Corp also loves nonsense. Dr Daniel Angus, Associate Professor of Digital Communication at the Queensland University of Technology says The Australian’s story is a “beat-up” and “bereft of any substance.” Dr Timothy Graham, Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at the Queensland University of Technology, who researches bots and misinformation, notes that there is no evidence that Kevin Rudd is linked to the bots.

“The headline of this article is misleading because it tries to weaponise the context of the fact that yes, it is possible to game these systems or any number of petitions,” he tells SBS. “The only influence is the unnamed individual, who paid someone overseas.”

The Ferguson – Markson abortive muck-raking comes on top of a slew of smears including alleged links between Rudd and Jeffrey Epstein. Almost every Murdoch paper runs a story about the International Peace Institute, chaired by Rudd, accepting US$650,000 from Epstein’s charities between 2011 and 2019.

Rudd says he convened a board meeting on December 4, 2019, to recommend an amount comparable to Epstein’s donations to the IPI be forwarded to charity. He said it was important to remember that Epstein’s foundations were donating millions of dollars to “dozens and dozens of charitable organisations” and he had never “to his knowledge” met him.

“I recommended to the board, and the board accepted my recommendation, that a donation of comparable amount be made to a charity, so that we would not in any way be a beneficiary of the cumulative donations from Epstein over a long period of time,” he tells ABC radio on Thursday, adding that he regarded Epstein as an “odious character in the extreme”.

Enter the Daily Telegraph, a Murdoch paper which defamed Michael Towke who was pre-selected hands down 82-8 for Cook, in July 2007. The Tele ran four articles, by four different journalists, two of them very senior. They defamed him, destroyed his political career, and caused untold stress to his family.

”These stories sent my mother to hospital. ‘They demonised me. I wanted to confront them in court.”

The false stories also caused the Liberal Party to rescind his nomination, allowing Scott Morrison to walk unelected into the seat. Never lacking in creativity, the Tele now tries a Hunter Biden yarn.

In this surreal spin, jailed business partner of presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter claims ex-PM Kevin Rudd was coming to one of their company’s banquets in order to celebrate a controversial Chinese takeover deal. But Rudd was in London and Abu Dhabi that week, as ABC’s Media Watch’s Paul Barry points out. But that doesn’t stop Murdoch hacks, from just making stuff up. Take a bow, Peta Credlin.

Sky hack Peta Credlin is forced to apologise for falsely calling Rudd’s petition just “a data-harvesting exercise”, part of a defamation settlement. “An egomaniacal fantasist, notes the AFR’s Joe Aston, Credlin is a flack who derided the jabbering nobodies and has-beens on Sky News while deciding which prestigious corporate role she would accept post-politics, only to become a jabbering has-been on Sky News.”

Murdoch allegedly colluded with miner, broadcaster and warmonger, Kerry Stokes, to help Morrison knife his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull. How dare Kevin Rudd get up an e-petition to call for a royal commission into  the Murdoch empire’s ways and means? Of course, the empire strikes back. And misses. Spectacularly.

But there are more ways to kill a porcupine than smothering it with lotus petals. The PM steps up. Or does he? What would you do if you were Murdoch’s minion, Scott Morrison? Or Morrison’s catspaw? Organise an award, of course. Time it to coincide with Straya Day, a national holiday, 26 January, now colonised by its largely Liberal Party Committee to reward supporters and obscure the sordid reality of European invasion.

Thus “His Excellency”, Keith Rupert Murdoch is lauded for transforming the media landscape. The “how” is left unsaid. Buying competitors and selling controversy is key to his seamy business model. And sexploitation sells; look at his titillating page three girls. As does publishing lies about climate science, inventing a sinister agenda behind moves towards gender equality and defaming opponents, especially Labor and union figures.

Oddly, not everyone approves of Murdoch’s business model. Dacre deplores its vulgarity and vitriol.

I felt that whatever Murdoch touched went down-market, though it also moved from loss into profit. For the sake of sales, he aims to moronise and Americanise the population.

He also wants to destroy our institutions, to rot them with a daily corrosive acid… He certainly has a hatred of what he considers the stuffiness of the British establishment.

Being Morrison, someone else does the award. Of course. The PM’s Principal Private Secretary Yaron Finkelstein, spin doctor and former CEO of Crosby Textor knows whom to call. Of course, Scotty knows nothing. Chinese warlord, Feng Yü-hsiang, baptised his troops with a hose. Morrison is similarly doctrinaire and just as much of a control freak, whilst always disclaiming responsibility, I don’t hold the hose, mate.

Rupert’s rags attribute the Lifetime Achievement Award to The Australia Day Foundation UK a cabal of well-heeled, Tory corporate elitists, with rent-free offices in Australia House. The Foundation first gave out awards in 2003, the year of his illegal invasion of Iraq, under John Howard, who lied to parliament about it.

Some of these achievements are unique. Eight years ago, Murdoch’s News of the World, a now defunct UK Sunday tabloid, whose prurient interest in sex scandals earned it the soubriquet news of the screws, delighted readers by publishing pictures and video of Max Mosely, son of British fascist, Oswald Mosely.

The then UK Formula One Boss, indulged in a five-hour sadomasochistic session with prostitutes in a Chelsea apartment. News Group Newspapers, the tabloid’s publishers, had to pay £60,000 for grossly invading Mosely’s privacy. His sadomasochism he freely admits to. But much more damaging to Mosely is the News of the World’s false assertion that the motor-racing boss took part in a Hitler-themed orgy.

There was no Sick Nazi Orgy, as News maintains, he successfully argues in court – just a private “party” for himself and five like-minded, consenting women, and there was no public interest in reporting it.

Our government uses Australia House for the virtual ceremony. As taxpayers we pay (and pay) for a large part for Murdoch’s honour, while the pot is topped up by donations from Woodside Petroleum, in the news again for reaping a bonanza, after Alexander Downer helped bug East Timor’s cabinet in 2004 under cover of an aid project. Witness K, the ASIS agent involved in the bugging turned whistle-blower, is currently on secret trial in Canberra in a travesty of justice because he’s embarrassed the government in telling the truth.

Rio Tinto contributes, Anglo American, energy giant Worley resources and billionaire hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze’s own asset management fund CQS. In brief, a claque of Murdoch media icons.

News of the award is not just a rude shock. It’s a mystery. Who gonged the Doctor Evil of Global Media? Not that invisible hand of capitalism again? Each of us working for his or her own gain, benefiting us all? Scott Morrison just loves to keep us in the dark. Especially as the alternative could be as embarrassing as former half-term PM Tony Abbott discovered with his Sir Philip knighthood. But Murdoch won’t blab.

Rupert’s addicted to power. And he’s had a sniff. Eminence grise in Blair’s family affair, Trump’s enabler and dinner guest. And now, Muppet Morrison’s puppeteer. Or is it self-help? His devout faith in money and power, helped Rupie buy a papal knighthood in 1988, by donating to a Church education fund and chipping in $10 mill to help build LA’s Catholic cathedral, thus buying the right to be addressed as “His Excellency”.

Who’d honour an Establishment reject? Well, we did, in effect. And we paid for our part. Just as we stuff $40 million into the Murdoch family’s pockets for Foxtel, to do something with women’s sport. Michael West believes Murdoch may have recently, quietly sold Foxtel- but the Coalition is keen to see Google and Facebook pay the Murdoch empire (and the boutique Nine Newspapers, now under Chairman Costello, a Liberal rag appended to its real estate business) for bringing visitors to his dying pay-walled newspapers.

Google knows search engines are not killing mainstream media. Its advertising didn’t kill the classified ads that paid for newspapers. Specialised online sites did that. Above all, Canberra’s plan is an “unworkable” dud.

You wouldn’t read about it – at least not in mainstream media. But Rupie has the gall to play the victim.  Claims he’s being muzzled. He’s clearly dog-whistling not only those who have no bullshit filter but those who fear wokeness, a state of being socially aware, especially of issues of justice, inequality and racism. He protests,

“For those of us in media, there’s a real challenge to confront a wave of censorship that seeks to silence conversations. To stifle debate and ultimately stop individuals and societies from realizing their potential.

This rigidly enforced conformity, aided and abetted by so-called social media, is a straitjacket on sensibilities. Too many people have fought too hard in too many places for freedom of speech to be suppressed by this awful woke orthodoxy.”

Murdoch’s hypocrisy does not go unnoticed by the lynx-eyed, Rudd who had the wit to observe in Copenhagen in Christmas 2009, that “those Chinese fuckers are trying to rat-fuck us”. 

“Rank hypocrisy from Murdoch accepting an Australia Day award. He pretends to champion freedom of speech, but he’s spent decades abusing his monopoly to bully Australians he doesn’t like into silence. Murdoch invented “cancel culture” in Australia,” he tweets.

But an “achievement award”? True, His Excellency helps pick our PM; set his agenda. And granted, Rupert always does his level best to help capital protect itself from the curse of working voters. But achievement?

“If you’re just choosing from people in OECD countries, ostensible liberal democracies, Rupert Murdoch has to be up there as the most-single-handedly destructive person of the last three decades, right?” MSNBC anchor, Chris Hayes, is stung by the brazen duplicity in Fox’s peddling the Hunter Biden laptop canard. He may as well be talking about how Murdoch has stymied carbon abatement or backed the Iraq incursion. On a national level he could be talking of how the empire has destroyed progressive candidates’ lives.

Rudd, who unlike our current charlatan, was a real PM, sees Murdoch as “a cancer on our democracy”.

Worse, Rupert enables mob violence. For The Washington Post’s, Margaret Sullivan , the mob that stormed and desecrated the Capitol, 6 January, 2021, could only exist in a nation radicalized by the urging of Murdoch’s factoid Fox News. Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham all helped incite that riot.

Perhaps, in a post-modern, post structuralist, post-truth, world, inciting destruction is a type of achievement. Yet given his history in the British newspaper business, few would mistake Murdoch’s award for anything but a set-up. Rupert’s gong is an award conferred on the other side of the world, aimed squarely at an Australian audience. Kevin Rudd – and the signatories to his e-petition – will have no difficulty recognising the target.

It’s unlikely Murdoch will feel the need to add the Lifetime Achievement award to his CV for his next big commercial adventure. The News Corp CEO and his right-hand woman, Rebekah Brooks have held a series of meetings with the orchestrated catastrophe that is Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. Sam Bright in Byline Times reports that the pair had seven meetings with five senior ministers last August-September.

It’s clear that the Murdoch empire proposes to open an “opinionated” news channel, News UK TV which some worry will turn out to be just another version of the highly profitable Fox. The banner headline in The Sunday Mail is a hint, Top Tory Launches Rival to Woke Wet BBC.

While the Murdoch channel may struggle to achieve a big audience, its influence may be much larger. Fox News, for example, one of the most popular US networks, reaches fewer than four million primetime viewers. But it’s a sterling example of how even a shameless train-wreck of opinionated hackery can have a significant intermedia effect, setting the agenda of mainstream network news as well as its cable TV rivals.

Similarly The Australian can set and frame the news agenda on any given day in Australia with even the ABC taking its lead from the stories that News Corp publishes. Murdoch pretends that he doesn’t tell his editors what to print. The truth is that each editor is left in no doubt. And Murdoch is in constant communication. His power over his papers and over many of the governments they are published in is enormous.

But power does not confer acceptance. His experience in the UK is instructive. To the establishment, Murdoch is the archetypical antipodean gold-digger, a crassly ambitious vulgarian for whom no gutter is too deep. This reputation was earned when his News of the World ran Christine Keeler’s memoirs in 1968. The Aussie nonentity morphed effortlessly into the Dirty Digger inside six months.

“It was his first very big story in his first very big British newspaper”, writes The Guardian’s Steve Hewlett.  If it won few friends in high places, it got attention. It earned him a reputation for muck-raking for personal gain. Later, of course, Murdoch would ingratiate himself with the power elite only to ultimately alienate it.

Murdoch’s illegal Phone Hacking Scandal, nearly finished him in Britain. Only nine years ago, a cross-party UK parliamentary committee tells the News Corp chief he “lacks credibility”, his son, James, “appears incompetent” and the company is guilty of “wilful blindness” towards its staff at The News of the World.

Murdoch is not, they conclude, a fit and proper person to run any sort of rag. Luckily for “Pops” as he’s known to his kids, his pal David Cameron’s four Conservative MPs on the ten person committee loyally dissent.

Elisabeth Murdoch is ropeable. As Rupert’s only daughter and the child with the most business acumen, puts it with characteristic Murdoch delicacy, her brother, James and Rebekah have “fucked the company”.

And as the revelations reverberate, The Guardian’s John Harris fears, quite reasonably, the duo may have done the self-same thing to UK politics and public life. As in Australia.

It’s not just the mogul’s dominance, or his petty vendettas against progressives and his pleasure in ruining people’s lives, his prurient eagerness to drag us into the gutter, his brazen fabrication and his outright lies, there’s the damage Murdoch does as he debases public discourse.

Roger Ebert’s account of the uber-grub’s arrival at the Chicago Sun-Times, reveals something more than an assault on decorum and decency, a perverse, pernicious vulgarity.

“…first day of Murdoch’s ownership, he walks into the newsroom and we all gather around and he recites the usual blather and rolls up his shirtsleeves and started to lay out a new front page. Well, he was a real newspaperman, give him that. He throws out every meticulous detail of the beautiful design, orders up big, garish headlines, and gives big play to a story about a North Shore rabbi accused of holding a sex slave.”

Rudd protests the ways the Murdoch empire’s power is routinely used and wantonly abused, “to attack opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting. Australians who hold contrary views have felt intimidated into silence. These facts chill free speech and undermine public debate.”

True. Our trust in institutions, including democracy itself, not to mention our sense of integrity, is polluted by Rupert’s alarmism, climate denialism, muckraking, titillation, innuendo and character assassination, although it’s not spelled out in Rudd’s petition.  But schlock and horror is just the dirty digger’s house style.

For Murdoch and his family firm, media ownership is a means to power. He is the most powerful single force in Australian politics, “bigger than the major parties or the combined weight of the unions,” says veteran Labor politico, Bruce Hawker, in The Rudd Rebellion.  Bigger than Big Gina and Twiggy combined.

Power confers contempt. He lets his useful idiot, Donald Trump call him “Rupie”. Rupie calls Trump a “fucking moron” behind his back.

And the Murdoch family business’ power is metastasising further, thanks to the Coalition gifting Foxtel $40 million to make three out of four Australians lose free access to sport. Not that Foxtel is making any money as far as anyone can tell – now that Murdoch has “disappeared” the company to the secret state of Delaware, the small Eastern U.S. State, which boasts more corporate entities—public and private—than people.

The ratio stands at 945,326 to 897,934, at last count.

Helping the dynasty increase its power, is the Morrison government with its Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code a form of extorting money from Google and Facebook on the lie that the social media giants profit unfairly from news. Or else Microsoft’s Bing gets it. Morrison licks his lips at the APC.

Bing is the winner in a 2019 Stamford study which shows the search engine is far more likely to return disinformation, misinformation conspiracy and white supremacist sites. Out of 600 results for 12 search queries, Bing returned 125 sources of disinformation while Google returned 13.

Microsoft is pleased, too, because whilst it commands 30 per cent of traffic in the US, Bing currently has only 3.6 per cent of traffic. In response to queries for vaccines autism, Bing returns six anti-vax sites in its top 50 results. Google, in contrast, shows none. In general, Bing directs users to conspiracy sites even if they are not looking for them. Our PM is either unaware of this research or it fits his friendship with QAnon follower, Tim Stewart whose wife Lynelle is paid $80K PA with a car allowance to be Jenny Morrison’s special companion .

The tech giants face payments which will flow to News Corp and Nine helping them increase their dominance at the expense of smaller, more independent publications and as Kevin Rudd puts it “media diversity”.

A code should not just profit two giant companies, Chair of Private Media and Solstice Eric Beecher argues,

“This ‘ground-breaking’ legislation, as the government and its big media supporters constantly describe it, should not just be a mechanism to ensure the bulk of Google and Facebook money lines the pockets of a couple of multibillion-dollar public companies for whom news journalism is a small part of their business.”

News journalism is not a big part of Murdoch’s business. News Corp is more a propaganda operation masquerading as a news service, argues academic Denis Muller, a role which Sally Young notes is how the business began its corporate life in 1922 as News Limited. Secretly established by a mining company owned by industrial titans of the day, it was created for the express purpose of disseminating “propaganda”.

Rupert did not invent the tabloid, although he’d love to take credit. Edward Lloyd (1815-1890), published the first newspaper to sell a million copies a hundred years earlier. And while Murdoch is always happy to take kudos for “writing what the public want to read”, a Lord Northcliffe motto, his papers and his TV shows are part of more complex and more pernicious transactions than simply pandering to base or popular appetites.

“Those who say they give the public what it wants begin by underestimating public taste, and end by debauching it.” quotes The Monthly’s Richard Cooke. The insight’s attributed to TS Eliot in The Pilkington Report on Broadcasting, 1962, which opposed commercial broadcasting in the UK.

Murdoch knows the tabloid’s days are numbered, like all print newspapers, along with the days of their most successful modern exponent. It’s not just the Internet. In Britain it’s the pandemic. Which is why it doesn’t hurt to get out the turd-polish. Murdoch has a big TV project in the wings and his lifetime achievement award is a kick in the teeth for Rudd and a timely bit of a back scratch from Morrison in advance of an early election.

News of the World was ultimately wound up after a notorious phone hacking scandal led to an eight month trial in which Murdoch did not appear. Instead his money did the talking. Editor Rebekah Brooks was his proxy, just as Andy Coulson was a de facto proxy for the PM at the time David Cameron and his political reputation.

It cost Murdoch over a billion dollars to engage top silks and assistants, a tour de force which overwhelmed the state’s prosecutor, one assistant and meagre resources.

Yet it was not the indictments in court that were at stake, less about journalists behaving badly so much as the power of money and the abuse of that power, an issue which is very much alive in the incorporation of a “charity” The Australia Day Institute, UK, so that members of the power elite can applaud each other

“… the perception that some news organisations were all too happy to invade privacy and ruin lives in order to sell more papers; that they regarded themselves as not only above the law but above the government, which would do their will or suffer for it; that they had poisoned the mainstream of public debate with a daily drip-feed of falsehood and distortion.”

Achievements? Inciting riotous insurrection via Fox in the US and colluding with the Morrison government in promoting climate science denial on Sky and in his News Corp papers in Australia – now quietly relocated to Delaware?  As Michael West reports, Murdoch has already funnelled his Foxtel monopoly out of Australia into a new company, or “mysterious entity” as West puts it, set up in the secrecy jurisdiction of Delaware where shareholders, directors and other picayune details remain hidden from public scrutiny. A ScoMoesque move.

Delaware seems to be part of a radical restructure of News Corp’s Australian assets in preparation for sale. Yet Rupie even at 89 is his dynasty’s biggest asset.

Rupert poses; flash as a rat with a gold tooth in what seems to be a budget hotel bathroom. He’s spent his life crushing editors and standards even for hacks of the gutter press. Setting the bar lower than a snake’s belly.

 ”Silence. I am the billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch,”  says Murdoch’s avatar on an episode of The Simpsons as he commands attention to open the Super Bowl. A man with a massive ego, writes Paul Barry, an elephant hide and an extraordinary sense of entitlement. A mammoth sense of his own self worth.

Fox sponsors Trump’s conspiracy theory of election theft and voter fraud just because it makes money. But the outlook is not rosy. As with News Corp, the rivers of gold are drying up and it’s time to move on and sell up.

Is the gong Morrison’s revenge on Rudd whose petition for a Royal Commission into News Corp gained over half a million signatures? Investigative journalist Ronni Salt traces our PM’s links with the mysterious Foundation, which include a one-time PR manager for our PM during his brief time at Tourism Australia.

Ronni generously calls the award “a fabricated piece of performance frippery” and an after-thought.

“It’s that long forgotten party hat left under the stairs given to that extra birthday party guest at the last minute.”

But even at 89 it would be dangerous to write Rupert off yet. His mother lived to 103. Surely he can live long enough to be arraigned before Rudd’s Royal Commission.

3 thoughts on “A cancer on our democracy

  1. So, Urban Wrongski, you don’t like persons that the treacherous J W Howard had influenced?
    Even last night on the TV, I saw a cocked-up interview was underway. The former mad monk Abbott who had been hunted down to provide an opinion was braying on about some CIA plotted agenda of crucifying the World’s most prominent and most revered Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
    Yep, the very same person that was going to shirtfront Vladimir Putin a few years back but didn’t, he had chosen to hide behind a tree when Vlad the indifferent was out and strolling about.

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    1. Two term, three word slogan Tony always was a legend in his own lunch-box. Interesting that Abbott’s so protective of Vlad.
      Very indulged by Howard as a junior Minister – even as Health Minister, Abbott would rock up to meetings totally unprepared. Others would be carpeted but Howard was grooming Tone for higher things. Teaching him it was OK just wing it, for one.

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  2. I’d almost forgotten how the sweet smell of fresh air truly is. Thanks Urban, love your work and your style, well researched and worth more than a ponder. To our ASIO friends, if you’re still watching, when you’ve spent a lifetime up to your chin in shit, another handful really doesn’t make much difference.

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