21 August 2014

A modest proposal for NewsCorp

When pictures circulated on social media of journalist James Foley being executed by the Islamic State, journalists came over all sniffy about how vulgar social media is.

Once those pictures were published in the Murdoch press - first The New York Post, later in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, the snobbery about social media seemed to have gone into abeyance. In its place is some sort of general malaise about the world that we live in, rather than experienced people identifying the problem and calling it out.

The IS is posting those pictures because it wants to draw the United States and other western powers into another war on their territory in western Asia. This does not oblige the Murdoch press to run those pictures. What obliges the Murdoch press to run those pictures is the fact that its business goes up slightly when its major markets (the US, UK, and Australia) are at war.

The sales of newspapers have been in longterm decline for many years. That decline is lessened slightly when there's a war, or the prospect of one. People tune in to small-n news outlets to find out what's going on, and to hear the ploughshares beaten back into swords.

The Murdoch dynasty was forged in the First World War, and the pattern of its coverage was set at the time. It belittles politicians who oppose war, or who work to avoid conflict, as gutless and treasonous. It praises politicians who wantonly splash around blood and treasure as courageous and patriotic.

Over the period 2001-03 we saw the US government decide to go to war over a very slender pretext, the so-called 'weapons of mass destruction'. The Murdoch press was sufficiently powerful in all its main markets to force those markets to war in Iraq regardless. It destroyed politicians, including some with decorations for battlefield bravery, who urged caution or at least other means of removing Saddam Hussein. It praised fabulists who made silly promises that the war would be a cakewalk and that western armies would be welcomed as liberators. It invited itself to military funerals and splashed images of grieving, powerless widows across its pages in the hope that product ads on those pages might somehow be more attractive to consumers than they would be otherwise.

The Murdoch press wants war again.

For some years now, Sydney's Daily Telegraph has been playing a double game with its readers: it claims to represent western Sydney and rails against misrepresentation of it, while at the same time misrepresenting Muslims in the area as violent extremists. It has insisted that Muslims denounce extremists without similarly demanding that Christians denounce, say, pedophile clerics. Now it is doing the IS's dirty work for them, in the hope that its business model might be boosted by social discomfort, exclusion and maybe even violence on the streets of Sydney and other Murdoch markets.

It should be unthinkable that a major news organisation should succumb to propaganda from the self-declared enemies of its audience. Yet, the IS wants war, Murdoch wants war, so Murdoch outlets run IS propaganda as though it were 'high quality content'. It wasn't as though intrepid Murdoch journalists leopard-crawled across hundreds of miles of desert to capture those images; they were fed them by IS. Foley worked for GlobalPost; Daniel Pearl worked for The New York Times; there are journalists who put themselves in harm's way to get the big stories, and then there are Murdoch journalists. Murdoch outlets were happy to help the IS in its call for war because it shares those aims.

When journalists from Al-Jazeera English were imprisoned in Egypt, journalists around the world protested at the abrogation of their colleagues' rights and dignity. When the same journalists were confronted with the execution of Foley, a sentence from which no appeal or pardon is possible, there was no protest. Some declined to turn a dollar from the ordeal, but Murdoch outlets happily did.

If you're a journalist - and you put yourself in harm's way doing your job - keep in mind the possibility that Murdoch will turn a dollar from your crisis and stalk your relatives in their grief.

When Tony Abbott left open the possibility that Australian military forces were not only open to engaging in humanitarian missions such as aid to the Yaziri, but could well participate in conflict in the region, he is not acting at the behest of the US Administration. He is acting at the behest of the Murdoch media, who want Australia involved in any such war as they successfully pushed in 2003. Abbott is Murdoch's Manchurian Candidate.

Murdoch outlets are running the IS images because they are gunning for war. It is extraordinary that they are so weak, so unprincipled, that they allow a small bunch of semi-literate bullies far from their traditional markets to dictate their corporate tactics like they do. Their readership will complain, but they will flout the wishes of their readership because the wishes of Rupert Murdoch are for provocation to war. When Murdoch executives excuse their behaviour as though they were mere vessels of their audience, and as though the audience is to blame for Murdoch vulgarity, consider today's output and think again.

Those who do not believe Australians should go to war in IS territory will be marginalised, and the smarter ones are ready for that.

There is, however, a solution that is right and proper. One which plays the IS at their own game and which slakes the almost satanic bloodlust of those who run the Murdoch press.

It's traditional to say that there are some Very Fine Journalists 'working' at the Murdoch outlets - but who are they? Gideon Haigh, perhaps - but he's a freelancer rather than someone in a position to set the tone of a masthead or the organisation as a whole. Samantha Maiden sat on this until ordered to Make Glorious Propaganda Against Running-Dog Hockey and lacks the courage to pursue that rort wherever it might lie, like the non-Murdoch elements of the UK press did with that country's MPs. Malcolm Farr is asleep and Simon Benson is a joke. Sharri Markson is Brynne Edelsten without the wit, talent, or news sense. Paul Kelly said in 2012 that the Coalition had fifty fully-costed policies ready to go, but the evidence from this government is that they've never had any. None of Murdoch's journalists content providers are worth anything, as journalists or in any other capacity really.

It is undeniable that the best possible use of any and all Murdoch employees, those with bylines or without, is to issue them with giggle hats and rifles and drop them into the area around Mosul dam. Maybe they could capture a printing press there and churn out some of that high-quality content that nobody wants to read. Joe Hildebrand and Miranda Devine could disport themselves like Rudd and Hockey on Sunrise. They could bust their buddies Glenn Mulcaire and Andy Coulson out of prison for some Dirty Dozen-style redemption. You can't think of a better use for such people, and neither can those who employ them.

Maybe they might see that Muslims in Mosul are mostly people going about their business and no threat to social cohesion, neither there or in Australia. Their employment, however, depends upon them not seeing it, which is a pity: more so than the fact that nobody else has a more constructive proposal for NewsCorp than that in the preceding paragraph.

Journalists can get very sniffy about social media, but rather than finger the Murdochs when they step out of line they assume - wrongly - that they are acting in accordance with the audience. They see opponents of Murdoch manipulation as cranks. They were fooled last time, and are gearing themselves up to be fooled again, as though misleading the audience they are supposed to serve was a lesser tragedy than them losing the jobs they have no right to occupy. Start noticing that Murdoch is beating the drum for war and that he has no grounds to do so. Once you do that, you can empower decision-makers to go against Murdoch. And if you can go against Murdoch on a big issue like war, you can go against the old bugger on other issues too, and get on with your life.

In the olden days newspapers were sold on the basis of hype and bullshit. People are awake to this now, which explains the decline of newspapers and other traditional media. War should be an instrument of state policy, a resort when politics has failed, rather than a (poorly executed) business model. A company in the information business should be dominating the information age but it is barely getting by. The idea that we have to get stirred up and go to war to pump a few extra bucks into an exhausted business is pretty sad, but those who get stirred up in service of that are sadder still.

NewsCorp is like the Soviet Union: it might seem overwhelmingly powerful to some, especially those unable to laugh at its flaws and contradictions. One day the whole farce will be over, leaving a whole bunch of people who yearn for leadership of whatever quality without it, while the rest of us will adapt to its historic downfall much easier than might be imaginable today.

Update 23 Augusr: NewsCorp is refusing to accept the decisions of the newspaper industry referee, the Australian Press Council. This is wrongly portrayed as some sort of general malaise with the APC. It should be reported for what it is - the toxic Murdoch culture reasserting itself - with appropriate questions about what they are trying to hide.


  1. Brynne Edelstein - that's a zinger and a half.

    As to the rest, Abbott is a firmly attached barnacle on Rupe's rear end, so if Rupe wants war, Abbott will bring it on.

    Abbott has been spoiling for it anyway - he has won the biggest prize in Australian politics by being a bovver boy, he would like nothing more than to put on the flak jacket and go cavorting around real war zones with the lads. Especially as here at home, things are not rosy.

    Pity that some poor saps will probably die for his vanity, but shit happens, right?

  2. In a week where there has been wall to wall coverage of News Corp, this is probably the best thing I read. And not one word about the financials. Excellent work Andrew.

  3. Fascinating article as always, Andrew. Your article reminded me of one of the more disgraceful pieces of character assassinations to appear in 'The Australian'. Mark Latham was denounced - on the front page of that journal of ill-repute - as an extreme pacifist. His thought-crime was to condemn all Australian military operations post-WWII (which of course was the last time our territory was actually threatened).

    I'm curious - in your, or your readers', memory, has the Murdoch press ever met a US/UK/Australian war it didn't like?

    A quick wiki shows that the criminal gang behind the Islamic State started as a bunch of ex-mujahedeen from the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan and crystallised as jihadis fighting the American invasion of Iraq. There's nothing that could go wrong with a further intervention in Iraq!

  4. By god Andrew you're on fire!

    There should be a chicken hawk law, all pollies and journos proposing the war option, should be sent to observe and cover it.

    That may cause some circumspection...


    1. F*** "observation and coverage"! They can do the actual fighting

    2. Hear, hear! Anything less shows contempt for our military and citizenry. I don't want another war and certainly not another one purporting to be in my name.

      Typically sharp work, AE.

      -Melena Santorum

    3. With the cheerleading generals right out in front, Murdoch, Abbott et al. Swords at the ready, but no horses, no need to be cruel.

  5. Love your work

  6. It's ironic that Journos turn their noses up at SM when they not only feed into it but graze off it, because their master(s) started the practice of "if you have a news story contact us" It was a more cost effective practice than allowing investigative journalists to actually investigate. ( oh for a good piece of that)

  7. Farkin- a, all that flame without mentioning " dol bludger terrorist" headlines. When I read that headlIne I thought the editor must have taken the rest of the day off and left the office with a smile on his face! "A dog whistle that blows two notes at once?! By Jove, we've done it!( lights cigar)"

  8. Brilliant analogies - and article. Not a misplaced word.

  9. There was a Bond film on the TV the other night. You only had to substitute Carver Media for Murdoch and voila art imitating real life.
    Another cracker post Andrew.

  10. Historical precedent from the guardian:
    "How Margaret Thatcher's Falklands gamble paid off:
    The prime minister's decision to go to war in 1982, with her government on the brink of collapse, changed everything.
    The Falklands war of April-June 1982 was the turning point in Mrs Thatcher's premiership, indeed in her political career. The previous October, the Tory party conference had been alive with dissent. The so-called "wets" were openly conspiring against her. Bets were being taken against her surviving into the new year. Well behind in the polls and with the new Social Democratic party challenging both Labour and Conservatives, few believed Thatcher would ever lead her party to another election win."

    Sound familiar?

    Then the question becomes: would Tony Abbott do a "Thatcher" if it meant he could continue as Prime Minister? (would a cow lick Lot's wife?)
    Of course Murdoch's British based new outlets did quite well out of the Falklands war and many, many sheep were liberated from Argentinian military rule.

  11. Dean Swift would be proud - what more can I say?

  12. Social media hosts things like Real Humans of New York, which is currently showing people in Iraq and Congo living their lives, in shopping malls, and aspiring to be teachers, judges and engineers.

    Maybe not 'news', but in fact a powerful antidote to the divisive, clueless warmongering 'journalism' on offer.

  13. Andrew....nice interesting entry

    Love to know your thoughts on Sky News and it's C.E.O Mr Frangopoulos.

    It's been a successful media propaganda arm for the right wing.

    I'm not that much of a fan but when news breaks, Sky News has had some decent coverage and analysis.

  14. A+ excellent article (again)

  15. Oh dear but how journalists love a stunt.
    Yesterday brought us MARGIE IN THE OP SHOPPE.
    Poor woman.
    I think she was rifling through a bin of remaindered grey-blue ties. Nobody likes that depressing colour.

  16. Great article Andrew.
    Many say bad news for News Corpse ...is good news for Australians and Australian democracy. Social media is a real threat to crappy journalism as well as the shitty products of News Corpse.

  17. Yeah , brilliant summary ,well done mate. Oh they have them wedged don't they ? , the only people that have the public voice to oppose this "beating drum", is the opposition . The media wont show case any one else's opinion and the opposition seem somewhat scared to venture into that territory. Obviously it will be seen as weak and reported on accordingly . Abbott is offering fighter jets to the cause, its not like the Americans need more fighter jets , especially Australian ones that usually come from an american fire sale a decade earlier .Abbott and his government are kinda like a teenage gate crasher hanging around outside the party hoping to be let in. It's not only Murdoch's market share that improves during war,it's also a conservative government's . I agree with some that most of this is driven by a distraction to domestic policy.The business of putting children and decapitated heads on a front page is incredibly desperate and sets a new precedence in line crossing by Murdoch. I could go on ( More matter with less art....) The sooner this world is free of that wretched old man the better .. thanks for your perspective its always refreshing to come here and receive a dose of sanity .

  18. Wow. Hard hitting excellence. They deserve no less.