Most of us have only a limited capacity to ruin the lives of the people in our immediate orbits. We can inflict stress, trauma, hatred, violence and lies upon those that come into direct contact with us. We are all capable of malice and destruction; it is an innate part of being human. But on this front, Rupert Murdoch, 92, is a creature beyond the limitations of ordinary mortals. Across a 70-year career as the head of News Corporation – a non-state political actor and conservative social engineering project disguised as a news media company – Murdoch has innovated, refined and perfected methods of inflicting misery and dulling minds all across the Western world, at great distance from his physical, shrivelled shell. If the world’s information flows like a stream, Rupert Murdoch has for seven decades been a strain of E. Coli tainting the waters.
It will be tempting today, on the occasion of his stepping down as executive chairman of News Corporation, for many in the media to focus on his achievements and the handful of not-totally-heinous things he has done: broken legitimate news, employed lots of people, shaken many hands, et cetera. This would be a mistake. The construction of the Death Star employed many, many people and bolstered many, many economies (on planets that haven’t yet been blown up), but that’s not really the headline, is it?
A hagiographical account of the various newspapers, radio stations, websites and TV networks he has bought and sold across the Anglosphere would diminish and underplay his actual legacy, the truest impacts of his life’s work. It would paint an inaccurate picture of reality – which, ironically, would be an appropriate tribute to the man.
The truth that all his employees need to disassociate from everyday is that no single human has had a more disastrous impact on western democracy than the departing head of News Corporation. No single individual has injected more poison into our collective ability to engage in civil, reality-based discussions. No single soul has done more to hold back popular understanding of the climate crisis facing us all, limiting government motivation to do anything about it. No single husk has championed the erosion of social safety nets and the ceaseless gorging of vampire capitalism more tirelessly than Rupert Fucking Murdoch.
Across the Herald Sun, The Australian, Fox News, The Sun, the New York Post, and many other soiled publications, he has pushed the coating of news in hatred and lies to remarkable new depths. By elevating baseless opinion to the frontpages and disguising it as news, he has tilted elections in the direction of vacuous, disastrous leaders, leaders who have gone on to commit atrocities ranging from war crimes to attempts at overthrowing their own democracies. Donald Trump, Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson, Tony Blair, Liz Truss, David Cameron, Tony Abbott, John Howard – all Murdoch endorsed and bolstered; all knelt and kissed his ring because they knew if they wanted to win their political horse races, they needed to butter-up to the man holding the reins. The power of elected positions is fleeting; Murdoch’s is dynastical and enduring.
Indicators of the wretchedness beneath his carapace were apparent early on, long before he mass disseminated anti-vaccine tripe during a global pandemic while quietly receiving one of the first available jabs; long before Fox News lost a $787 million lawsuit against an electronic voting company, Dominion, for knowingly spreading baseless lies and conspiracy theories about the US election being stolen, directly leading to the violent and deadly insurrection on the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021.
After leaving Australia with a dysfunctional fourth estate, his mid-career work flourished in the UK where he helped Margaret Thatcher destroy the unions and usher cruel austerity into Britain’s political reality.
In 1989, when 96 football fans of Liverpool FC died in a crowd crush at Hillsborough stadium, a tragedy caused by the actions of overzealous local police, his newspaper The Sun punched down at grieving families, blaming the victims for the tragedy. He caused immense hurt among the survivors for no reason beyond wanting to sell more newspapers than a balanced, accurate account would – a pattern that has remained true throughout his entire career. Following the tragedy, The Sun was driven out of Liverpool. To this day it is not welcome within the city limits. Having a newspaper driven out of town with pitchforks for its wretchedness is an achievement few in media have ever pulled off.
Or how in 2011, when his largest UK masthead, the News of the World, was closed down after it emerged his employees were illegally hacking the phones of celebrities, politicians, and the grieving parents of a missing child. If you are looking for a reason why journalism is held in such low regard by so many people, you need not look any further than the toxic workplace cultures that thrive under Rupert’s stewardship. Prince Harry is launching a lawsuit related to these matters in the near future.
In 2001, Murdoch’s Fox News poured fossil fuel on the US invasion of the Middle East and ramped up anti-Muslim sentiment post 9/11. He pressed those same fear, racism and xenophobia buttons in the British populace as they jumped over the Brexit cliff in 2016; and is pushing them again in Australia today, as we face a referendum on whether we should listen to Indigenous people before we tell them what to do. His language is fear and hatred, suspicion of difference, deference to money and scorn for the weak and powerless, and far too much of the world has adopted this as its native tongue.
The planet is sick and Rupert Murdoch has worked tirelessly as a superspreader for far too long. His influence will live on through the damage he has wrought, the conservative talking points he uncritically feeds into our minds, and the vicious attacks he routinely launches against people brave enough to challenge his orthodoxy. As he hands the leashes attached to the necks of the world’s most vapid politicians to his son,
Kendall Roy Lachlan, it is worth celebrating this moment. It is not a flawless victory. The soul-sucking structures he has built remain, but the architect of so much misery has finally stepped down; NewsCorp will now be run with an heir of incompetence.