David McKnight’s brilliant new book, Murdoch’s Politics: How One Man’s Thirst for Wealth and Power Shapes our World (Pluto, 2013), was reviewed in Counterfire last week by Paul Hartley.
Hartley agrees with McKnight’s analysis, particularly in reference to Murdoch’s political discourse and agenda-setting:
McKnight’s insights into the agenda-setting function of the news media are extremely valuable. He shows how Murdoch’s ownership of the New York Post enabled him to exercise disproportionate influence over the whole of the American news media by validating certain issues and invalidating others, setting the language of debates and creating an ‘inter-media agenda’ (p.27). McKnight pithily remarks that ‘news media do not tell audiences what to think, but what to think about’ (p.26).
An illustrative and particularly frightening example of the depth of Murdoch’s influence on politics is his role in setting the stage for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The rapturous support of the Murdoch press for the Iraq war immediately prior to the invasion has been well documented. Despite Murdoch’s protestations of editorial independence in News Corporation titles, every one of Murdoch’s papers around the world supported the war. It is less well known that Murdoch actively pushed for full-scale invasion as early as the mid ’90s.
Hartley also writes favourably of McKnight’s approach to Murdoch’s personal politics (a good thing, given the title of the book!)
A vital section of McKnight’s book analyses Murdoch’s personal political beliefs and motivations. McKnight argues that Murdoch has a clear political vision. He champions anti-statist neoliberal capitalism, coupled with a pro-American, militaristic foreign policy. He is vehemently opposed to trade union power, sometimes becoming personally involved in disputes, and regards himself as locked in a battle against established liberal elites. He despises the UK’s relationship with the EU because he considers the connection to weaken Britain’s subservience to the US, and he dropped his support for John Major’s government because of what he perceived to be pro-EU politics. It was not always like this. As a young media baron, his papers supported Labor in Australia and Harold Wilson’s government in the UK. McKnight records that he even had a bust of Lenin in his room at Oxford.
His politics in part derive from his image of himself as a rebellious outsider and champion of the ordinary man against established interests, however much this image is at odds with his background. Murdoch is the son of a wealthy family at the heart of the Australian establishment: his father was a media baron and a knight, and the young Rupert attended the elite Geelong Grammar school, Australia’s equivalent of Eton, and Oxford University. Nonetheless, this image has sustained his career, and when he was denied access to Britain’s elite circles in the 1960s, he vowed revenge on the whole political edifice.
In Ronald Reagan he found a political soul mate who shared his idea of a right wing populist crusade against liberal elites. Reagan’s neoliberalism was an ideology to which he devoted himself over and above even that of Thatcher, whom he was willing to chastise publicly when she veered from the pro-American line. By mobilising his media outlets in favour of the Reaganite cause, Murdoch became instrumental in laying the intellectual ground for the neoliberal revolution that Reagan and Thatcher ushered in during the 1980s.
How One Man’s Thirst For Wealth and Power Shapes our World
David McKnight. Foreword by Robert W. McChesney
Searching analysis of Rupert Murdoch’s impact on politics, media and culture. Includes the fallout from the Leveson inquiry.
“An anatomy and record of the reign of Murdoch which is brave and valuable. One day, when Murdoch is gone, it will help explain why so many obeyed him.” – The Guardian
“A timely and hard-hitting account of the career of the world’s first and greatest global media baron, from one of Australia’s leading academics in the field of journalism studies. A former journalist himself, McKnight’s account of the Murdoch empire should be read by all who are interested in the relationship between media and political power in our time.” – Brian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media & Communication at Queensland University of Technology, author of News and Journalism in the UK (2009)