Like my friend Taki, I sympathize with Rupert Murdoch in his time of travail. Not only has Murdoch seen his lieutenants dragged off to jail after their assorted misdeeds, but the president of News Corporation was physically assaulted on July 19, after an abusive grilling by the House of Commons, as he was trying to leave the scene of his humiliation. Throughout the questioning Murdoch looked like a tired old man, and at times he seemed confused by the surly comments that were thrown in his direction.
As someone also getting up in years, I was moved by the sight of this haggard octogenarian on the TV screen. Moreover, the fact that Murdoch seems to have a revolving, indeterminate identity merits astonishment rather than contempt. Is he Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or all three? Is he an Australian or the advocate of an American global democratic empire? The grandson of an itinerant Presbyterian minister, whose mother may or may not have been Jewish, and whose present wife, with whom he attends Mass, is Asian and Catholic, Murdoch has struggled to be at least as diverse as the readership his press empire has targeted. But there’s one identity he’s been slipping into with growing ease, and we can pick it up by noticing the recipients of his billions of dollars. Murdoch makes no secret of the fact that he dispenses funds on the basis of convictions. While this website would never see a dime of his fortune, the neoconservative power structure is bathed in his wealth.
As an example of what Murdoch believes, let us reflect on his comments at a banquet held by the American Jewish Committee on March 4, 2009 honoring him as “man of the year.” Here Murdoch stresses his major concerns as a political actor and media baron. “In the new century,” he assures us,
the West is no longer a matter of geography. The West is defined by societies committed to freedom and democracy. … And if we are serious about meeting this challenge (of undemocratic terrorism), we would expand the only military alliance committed to the defense of the West to include those on the front lines of this war. That means bringing countries like Israel into NATO.
Has anyone missed the family resemblance between Murdoch’s politics and what one reads in the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, and the New York Post and what comes our way from Murdoch’s subsidized clones on Fox News?
Murdoch also, not incidentally, laments the raging anti-Semitism that he discerns in Europe and which he thinks has become murderous. In his remarks he’s addressing the sponsors of Commentary, that is, a group that previewed and still finances neoconservative ideology. But his effusions of Jewish anxieties go beyond anything that one might expect to hear even in neocon circles. They are fully worthy of Allan Dershowitz and Steven Spielberg: “In Europe men and women who bear the tattoos of concentration camps today look on a continent where Jewish lives and Jewish property are under attack—and public debate poisoned by an anti-Semitism we thought had been dispatched to history’s dustbin.”
A few queries may be in order. How many former residents of concentration camps are around in Europe today? Whom will Murdoch invoke in order to appeal to Christian guilt when even this small number is gone? If anti-Semitism is “poisoning” Europe today, then why doesn’t Murdoch mention the obvious fact that some Muslim immigrants are producing it? He certainly grows after Hamas later in his comments, when he urges the creation of an American-Israeli front against anti-democratic terrorists. Why therefore does Murdoch leave the impression that it is rightwing European nationalists who are generating poisonous anti-Semitism? The grim truth is that multiculturalism has led not only to an indiscriminate Islamic immigration into Europe but also to attacks on Jews and synagogues. And to make matters even worse, European Jews, who are filled with anti-fascist fury, vote for politicians who are making this situation even worse. The vast majority of Jews in Western and Central Europe vote for the multicultural Left, and the German Central Committee for Jews in Germany (note not German Jews) screams bloody murder every time a politician tries to limit Muslim immigration into what used to be the German nation state.
While reading his speech, I was thinking how nice it would be if Murdoch withdrew his funding from the neocon empire. This may be the only point about which President Obama and I would agree. What Murdoch’s fortunes have done is allow a hegemonic persuasion, neoconservatism, give or take a few changeable additives, to gain undue influence on a drifting American Right, including the Republican Party. In the 1980s the conservative movement, whatever its deficiencies, exhibited a wide range of views on social and historical questions. Many of the views that are now identified with an alternative or disaligned Right were then expressed in National Review and in other widely read and once-interesting publications that have since come under neoconservative control. The major funder of neoconservative publications in the 1980s was the World Unification Church, and the recipients of funding from the Reverend Moon tried to hide their dependence on this leader of a Korean sect, by ridiculing their beneficiary. Then Rupert entered the scene and showered the neoconservatives with billions of dollars. This allowed them to get off the Moonie dole and into a powerful media position.
I’m not suggesting we’d all be on a level playing field if only Murdoch stopped funding the usual suspects. They would still be getting funds from multiple sources, including Asian governments fighting protectionism, global democratic troublemakers, and Jewish Democrats who support the neoconservatives on Israel. What would change would be the disparity between what neocons get and what the marginalized Right is surviving on. Moreover, it would no longer be necessary for libertarians or conservative Christians to depend on neocon generosity to get TV time or be treated sympathetically in the neoconservative-dominated press. More competition would be possible if the trust that Murdoch has subsidized fell apart.
Consider the New York Post’s coverage of gay marriage and immigration. Those who oppose these things are typically depicted in this paper as extremists or religious nuts, and it is impossible to distinguish any longer between the social rhetoric of Murdoch’s Post and what one sees in the regular leftist press. The Post’s coverage of the murderous rampage by the Norwegian psychopath Anders Behring Breivik could have appeared in the New York Times, and it would be hard to believe from reading the Post’s account any more than the Times’s that those who call for the preservation of European nations and the limiting of Muslim immigration into Europe were doing anything but engaging in “Nazi rants.” To be fair, the Post, which vigorously supports Governor Cuomo on gay marriage, does differentiate itself from the Times by its ostentatious support of the Israeli Right and by calling on Obama to compromise with the Republicans on tax issues.
It would be possible to respond to my gripe by arguing that we should be grateful to Murdoch and the neocons for providing an opposition press. Were it not for the Wall Street Journal, New York Post and Weekly Standard, there would be no adversarial press, and we’d be getting the propaganda of Obama-maniacs nonstop. One should therefore be grateful for small favors and not ask for more. The trouble is that the small favors have come at a prohibitive cost. Neoconservative censorship has destroyed the careers of brilliant young conservative journalists, and even older ones, who have not toed the party-line. The young conservative journalists and media personalities whom I encounter are with few exception low-octane liberals, and they are unduly belligerent toward “undemocratic” countries. They are the natural products of the last thirty years of neoconservative dominance of the American Right. If Murdoch pulled his money out, it might be possible for less programmed conservatives to succeed in gaining attention as spokesmen for their side.
Equally troubling, the result of Murdoch’s favoritism has created the impression that there is one “conservative” view about everything and that one can learn it each day by watching Fox and by reading some neocon satellite magazine. All self-identified conservatives of my acquaintance obtain their picture of reality by accessing these sources. Unless they are young and non-adjusted or crotchety reactionary types, they don’t bother with non-authorized news or opinion sources, from those who are not part of the establishment. Forty years ago there was no (artificially) unified conservative movement but competing factions, none of which spoke for more than its own group. Those who took over the movement came from left field, and they expelled those who did not fit their agenda while creating agreement on what they considered to be essential issues. One significant reason they were able to marginalize their opposition on the right was Rupert Murdoch’s boundless munificence. This Daddy Warbucks gave Kristol and Company the kind of financial power and media access needed to become an international force. Let’s see if this situation would go away absent Murdoch’s gifts.