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Murdoch ducks day in court

April 19, 2023

Few have more admiration for Rupert Murdoch than me. He has been dominating the ‘new media’ space all my working life, and that is true for virtually everyone reading this.

What I admire particularly is that KRM has – unlike any number of other faceless corporates or ‘characterful’ entrepreneurs – regularly bet the farm on completely new businesses he believed, but couldn’t possibly know, were the right way to go. I give you Sky TV and FOX TV Network. There have been others, but these are two where you would have found long lines of ‘experts’ ready to bet he wouldn’t make it.

Even if you don’t share his hard right politics, I don’t, and even if you are resentful of the rightward drift he has had much to do with in UK and American politics, I am, that doesn’t mean you can’t admire his business acumen, his sheer bloody mindedness. It is like warming to Logan Roy in Succession, even though he’s patently a bit of a monster. Funny coincidence that…

But, but, but. To admire is not the same as to respect. Any expectation the Murdoch clan had of respect has been completely trashed by two late-career car crashes, both brought about a wilful prioritisation of profit over what anyone, anyone at all – including, by their own admission, the Murdochs, – would regard as ‘doing the right thing’.

First, there was the phone-hacking scandal in the UK; rampant illegal eavesdropping by Murdoch employed reporters, including on the family of a murder victim. That cost him his beloved News of the World.

Now there is FOX News; to be honest you could stop there. FOX News isn’t just hard right, it has been corrosive to the democratic process. And now – thanks to the settled Dominion case – we know it wilfully broadcast conspiracy theories about the 2020 US election, even though internal comms show Murdoch, senior execs and celebrity anchors, knew they weren’t true. This has cost whatever was left of the Murdoch’s reputation as owners of businesses involved with journalism, and about $800 million plus costs.

That appears cheap compared to the profits of FOX News, and the embarrassment of putting the 92 year-old Rupert on the stand. However, more, and bigger, cases await, notably from Smartmatic, another voting machine maker. For Fox News the problem could, yet, become existential.

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