David McKnight’s ‘Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Power’ The Politics of News | David Marr | The Monthly
Visiting Washington in 1972, the young tycoon fell under the spell of Richard Nixon and was never the same again.
The flip-flops ended. He had once sung Fidel Castro’s praises, cultivated crusty old Arthur Calwell and used his new national broadsheet, the Australian, to demand ‘Black Jack’ McEwan succeed the drowned Harold Holt. Crazy stuff. He had swung his UK titles behind Labour and his Australian papers behind the rising Gough Whitlam. Then he went to Washington and turned hard right. Nixon – and later Ronald Reagan, Murdoch’s enduring love – gave him the politics he’s pursued and the rhetoric he’s used ever since.
It’s been a long, colourful and often whacky ride, not least for News Corporation. Murdoch has freely spent its blood and treasure for the best part of 40 years on his political causes. “He was and still is a frustrated politician,” wrote John Menadue, who served both Whitlam and the News chief. “He can’t leave politics alone.”
So many have been down this track before that I wondered, at first, if we needed another book on the last great media mogul. But David McKnight has done something in Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power (Allen & Unwin, 296pp; $32.99) that’s now impossible for all but dedicated Murdoch watchers: he has winnowed the immense pile of material on the machinations of “the most famous Australian in the world” to produce a concise and tough account of how and why Murdoch has become a force in world politics.
Murdoch doesn’t emerge as an original political thinker. His originality lies elsewhere in fields that don’t much interest McKnight: in his fearless risk-taking and genius as a tabloid newspaperman. By contrast, the man’s political vision is banal.
The crusades and bullying, the shit-lists and huckstering, the character assassinations and backroom deals, the endless investment in unprofitable newspapers in Australia, the UK and the US all have the seamless purpose of making money, entrenching the Republican Party in America and exporting its vision to the rest of the English-speaking world.
From the Republicans comes his empire’s rhetoric about ‘liberal elites’ blocking the way for decent men and women everywhere. From the Republicans comes an exaggerated fear of communism that lingers still in corners of News Corp. But above all from the Republicans comes a ceaseless hostility to initiatives that might cost rich taxpayers money. The evil on that front – an evil found lurking everywhere – is the left.
McKnight writes: “For Murdoch, politics is equally as important as business. Being a political insider and an activist is supremely important to his personality and his outlook.” Journalism can come in a poor third. It is shocking to be reminded by McKnight of the media mogul’s response to Watergate: he backed Nixon and deplored the efforts of Woodward and Bernstein.
“The American press might get their pleasure in successfully crucifying Nixon,” Murdoch told a friend back then. “But the last laugh would be on them. See how they like it when the commies take over the West.”