Media should help inform, not propagandize
Memo to: Rupert MurdochRe: Election edification Now that they’ve endured one and a half party conventions, it’s left to the voters to assimilate unfamiliar personalities and even a few abstract ideas. The Democrats’ mantra is “change” and the Republicans’ is “reform,” but it’s not really clear what either side means. Given the fact that this is truly a milestone election, the news media have a special responsibility, and that brings us to you, Rupert. Wouldn’t this be a great year for you to dedicate your vast media resources to the task of informing rather than propagandizing? I can summon up two reasons why this would be a cool idea: (1) Your acquisition of The Wall St. Journal and the seminal role that MySpace occupies in our pop culture gives your empire vastly increased scope and heft. It’s not just about Fox News and The New York Post (not to mention the overseas newspapers) — your holdings have exponentially expanded, and so have your responsibilities. (2) No one can quite figure out where you stand, anyway. The Post backed Obama in the New York primary at your urging (apparently your one meeting with him initially left you impressed), but then that tabloid and Fox News turned fiercely antagonistic toward him and the Democratic ticket. The Journal’s editorial page has drifted even further to the right since your acquisition, if that’s possible, endorsing Sarah Palin as though she were a potential American Margaret Thatcher (your onetime heroine). But your politics have always been somewhat inscrutable, Rupert. You used to insist you were a “classic liberal,” whatever that means. Associates declare you a fierce “anti-elitist,” whatever that means. Your pet toy, Fox News, is hard right and pro-Bush. Its principal ideologues won’t even acknowledge global warming. In the U.K. you were a Thatcherite through the ’80s, but then your Sun backed Tony Blair and you became a frequent guest at No. 10 Downing Street. Andrew Neil, editor of your Sunday Times for a decade, pointed out that since the Murdoch press backed Blair, it magically avoided media ownership limits. William Shawcross, another one of your former editors, said you would often send right-wing articles to subordinates marked “worth reading.” Associates at Fox say you often vent your political views to them, yet tolerate the fact that almost all of the executives in your entertainment empire are hardcore liberals. Is this a case of Mandarin tolerance or simply a surrender to reality? You should know that there’s growing discontent in the ranks, Rupert. Some defections may occur if your views become more strident — and your stock options less valuable. Your political bias hasn’t often reflected itself on the showbiz side, though every once in a while you show your colors. You killed one movie, “Die Hard III,” for example, because you insisted its attitudes were “anti-cop” and you felt Hollywood too often put “authority” in a negative light. You clearly are a global thinker, Rupert, constantly pressing for further international expansion. You are married to a forceful Chinese woman and you have many friends and supplicants around the globe. But no one — not even your foreign partners — quite knows who the hell you are. You started out a lefty, and even had a bust of Lenin in your room at Oxford, much to the irritation of your father. Now it seems that you may be shifting direction yet again. Your hair color has changed from gray to orange and you’re hanging with folks like Bono and Diller and Geffen — not to mention your kids, whose politics are a lot less strident. The world is changing and perhaps you are, too. So here’s an idea, Rupert. Send out the word that the boss would like to give both sides a fair shake this time. That means Fox News really does miraculously become “fair and balanced.” It means the post-partisan Journal continues to respect the distinction between its news pages and its editorial page — and perhaps its editorials might stop being poisonous toward any opinion to the left of Genghis Khan. It means that the Post can cover both candidates and steer clear of the sort of pro-Bush bias that would even embarrass your British tabloids. After all, you’re not William Randolph Hearst, Rupert. You’re a lot wiser — and also a lot more pragmatic. Hearst blew away his empire partly because he became a slave to his ideology and greed. People now remember him only as a weird old guy who built a giant castle that transformed San Simeon into an upmarket Disneyland. You were never into castles, Rupert, and, unlike Hearst, you really love your newspapers — to a point where snarky media analysts label you both “old media” and “old hat.” Prove them wrong, Rupert. Instruct your media mavens to take the high road this time out. It will be a far loftier legacy than that of Hearst.