Murdochracy in the United States

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Despite newspaper profits being in freefall, Rupert Murdoch is trying to massively expand his press holdings in the United States — what is going on? Rodney E. Lever explains.

AudacityofGreed-RupertMurdochFlatWebAoG400pixRUPERT MURDOCH is sailing through a heavy sea in his attempt to buy the Los Angeles Times, the first part of his plan to own several more newspapers in the US. The LA Times is one of a handful of prime U.S. newspapers owned by the giant Tribune Corporation. Rupert wants to own at least three of them.

Murdoch is dividing his international News Corporation in two: One half will be the already shaky newspaper publishing group; and the other half, he hopes, will finance the project with money from television and movies. A few days ago, Murdoch announced he would be calling the entertainment business 21st Century Fox.

Murdoch was once forced to sell his New York Post because a regulation prohibited him from owning a newspaper and TV channels in the one city. The Post went broke under the new management and Murdoch was allowed to buy it back by persuading the regulator to exempt him from the rule in the interest of saving jobs.

Murdoch’s love affair with the New York Post is over now and New York and London sources are saying that the paper, first published in 1801, may soon follow the News of the World into history.

The final straw may have been the Boston marathon, when the Post identified two innocent men as suspects in the bombing and then clumsily reported three times the actual number of fatalities on the front page: typical of the grossly misleading and often totally invented stories that have been the hallmark of the Post since Murdoch bought it.

The Post has never made a profit. It has cost Murdoch $80 to $110 million a year, the losses justified only by his ability to influence US elections, particularly those affecting the New York City mayoralty.

It will be a test of his remaining influence in U.S. politics if he can get another waiver covering Los Angeles. Then he may need to do it again and again because he is also considering buying major papers in Chicago and Boston. This time he will surely need to influence a complete change in the regulations.

His strongest argument is that the newspaper industry is in deep trouble. It is. So why does he want it so badly?

The Obama government could block him in the Senate but Republicans still retain power in the House of Representatives. Inside that party, right now, is a debate that its trickle-down, greed-is-good policies might need to be relaxed if the G.O.P. is to have any electoral future.

Murdoch’s views will have to be modified, too, if he is to retain political support. He has been a stout supporter of the Republican Party since the days when Ronald Reagan was president.

As his record shows, Rupert has never been averse to changing political sides if it suits his current objective.

According to the New York Times (also on the list of papers Murdoch would like to own) he has been saying that his latest acquisitive plans might be more of a problem than they are worth: Say you don’t want it and you’ll probably get it cheaper.

The Obama administration has weakened some of Murdoch’s influence in government. Murdoch told an LA Times reporter, “It won’t get through with the Democratic administration in place.”

The New York Times says News Corporation spent $6.3 million last year on political lobbying, using three major public relations firms in Washington. This is the real heart of American democracy. Get a lobbyist, throw money around and every problem will soon disappear.

Murdoch’s new project would make him the most powerful publisher in the English-speaking world. But it could produce financial strains if the television and movie businesses fail to maintain their solid returns.

Murdoch has never been afraid of risk.

More difficult for him is the task of making his papers acceptable again. How is a publisher to regain public trust when he has a long record of dishonesty; of reaching agreements and immediate breaking his word?

With all his charm and his money will he be able to produce the very best quality of journalism? None of his papers anywhere have ever reached that level. He will need to make his newspapers acceptable to those readers who have been bitten so often before by false, misleading, reckless and wildly inaccurate reports?

Can a man change his spots when he has excused himself from not knowing that his London executives were engaging in privacy invasion, tapping phones, stalking people, bribing police and politicians on an industrial scale never before seen in any major publishing business?

Rupert has spent a lifetime engaging in ventures that smack of reckless gambling. In the past he has always talked his way through every crisis. Now he heads into the breach once more.

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