Politics Analysis

Murdoch media manipulated by misinformation monster

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Rupert Murdoch has built a media empire on false narratives and Right-wing conspiracies (Image by Dan Jensen)

The mighty Murdoch media empire is now facing the consequences of spreading false narratives and costly political lies, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.

THE MURDOCH MEDIA didn’t set out to create misinformation. But its desire to produce media content that makes Right-wing politicians look good and Left-wing politicians bad led it down a false-narrative rabbit hole that it doesn’t seem to be able to dig its way out of.

Fox News’ decision to settle the Dominion voting machine defamation case for a whopping US$787.5 million (AU$1.18 billion) seems like a historic moment for truth, media power and democracy. But nothing will change for the Murdoch media, because it has created a false-narrative monster. To destroy this monster, it would need to destroy itself.

Although it is disappointing that Fox News anchors, executives and owners, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, avoided the humiliating spectacle of a trial, the cost of the Dominion settlement is a satisfying consequence of the media outlet’s repeated endorsement of Donald Trump’s “big lie” about President Joe Biden stealing the U.S. Election.

The settlement, however, won’t solve the fracture caused by the big lie. It won’t stop the no-longer-United States of America from tearing itself apart. The election fraud accusation continues to be used by Trump supporters and Republican politicians to undermine the legitimacy of the Biden Administration. This conspiracy lie continues to fester in Right-wing conspiracy circles in the U.S. and worldwide.

When mainstream news outlets endorse false narratives, they undermine the foundations of a healthy democracy. The question now is, how will Fox News and other Murdoch outlets move forward, having admitted they, in their words, made “certain claims about Dominion” which were “false”.

Already, we get an insight into Murdoch’s determination to continue on as usual. In a statement, Fox News said its decision to settle with Dominion “reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards”. Yet, it reportedly fought against Dominion’s demands for an apology and a retraction.

Soon after the settlement, Lachlan Murdoch quietly dropped his defamation case against Crikey, which he sued for defamation for calling Murdoch Trump’s ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Nothing to see here, move along.

Fox News is now facing a second defamation fight against voting machine company, Smartmatic. In response to this case, the company’s lawyers are reverting back to their argument that was disallowed by the judge in the Dominion case; Fox reported Trump’s election fraud accusations because they were “extremely newsworthy events”. Apparently, almost US$800 million is not enough to convince Murdoch that disinformation is not newsworthy.

These responses from Fox News suggest the Murdoch media has no intention of reforming its news outlets. To accept fault and to commit to change would be to admit something is wrong with the organisation. It would need to name the monster it has created. That shameful admission would cost the Murdoch family more than the billions in their bank accounts.

Much has been said about the reasons why Fox News anchors promoted Trump’s election fraud lies. Many believe that since Trump’s supporters are Fox News’ most loyal and valuable audience, the election fraud lies were served up to keep them from switching channels to even more rabid conspiracy wormholes.

This explanation, premised on commercial motives, goes some of the way to explaining why Murdoch outlets have become an out-of-control false-narrative monster. To win over Republican viewers, and Right-wing voters in other markets like Australia and the UK, Murdoch media has put all its eggs in a Right-wing bias business plan.

But this decision had political motives, not just commercial ones. A long time ago, the Murdochs gave up on the lucrative mainstream audience who wanted objective and balanced news, and instead made the confounding commercial decision to create Right-wing propaganda for an ever-shrinking and ageing extremist-Right-wing niche. They fight culture wars on behalf of the Right, endorse Right-wing politicians, and create a self-reinforcing echo chamber where no one questions the validity of increasingly extreme and unpopular Right-wing ideas.

What the Murdochs didn’t realise, however, was that making this political decision set them on a slippery slope. In trying to bias their news to promote Right-wing ideas and in turn, to smear Left-wing values, their news outlets were forced to create false narratives.

It is not illegal to be biased. But it is illegal to destroy reputations by spreading lies. In working to create Right-wing echo chambers for their increasingly unhinged Right-wing viewers, Murdoch “journalists” and commentators purposely shape and mould reality to make it fit their pro-Right-wing, anti-Left-wing propaganda.

This shaping and moulding often goes beyond bending reality, to falsifying it. Misinformation and disinformation are often the only way to make Right-wing stories work. Like the lie that Biden didn’t win the Election legitimately. These false narratives have become a monster for the Murdoch media, and an expensive and embarrassing one at that.

Whether it is the Herald Sun being called out by the Press Council for misrepresenting facts about Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews or commentator Andrew Bolt breaching the Racial Discrimination Act in his commentary about light-skinned Aboriginal people. Or whether it’s Rupert’s eldest son James criticising and eventually leaving the Murdoch family’s news outlets for their denial and downplaying of climate change, the Murdochs regularly get caught out creating false narratives for political, rather than commercial gain.

If Murdoch outlets really did value journalistic integrity as they claim to and wanted to stop feeding their viewers false realities which undermine society, they would have to slay their false narrative monster. They are hardly going to do that when that would be an act of political self-destruction.

The Murdochs have always loved money. But what they love even more is political power and influence. Why else do they keep financially worthless Australian newspapers like The Australian? The fact is, despite their political lies being extremely costly, they seem determined to keep lying.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

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