By Situation Theatre 12/5/2019
Much has been written about the spread of the Murdoch empire’s “cancer on democracy”. What started as a localised malignancy close to a century ago has metastasised and now threatens all the vital organs of democracy in the US, UK, and Australia. Much less has been written about the treatment options for this ravaging sickness. Parts Two and Three of this series try to redress the balance, starting with framing Rupert Murdoch as the true enemy of the people.
In 2013, Robert Manne wrote a piece in The Monthly charting the insidious growth of Murdoch influence from the 70s in Australia to the UK and the US in the decades since.
In 2017, Crikey published a forensic 13-part examination of The Australian’s “vicious, personal, biased editorial Holy Wars against its ideological, political and commercial enemies in the name of “news”, “journalism” and “professional reporting”.
A 2018 Guardian series examined Murdoch’s role in bringing down Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, his power to sway elections at a state, federal and global level, along with his aggressive defence of commercial interests and the role of his son Lachlan.
In 2019, The New York Times Magazine published articles based on 150 interviews on three continents to describe the “Murdoch family’s role in destabilising democracy in North America, Europe, and Australia”.
While the literature on the many ways Murdoch has poisoned our democracies is vast, the literature on recommended antidotes is not. What does exist is either very pessimistic or fairly minimalist.
For example, Robert Manne’s 2013 piece does feature some advice towards the end of his article and it’s pretty much summed up by the phrase “give up”.
His article is titled Why Rupert Murdoch Can’t Be Stopped and his conclusion is “The truth is sad and salutary. News Corp’s domination of the press is a threat to Australia’s democracy. There is now no politically realistic way to overcome this problem.”
Cheers Robert, but we’ll pass on this promising “resignation to the Murdoch-fuelled climate and biodiversity apocalypse” option. Instead we’ll bear in mind the title of anthropologist Alexei Yurchak’s 2005 book about the collapse of Soviet socialism, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More.
More recently, Richard Cooke’s excellent May 2019 piece in The Monthly is expansive on how News Corp is a “political propaganda entity of a kind perhaps not seen since the 19th century, one that has climbed to its pedestal through regulatory capture, governmental favours and menace, and is now applying its energies to the promotion of white nationalism, even as white nationalists commit scores of murders”.
Cooke is less expansive on the solutions, although he does argue that progressives should “apply any legal means necessary to stop the bad actors within News, before it is too late. Self-accountability has failed, and so has accountability created by the media class. It is time for accountability to be created by the direct action of civil society itself.”
Hear, hear, Richard.
Still, it’s this imbalance between diagnosis and treatment options that explains why although the first article in this three-part series did take an historical approach to place dissident News Corp voices longing for a mythic past into their appropriate context, the rest of the series will focus more on how to frame Murdoch’s influence and what is to be done.
This piece will discuss the importance of developing an antagonistic distinction in The People vs Rupert Murdoch and the final piece in the series will discuss ways to resolve the antagonism in favour of the people.
A good place to begin a discussion of framing Rupert Murdoch as Emperor Palpatine’s naughty twin brother is the realisation that a fundamental characteristic of successful political movements is the naming of an enemy.
Carl Schmitt was a conservative German legal, constitutional, and political theorist seen to be one of the most important critics of parliamentary democracy, liberalism, and liberal cosmopolitanism. He also sided with the Nazis after 1933, so for the dominant right-wing sections of the West’s right-wing parties and media, what’s not to love?
Schmitt argued that different spheres of life have different fundamental distinctions at their heart. In ethics, it’s that between morally good and morally bad. In aesthetics, it’s between the beautiful and the ugly. In economics, it’s between the profitable and unprofitable. For Schmitt, “the specific political distinction…is that between friend and enemy.” This distinction refers to the “utmost degree of intensity…of an association or dissociation.”
News Corp and right-wing politicians get this. Boy, do they get this. You only have to think of Fox News’ war on Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar, Donald Trump’s war on journalists, establishment Democrats’ war on Bernie Sanders, or The Australian’s war on Gillian Triggs and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, to accept this point.
Now, given the association of the friend-enemy distinction with Nazis, Republicans, Fox News, Donald Trump, The Australian and Rupert Murdoch, progressives may be understandably reticent in adopting such a worldview.
Thankfully, there is a more progressive antecedent of the friend-enemy distinction, namely Argentine political theorist Ernesto Laclau. He advocated for the left to seek “the formation of an internal antagonistic frontier.” This “internal boundary” separates “the held of power from that of the sectors whose demands have not been met.”
Laclau’s ideas are connected with the pink tide in Latin America, including Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Evo Morales’ Bolivia, and Rafael Correa’s Ecuador. His ideas were also influential for the initial inroads into Greek politics made by Syriza and those made by Podemos in Spain.
These movements made enemies out of international finance and neoliberal capitalism while constructing the people to include poor and marginalised groups. By framing these antagonistic frontiers, they successfully increased political participation and material well-being of the people.
It’s clear from the existing literature that Lord Rupert been making an enemy out of the demos for decades.
At this point, fighting back in the case of The People vs Rupert Murdoch is just self-defence.