Murdoch, press boss and (or) great manipulator

Posted Oct 28, 2022, 6:30 AM

How to prevent a greedy billionaire from succumbing to the temptation to exploit his media? The debate has been raging since the fight between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer more than a century ago. That a researcher and professor at Sciences Po Paris, a specialist in the history of communication and propaganda, dares to look into it is already, in itself, a salutary initiative. Berlusconi, Maxwell, Murdoch… The history of the media is punctuated with more or less spectacular rises of those who are often baptized, with a mixture of fascination and apprehension, the “magnates of the press”.

Here, historian David Colon tackles the toughest of them, the one who represents, in a way, the last of the Mohicans, still at the head, at 91, of the most influential media empire. of media history. Coincidence of calendars: this essay, with a rather provocative tone, appears at the very moment when the Australian-American billionaire has just announced his intention to reunite his empire, ten years after separating its press and publishing activities.

propaganda machines

“Murdoch is both a global man, the embodiment of triumphant globalism and, as he likes to define himself, an ‘outsider’ and an ‘agent of change’, who frees markets from regulatory shackles”, subtly summarizes David Colon . This is the paradox of this son of a former Australian war correspondent who became a local publisher, who took American nationality in 1985, before building his own press empire and decreeing: “Modernization is Americanization. “The king of “papivores” assumes. He has never hidden his desire to influence and his desire to broadcast his own libertarian, neoconservative, climatosceptic or puritanical visions, even if it means turning its media into propaganda machines at the service of its political allies, while contributing to the polarization of debates. Or to make the bed of populists on each side of the Atlantic.

What is most striking in this biographical essay, which draws on the best sources to retrace the colorful itinerary of the Australian-American tycoon, is the character’s incredible cynicism and limitless nerve. Since the day his empire nearly collapsed in 1988 following his bulimia of acquisitions, until the production of “Titanic” by Fox, passing by his decision to publish the false diary of Adolf Hitler by the “Sunday Times”, Rupert Murdoch will always have done as he pleases. With an incredible aplomb that nails the beak to most of his opponents or his… creditors. In a way, the chief “disruptor” has always imposed his style and his mark, whether it is to make professional sport dependent on television, through BSkyB, to put Tony Blair and Boris Johnson in his pocket in the UK, or to renegotiate his debt. If you go looking for trouble you’ll find it. Few have had the courage to resist him, except the founder of CNN, Ted Turner, or the Sulzberger family, owners of the “New York Times”.

An alarm signal

Murdoch, genius of 21st century manipulatione century and idol of Trump? Certainly, one could criticize the author for excessively demonizing this great empire builder, “king of debt and accounting optimization”, by underestimating his disruptive capacity? After all, wasn’t it Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal that published the revelations of whistleblower Frances Haugen, the former Facebook computer engineer, about the questionable practices of her former employer who ” weaken democracies. And in the long and turbulent saga of press magnates, present or past, we can recognize Rupert Murdoch for having displayed the color most clearly by assuming his opportunism loud and clear. At the cost of Trumping Fox and of the heartbreak of his family. In his most revealing chapter on the succession of the “papivore” – now scripted by the famous, and excellent, HBO television series “Succession” – David Colon recounts how the Australian-American tycoon took away his youngest son, James Murdoch, the “rebel”, by removing him from power following the sale of most of his audiovisual assets (apart from Fox News) to Disney, for more than 71 billion dollars, four years ago.

The last roar of the dinosaur? Ten years after the telephone tapping scandal in the United Kingdom which had forced him to split his group in two, the recent announcement of his new strategic reversal sounds like an alarm signal. So far, the project of reunification of the empire has been received with reserve by analysts. As if the legacy of the “great manipulator” necessarily remained to be taken with a grain of salt.

Rupert Murdoch: the media emperor who manipulates the world

by David Colon. Editions Tallandier, 304 pages, 21 euros.

We wish to give thanks to the writer of this write-up for this incredible material

Murdoch, press boss and (or) great manipulator