Frank Rich does not have a lot of good things to say about Rupert Murdoch or his media empire. In the latest issue of New York, the former New York Times columnist walks back through his career to the time that he worked briefly at the New York Post, just before Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1976. Referring to Murdoch as "Daddy Warbucks," Rich warns us that the typical anxieties about News Corp.'s influence--"its outré partisanship, its tabloid sleaze, its Washington lobbying, or even what liberals most love to hate, the bogus 'fair and balanced' propaganda masquerading as journalism at Fox News"--are misplaced:
The bigger story is this: An otherwise archetypal media colossus, with apolitical TV shows (American Idol), movies (Avatar), and cable channels (FX) like any other, is controlled by a family (and its tight coterie of made men and women, exemplified by the recently departed Rebekah Brooks) that countenances the intimidation and silencing of politicians, regulators, competitors, journalists, and even ordinary citizens to maximize its profits and power and to punish perceived corporate, political, and personal enemies. And, as we now know conclusively, some of this behavior has broken the law.
It's a grisly business that's pretty well summed up in the on-going phone hacking scandal in the U.K. Rich provides some examples of how News Corp. handles their "intimidation and silencing" techniques, and unsurprisingly, it has something to do with Fox News. Besides the seemingly typical harassment in the form of unsourced tabloid gossip that he endured from his former employer, the Post, Rich recounts a more extended assault from Bill O'Reilly:
After I came to the less-than-novel judgment that Mel Gibson and his 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ were anti-Semitic, O’Reilly, whose one novel had been optioned by Gibson for a film, attacked me on six different installments of his prime-time Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor, sometimes displaying my photograph. I would have laughed off his blowhard provocations--“Hollywood and a lot of the secular press are controlled by the Jewish people” was a typical hypothesis--had they not incited the most explicitly violent and virulently anti-Semitic threats of my career. It was only one of two times in seventeen years as a Times columnist that I sought security advice. (The other was when I wrote critically about Scientology some years earlier.)
The timing for Rich's latest makes sense. Last Friday, news emerged that the New York Post was readying itself for a possible investigation into phone hacking in their newsroom. The order for all staff "to preserve and maintain all documents and information that are related in any way" to phone hacking or paying government officials comes just days after the Department of Justice reportedly started preparing subpoenas for an investigation into News Corp. That investigation could go in about five different directions based on our estimates, but Rich seems to suggest that we deserve a deeper understanding of News Corp.'s influence in order to comprehend, as his article's title puts it, how "Murdoch hacked us too."
Reading Rich's piece in full will stoke your Murdoch rage if it's cooled at all since last week's shocking developments. We now know that phone hacking at News of the World implicated a second murdered girl and that the private investigator charged with performing the vast majority of hacking was just following orders.. Aaron Sorkin's accompanying "unfinished screenplay" about Rupert Murdoch and former New York schools chancellor and current chief of News Corp.'s internal phone hacking investigation Joel Klein provides some comic relief.