The End of Murdoch? Another Despot Teeters on the Brink

The End of Murdoch? Another Despot Teeters on the Brink

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The harder they come
The harder they fall
One and all

—Jimmy Cliff


It used to be that oppressors of every stripe in the world could hide in plain sight, protected by their titles, auras of power, security guards and military apparatuses. Yet as demonstrations shake the Arab capitals from North Africa to the heart of the Middle East, in an appreciably cooler London, another enemy of freedom is having his comeuppance as the Murdoch empire trembles in the face of public outrage.

Rupert Murdoch, who has deliberately taken over major media organizations across the globe to propagate his specious, reactionary worldview, is at heart just another tin-pot dictator, no better than Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, Bashar al Assad of Syria and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.

While Arab dictators have long been laughed at as caricatures of themselves, Murdoch and his son James have managed to obscure their true oppressive intents under a patina of civility. But no more. In the past few days, they were not only forced to shut down the scandal-ridden News of the World but lost their bid for the complete takeover of Britain’s satellite TV giant BSkyB.

Rebekah Brooks, who had presided over a shrill, abusive, law-breaking News of the World as a Murodoch protégé, had to resign [and, on Sunday, was placed under arrest]. Her resignation was followed by that of Les Hinton, who had been the head of News International, which published the tabloid, when cell phone messages were intercepted by aggressive reporters. Now Murdoch plans to apologize in major British newspapers as a last-ditch damage control measure.

It is, however, too late for apologies. Cynically taking over such tawdry tabloids as the News of the World and the Sun, and then adding the staid Times of London to his portfolio, deeply offended many Britons, who value tradition and protocol above all else.

Australian-born and a U.S. citizen, Murdoch became a kingmaker in the United Kingdom, his British media empire making it impossible for anyone to consider high office without his endorsement. The entire British political establishment, in fact, is finding this an opportune time to get rid of him and his influence for good.

Arab dictators, of course, cannot apologize. In lands where the iron fist has ruled for centuries, one word of contrition from them and they are finished. Gadhafi, who characterizes his opposition as “sons of dogs” and “drug addicts,” is a cool and calculating tyrant beneath the bluster, now circulating news that he is stepping down and then issuing a denial. Yet, trying to run down the clock, he does not realize that time is no longer on his side.

Al Assad is also desperately playing for time, setting the agenda for a “national dialogue” even as his thugs attack the American and French embassies and his soldiers shoot live rounds into crowds of demonstrators.

However, getting rid of despots, be they in Tripoli, Damascus or London, without having definite alternatives in place is highly questionable. From the beginning, the Arab revolt has been as heavy on sloganeering as it has been shy of constructive, concrete plans for the future. Simply getting rid of the existing orders may well result in military takeovers and counter-coups, making the cure worse than the disease.

In London, Murdoch is ostensibly a fall guy. Despite incessant, daily cries of “reform” by the very politicians who owe their offices to him, it is doubtful that Britain’s parliamentary system—similar to most Western “democratic” apparatuses—will budge an inch from serving special interests to the detriment of the voting public.

In the United States, after members of both parties asked the Justice Department to investigate Murdoch’s News Corporation with its numerous American holdings—most notably the Fox Group and the Wall Street Journal—Attorney General Eric Holder has formally announced that an investigation is under way. The FBI is also going to investigate possible infringement of the cell phone records belonging to 9/11 victims.

No legal investigation, however, will make up for Murdoch’s willful efforts to unleash on America people of the Bill O’Reily stripe while reducing the quality of TV entertainment to the vulgarities of “American Idol.” A once-proud 20th Century Fox is now home to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

Power, be it Arab, Australian or American, is often coercive, first preying on the most irrational and impressionable with the most preposterous of propositions until it gains so much acceptance that people of reason and good judgment also have to fall in line.

Fox News played an instrumental role in drumming up “war on terror” hysteria in the wake of 9/11. A decade later, according to a piece on the Al-Jazeera English website, “A recent, detailed study by the Eisenhower Research Project at Brown University revealed that the war on terror has cost the U.S. economy, so far, from $3.7 trillion (the most conservative estimate) to $4.4 trillion (the moderate estimate). Then there are interest payments on these costs— another $1 trillion,” to the delight of arms dealers, private contractors and international bankers.

It is, however, doubtful that Attorney General Holder will be ordering an investigation into that wholesale looting of public funds any time soon.