Who is Rupert Murdoch?
How one right-wing billionaire uses his business and media empire to pursue a partisan agenda at the expense of democracy
July 16, 2004
In recent years, Australian-born billionaire Rupert Murdoch has used the U.S. government's increasingly lax media regulations to consolidate his hold over the media and wider political debate in America. Consider Murdoch's empire: According to Businessweek, "his satellites deliver TV programs in five continents, all but dominating Britain, Italy, and wide swaths of Asia and the Middle East. He publishes 175 newspapers, including the New York Post and The Times of London. In the U.S., he owns the Twentieth Century Fox Studio, Fox Network, and 35 TV stations that reach more than 40% of the country...His cable channels include fast-growing Fox News, and 19 regional sports channels. In all, as many as one in five American homes at any given time will be tuned into a show News Corp. either produced or delivered." But who is the real Rupert Murdoch? As this report shows, he is a far-right partisan who has used his empire explicitly to pull American political debate to the right. He is also an enabler of the oppressive tactics employed by dictatorial regimes, and a man who admits to having hidden money in tax havens. In short, there more to Rupert Murdoch than meets the eye.
In 2003, Rupert Murdoch told a congressional panel that his use of "political influence in our newspapers or television" is "nonsense." But a close look at the record shows Murdoch has imparted his far-right agenda throughout his media empire.
MURDOCH THE WAR MONGER: Just after the Iraq invasion, the New York Times reported, "The war has illuminated anew the exceptional power in the hands of Murdoch, 72, the chairman of News Corp… In the last several months, the editorial policies of almost all his English-language news organizations have hewn very closely to Murdoch's own stridently hawkish political views, making his voice among the loudest in the Anglophone world in the international debate over the American-led war with Iraq." The Guardian reported before the war Murdoch gave "his full backing to war, praising George Bush as acting 'morally' and 'correctly' and describing Tony Blair as 'full of guts'" for his support of the war. Murdoch said just before the war, "We can't back down now – I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly." [New York Times, 4/9/03; Guardian, 2/12/03]
MURDOCH THE NEOCONSERVATIVE: Murdoch owns the Weekly Standard, the neoconservative journal that employed key figures who pushed for war in Iraq. As the American Journalism Review noted, the circulation of Murdoch's Weekly Standard "hovers at only around 65,000. But its voice is much louder than those numbers suggest." Editor Bill Kristol "is particularly adept at steering Washington policy debates by inserting himself and his views into the discussion." In the early weeks of the War on Terror, Kristol "shepherded a letter to President Bush, signed by 40 D.C. opinion-makers, urging a wider military engagement." [Source: AJR, 12/01]
MURDOCH THE OIL IMPERIALIST: Murdoch has acknowledged his major rationale for supporting the Iraq invasion: oil. While both American and British politicians strenuously deny the significance of oil in the war, the Guardian of London notes, "Murdoch wasn't so reticent. He believes that deposing the Iraqi leader would lead to cheaper oil." Murdoch said before the war, "The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy...would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country." He buttressed this statement when he later said, "Once [Iraq] is behind us, the whole world will benefit from cheaper oil which will be a bigger stimulus than anything else." [Guardian, 2/17/03]
MURDOCH THE INTIMIDATOR: According to Agence France-Press, "Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel threatened to sue the makers of 'The Simpsons' over a parody of the channel's right-wing political stance…In an interview this week with National Public Radio, Matt Groening recalled how the news channel had considered legal action, despite the fact that 'The Simpsons' is broadcast on sister network, Fox Entertainment. According to Groening, Fox took exception took a Simpsons' version of the Fox News rolling news ticker which parodied the channel's anti-Democrat stance with headlines like 'Do Democrats Cause Cancer?'" [Source: Agence France-Press, 10/29/03]
MURDOCH THE NEWS EDITOR: "When The New York Post tore up its front page on Monday night to trumpet an apparent exclusive that Representative Richard A. Gephardt would be Senator John Kerry's running mate, the newspaper based its decision on a very high-ranking source: Rupert Murdoch, the man who controls the company that owns The Post, an employee said yesterday. The Post employee demanded anonymity, saying senior editors had warned that those who discussed the Gephardt gaffe with other news organizations would lose their jobs." [NY Times, 7/9/04]
Just as Fox claims to be "fair and balanced," Rupert Murdoch claims to stay out of partisan politics. But he has made his views quite clear – and used his media empire to implement his wishes. As a former News Corp. executive told Fortune Magazine, Murdoch "hungered for the kind of influence in the United States that he had in England and Australia" and that meant "part of our political strategy [in the U.S.] was the New York Post and the creation of Fox News and the Weekly Standard."
MURDOCH THE BUSH SUPPORTER: Murdoch told Newsweek before the war, Bush "will either go down in history as a very great president or he'll crash and burn. I'm optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of 2 to 1…One senses he is a man of great character and deep humility." [Newsweek, 2/17/03]
MURDOCH THE BUSH FAMILY EMPLOYER: As Slate reports, Murdoch "put George W. Bush cousin John Ellis in charge of [Fox's] Election Night vote-counting operation: Ellis made Fox the first network to declare Bush the victor" even as the New Yorker reported that Ellis spent the evening discussing the election with George W. and Jeb Bush. After the election, Fox bragged that it attracted 6.8 million viewers on Election Night, meaning Ellis was in a key position to tilt the election for President Bush. [Source: Slate, 11/22/00; New Yorker, 11/20/00]
MURDOCH THE MIXER OF BUSINESS AND POLITICS: James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly points out that most of Murdoch's actions "are consistent with the use of political influence for corporate advantage." In other words, he uses his publications to advance a political agenda that will make him money. The New York Times reports that in 2001, for example, The Sun, Britain's most widely read newspaper, followed Murdoch's lead in dropping its traditional conservative affiliation to endorse Tony Blair, the New Labor candidate. News Corp.'s other British papers, The Times of London, The Sunday Times and the tabloid News of the World, all concurred. The papers account for about 35% of the newspaper market in Britain. Blair backed "a communications bill in the British Parliament that would loosen restrictions on foreign media ownership and allow a major newspaper publisher to own a broadcast television station as well a provision its critics call the 'Murdoch clause' because it seems to apply mainly to News Corp." [Atlantic Monthly, 9/03; New York Times, 4/9/03]
MURDOCH THE NEW YORK CITY POLITICAL BOSS: The Columbia Journalism Review reported that during New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's first term "News Corp. received a $20.7 million tax break for the mid-Manhattan office building that houses the Post, Fox News Channel, TV Guide and other operations. During Giuliani's 1997 reelection campaign, News Corp. was also angling for hefty city tax breaks and other incentives to set up a new printing plant in New York City. Most dramatically, Giuliani jumped in to aggressively champion News Corp. when it battled Time Warner over a slot for the Fox News Channel on Time Warner's local cable system…Three years into Giuliani's first term, veteran Village Voice political reporter Wayne Barrett asked Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel if the paper had run a single editorial critical of the administration; Breindel, he says, admitted it had not. According to Barrett, the paper pulled off a perfect four-year streak" of not one critical editorial. [Columbia Journalism Review, 6/98]
Apologist for Repressive Regimes
Rupert Murdoch thinks of himself as a staunch anti-communist. But a look at the record shows that when his own profits are on the line, he is willing to do favors for the most repressive regimes on the planet.
MURDOCH THE DEFENDER OF REPRESSIVE REGIMES: The last governor of Hong Kong before it was handed back to China, Chris Patten, signed a contract to write his memoirs with Murdoch's publishing company, HarperCollins. But according to the Evening Standard, when "Murdoch heard that the book, East and West, would say unflattering things about the Chinese leadership, with whom he was doing satellite TV business, the contract was cancelled. It caused a furor in the press - except, of course, in the Murdoch papers, which barely mentioned the story." According to BusinessWeek, internal memos surfaced suggesting the canceling of the contract was motivated by "corporate worries about friction with China, where HarperCollins' boss, Rupert Murdoch, has many business interests." [Evening Standard, 8/13/03; BusinessWeek, 9/15/98]
MURDOCH THE APOLOGIST FOR DICTATORSHIPS: Time Magazine reported that while Murdoch is supposedly "a devout anti-Soviet and anti-communist" he "became bewitched by China in the early '90s." In an effort to persuade Chinese dictators that he would never challenge their behavior, Murdoch "threw the BBC off Star TV" (his satellite network operating in China) after BBC aired reports about Chinese human rights violations. Murdoch argued the BBC "was gratuitously attacking the regime, playing film of the massacre in Tiananmen Square over and over again." In 1998 Chinese President Jiang Zemin praised Murdoch for the "objective" way in which his papers and television covered China. [Source: Time Magazine, 10/25/99]
MURDOCH THE PROPAGANDIST FOR DICTATORS: While Murdoch justifies his global media empire as a threat to "totalitarian regimes everywhere," according to Time Magazine, Murdoch actually pays the salary of a top TV consultant working to improve the Chinese government's communist state-run television CCTV. As Time notes, "nowadays, News Corp. and CCTV International are partners of sorts," exchanging agreements to air each other's content, even though CCTV is "a key propaganda arm of the Communist Party." [Source: Time Magazine, 7/6/04]
MURDOCH THE ENABLER OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATORS: According to the LA Times, Murdoch had his son James, now in charge of News Corp.'s China initiative, attack the Falun Gong, the spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government after 10,000 of its followers protested in Tiananmen Square. With Rupert in attendance, James Murdoch called the movement a "dangerous" and "apocalyptic cult" and lambasted the Western press for its negative portrayal of China's awful human rights record. Murdoch "startled even China's supporters with his zealous defense of that government's harsh crackdown on Falun Gong and criticism of Hong Kong democracy supporters." Murdoch also "said Hong Kong democracy advocates should accept the reality of life under a strong-willed 'absolutist' government." It "appeared to some to be a blatant effort to curry favor" with the China's repressive government. [LA Times, 3/23/01]
MURDOCH THE HIDER OF MONEY IN COMMUNIST CUBA: Despite a U.S. embargo of communist Cuba, the Washington Post reports, "News Corp.'s organizational chart consists of no less than 789 business units incorporated in 52 countries, including Mauritius, Fiji and even Cuba." [Washington Post, 12/7/97]
From union busting to tax evading, Rupert Murdoch has established a shady business record that raises serious questions about his corporate ethics.
MURDOCH THE UNION BUSTER: The Economist reported that in 1986 Murdoch "helped smash the British print unions by transferring the production of his newspapers to a non-union plant at Wapping in East London." The move "proved to be a turning-point in Britain's dreadful industrial relations." AP reported Murdoch specifically "slashed employment levels" at the union plant and said he would "dismiss the 6,000 striking workers" who were trying to force concessions out of the media baron. The London Evening Standard called the tactics "the biggest union-busting operation in history." [Sources: The Economist, 4/18/98; AP, 1/27/86; Evening Standard, 11/12/98]
MURDOCH THE CORPORATE TAX EVADER: The BBC reported that "Mr. Murdoch's die-hard loyalty to the tax loophole has drawn wide criticism" after a report found that in the four years prior to June 30, 1998, "Murdoch's News Corporation and its subsidiaries paid only $325 million in corporate taxes worldwide. That translates as 6% of the $5.4 billion consolidated pre-tax profits for the same period…By comparison another multi-national media empire, Disney, paid 31%. The corporate tax rates for the three main countries in which News Corp. operates - Australia, the United States and the UK - are 36%, 35% and 30% respectively. Further research reveals that Mr. Murdoch's main British holding company, News Corp. Investments, has paid no net corporation tax within these shores over the past 11 years. This is despite accumulated pre-tax profits of nearly $3 billion." [Source: BBC, 3/25/99]
MURDOCH THE LOVER OF OFFSHORE TAX HAVENS: When a congressional panel asked if he was hiding money in tax havens, including communist Cuba, Murdoch responded "we might have in the past, I'm not denying that." The Washington Post reports, "through the deft use of international accounting loopholes and offshore tax havens, Murdoch has paid corporate income taxes at one-fifth the rate of his chief U.S. rivals throughout the 1990s, according to corporate documents and company officials." Murdoch "has mastered the use of the offshore tax haven." His company "reduces its annual tax bill by channeling profits through dozens of subsidiaries in low-tax or no-tax places such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. The overseas profits from movies made by 20th Century Fox, for instance, flow into a News Corp.-controlled company in the Caymans, where they are not taxed." [Source: Congressional Testimony, 5/8/03; Washington Post, 12/7/97]
MURDOCH THE ABUSER OF TAX LOOPHOLES: Even though Murdoch changed his citizenship in order to comply with U.S. media ownership rules, many of his companies have remained Australian, allowing them "to utilize arcane accounting rules that have pumped up reported profits and greatly aided Murdoch's periodic acquisition sprees." IRS officials point out that "U.S.-based companies face U.S. taxes on their offshore subsidiaries in the Caymans and elsewhere if more than 50 percent of the subsidiary is controlled by American shareholders. But that doesn't apply to News Corp., an Australian company." [Source: Congressional Testimony, 5/8/03; Washington Post, 12/7/97]