As Tucker Carlson begins to slither out of the news cycle, here’s a reminder to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize—that is, the real enemy of standards and decency and integrity—is Rupert Murdoch. Carlson was a symptom. An unusually disgusting and purulent (great word, look it up!) symptom, but a symptom all the same. The disease is Murdoch.
He has been destroying journalism for 50 years. I’ll get into some of that below. But right now, let’s focus on something that’s happening in England, which I can assure you is something that Rupert is worried about—maybe even more worried than he is about Smartmatic.
Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but, a month out from Prince Charles’s coronation, Prince Harry has been out there shredding his father’s reputation. Harry is part of a large group suing Murdoch’s British media empire, News Group Newspapers, over the old phone-hacking scandal, which Harry and other litigants claim went on far longer than known and extended to the Murdoch property The Sun (so far, only News of the World, shuttered after a massive settlement, has been implicated). In papers released Tuesday, Harry alleges that Queen Elizabeth II wanted to go after Murdoch’s media empire legally but that Charles called her off. This was allegedly because he wanted to stay on Rupe’s good side for the sake of Camilla—that is, so that Murdoch media outlets didn’t make any waves about her becoming queen. Charles may have feared another “Tampongate.”
The internal royal squabbling is an interesting curiosity. But what concerns us more over here is Harry’s crusade against Murdoch. Clive Irving explains in The Daily Beast: “Harry’s attack on the ‘grotesque and sadistic’ London tabloids is likely to bring more reputational harm. Murdoch’s lawyers know this. Harry’s refusal to settle out of court—as thousands of other hacking victims have done because they lack his kind of wealth to support protracted litigation—means that damning documents uncovered during discovery would suddenly be made public in court.”
Harry is out for blood. And unlike the thousands of regular-person victims of the phone-hacking scandal, such as the grieving parents of dead children, Harry has the money to go toe-to-toe with Murdoch in the courtroom. He doesn’t want to settle. He wants all the facts out there, and he wants Murdoch crushed.
The target, aside from Murdoch himself, is Rebekah Brooks, the odious former editor of News of the World who ran the tabloid while the phone hacking was going on. Brooks was acquitted in 2013 of the charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and her lawyers managed to persuade the court that she hadn’t been actively involved in the hacking of people’s phones. Irving reports that Harry’s legal team has discovered new evidence that the hacking happened at The Sun while she was editor there. And they want the British public, and the world, to know. Irving writes that it is estimated in Britain that all this could end up costing Murdoch $1.25 billion.
And now let’s return to Smartmatic, the electronic-voting tech company that’s suing Fox News for $2.7 billion. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Fox agreed to hand over more documents to Smartmatic’s lawyers after the lawyers complained in a letter to the judge about “obvious gaps” in the material Fox had provided. Judge David Cohen is seeking a “broadening of discovery.” One Smartmatic lawyer previously vowed that the Dominion lawsuit had started the demolition of Murdoch’s empire and that Smartmatic would finish the job.
So, in both the United States and England, Murdoch’s ass is on the hot seat in a huge way. The costs still aren’t enough to kill his empire, in all likelihood. But with any luck, the reputational damage will be severe. So severe that pressure builds on cable companies to stop paying the carriage fees that are Fox News’s mother’s milk. These fees, not ad revenue, constitute a majority of Fox’s income. And just last week, Fox asked for a large increase in those fees, Brian Stelter reported. That was after the Dominion settlement but before the firing of Carlson. Fox’s ratings have tumbled since Carlson’s ouster.
I once spent an afternoon in the morgue of the New York Post looking at old papers from late 1976 and early 1977. Why? Because it was January 1977 when Murdoch took over ownership of the paper from Dolly Schiff, the longtime owner of the Post and ardent New Dealer. Schiff’s Post was one of the country’s leading liberal newspapers—and, in those days when there was little tension between liberalism and Zionism, a leading defender of both. And while it was tabloid, it wasn’t supermarket-ish.
Within a month or so, Murdoch’s henchmen had transformed the paper utterly. It was conservative, and it was trashy; whereas Schiff’s Post had shouted, Murdoch’s version screamed at the top of its lungs. Then he took over The Village Voice (just for the money—he didn’t try to change it ideologically), New York magazine, and a local New York TV news channel, and the race was on. It was unheard of at the time that one man should own two newspapers and a magazine. Unheard of and against the laws that then existed. Murdoch just got the laws changed.
He’s been destroying journalism ever since. It’s not even journalism, what his properties do. Oh, they do enough journalism for the purposes of cover. The New York Post has a good sports section. Fox News dayside reports on what happened today. But the point of both properties isn’t to cover the news; it’s to shape and distort and change it. In Britain, by eavesdropping on suffering people. In America, by turning its audience into raging reactionaries who hate their foes so much that they now oppose the democracy they’ve shared with those foes for 250 years. It’s a reign of terror that must end. And now, there is some actual hope that it might.
This article first appeared in Fighting Words, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by editor Michael Tomasky. Sign up here.