Monday, July 18, 2011

Nothing To See Here...

I'm finding it hard to assimilate how uninterested Americans seem to be in the news from Britain of the phone-hacking scandal. It's hard to know what to call it; I'd like to make it The Great Murdoch Unraveling, but we're not there yet.

Two threads on the subject totally fizzled in a listserv I subscribe to, mostly populated by people who consider themselves liberals. Freedom of the press, y'know. Rupert can print anything he wants, nothing we can do about it.

Dean Starkman offers me a sanity check when he calls the story "a five-alarm business story if there ever was one."

I admit, I currently have access to limited English-language television, so it occurred to me that maybe I'm reading all this wrong, in collaboration with my wish that Fox News would disappear from the face of the earth. But most of the editorial staff of the suddenly-defunct News of the World has now been arrested for complicity in the phone-hacking, and two London police officials have resigned as the news seems to imply serious police help with that hacking, for which they were paid by NOTW. That seems to me to be pretty serious and potentially wide-ranging corruption.

James Fallows seems to be stuck on a single Fox News segment. Outrageous as it was, it seems to me that the bigger picture is much more important.

Will Hutton does the best job I've seen so far of explaining why that big picture includes the Murdoch empire in America.
There has always been this fundamentalist strand in US life, but what has inflamed it over the last decade is a twofold process – a wrong-headed understanding of why US economic pre-eminence is being challenged, closely linked to the breakdown of a public realm in which ideas are discussed, traded and exchanged in a climate which respects argument. The abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, which required all broadcasters fairly to represent all points of view, has created a mass media shouting, ranting, sloganising and overwhelmingly from the political right.

The leader in the charge is Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a TV channel with an audience of 100 million in which all news and comment have to be shoehorned – subtly in its news operation and overtly in its commentary – into a conservative worldview. It operates, as the former White House communications director Anita Dunn has said, "as either the research or communications arm of the Republican party". Leading Republican stars such as Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin are on its payroll. Its political shows pull no punches: the hosts are hard-line Republicans. If Fox News were to permit the case for tax increases to be fairly reported or discussed it would not be doing its job. Murdoch, refusing in a Fox News interview last week even to discuss the News of the World, would be displeased.

No explanation of the Tea Party "Real Republican" intransigence over the debt talks is possible without understanding how its political base has been constructed and sustained. But the damage goes well beyond the US getting so close to debt default. It makes rational discussion of wider US policy options close to impossible. Like reporters in the Soviet Union or China, Fox News journalists have to parrot an ideological line: the US economy's dynamism is rooted entirely in sturdy, enterprising, God-fearing individuals threatened only by federal taxes and regulation. Thus the Republican negotiating stance.
Read the whole thing. It is extremely well done.

More about why this could be important to America.

The New York Times is doing a good job of covering the action, here and here for example.

Bloggers who are obsessed with this as I am can be found at The Reaction and Balloon Juice. Jim Sleeper, too.

Finally, a couple of big articles for background:

How We Broke the Murdoch Scandal

Inside Rebekah Brooks' News of the World

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