The announcement that the News Corporation’s founding father Rupert Murdoch was transitioning to “chairman emeritus” status has opened the flood gates for both admirers and critics.
ABC News, focusing on his influence in British media, headlined this:
Hero or villain? Rupert Murdoch’s exit stirs strong feelings in Britain, where he upended the media
Rupert Murdoch stirs mixed feelings in Britain, where he transformed the media over half a century
In this space in the good old USA, two names came to mind in reflecting on Murdoch’s impact on American media.
Barry Goldwater and Robert Bork.
Hop in the time capsule and travel first back to July of 1964.
Arizona’s Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, the decided “Mr. Conservative” of the day, was on the verge of clinching the GOP presidential nomination as the GOP convention convened in San Francisco.
Reflecting back in his memoirs, Goldwater wrote this:
The convention opened in an uproar after a series of major, unexpected developments involving ‘CBS News.’ These events culminated in a crucial broadcast by Daniel Schorr from Germany.
The first was the false (Walter) Cronkite report (in 1963) that I would not be attending the (President) Kennedy funeral because I’d be in Indiana giving a political speech. (Note: In fact, Goldwater was attending his mother-in-law’s funeral, not giving a political speech.)
Second, ‘CBS News’ chief Fred Friendly and CBS commentator Eric Sevareid told me in 1963 that they wanted to produce an hour-long documentary on the conservative revolution in America. They even mentioned a title, The Conservative Revival.”
Goldwater goes on to note that the program turned out to be a hatchet job, filled with “liberal bias.” Then he writes that as he prepared to accept the GOP presidential nomination CBS correspondent Schorr was in Munich, Germany reporting this:
It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany’s right wing.
Goldwater has accepted an invitation to visit, immediately after the convention, Lieutenant General William Quinn, commander of the Seventh Army at Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s onetime stamping ground but now an American Army recreational area.
…It is now clear that Senator Goldwater’s interview with Der Spiegel, with its hard line appealing to right-wing elements in Germany, was only the start of a move to link up with his opposite numbers in Germany…
None of this was true, to say the least. After the convention was booked, normally enough, to go home to his home in Phoenix and rest up for the fall campaign against Democrat President Lyndon Johnson. But the CBS mission was accomplished: paint Goldwater as a right-wing fanatic who admired Hitler.
Now move ahead to 1987. A vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court and President Reagan announces he is appointing the seriously conservative and brilliant legal mind Judge Robert Bork to the seat.
As a young Reagan White House staffer in the Political Affairs office I can testify that the Reagan staff was completely surprised at what was then the highly untraditional campaign to tear down Bork. In his memoirs, The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law, Bork wrote:
During all this time there was the incessant barrage of negative advertising, media coverage, a daily flood of mail, and constant telephone calls. The media varied, of course, but the reporting in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the three network news programs was almost unrelievedly hostile, as of course, were the advertisements. The campaign was having its effect.
Take these two episodes, 23 years apart, together, and what do they have in common?
There was no Fox News on the air to equalize the fight. Had it existed in the day, Goldwater may or may not have won. But without doubt the slurs that implied he was some sort of pseudo-Hitler admirer would never have been allowed to go unchallenged in a mass media with the Murdoch empire on the scene to reply.
So too would Fox News have made a tremendous difference in the Bork nomination fight. Some 31 years later the same kind of smear campaign that was waged against Supreme Court nominee Bork was in fact waged against another conservative nominee – Trump nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. This time around Fox was a fully matured cable news network – and the attacks on Kavanaugh were regularly refuted on Fox as well as other now-existing conservative media outlets. Not to mention conservative talk radio and social media.
Which is to say, Rupert Murdoch and his creations of Fox News and the News Corporation have at long last ended the one-sided dominance of liberal media. The liberal monopoly on information simply no longer exists. Not to mention that well beyond Fox News the invention of the Internet and social media has provided mass access to sites like this - NewsBusters – where the left-leaning media itself can be examined and challenged 24/7.
And, of course, not to be forgotten either is the advent of talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh and the spread of conservative talk radio over the AM radio air waves.
But as Rupert Murdoch at 92 hands the reins of his media empire to son Lachlan, his importance in American politics with the creation of a major-league conservative media alternative and challenge to the once-dominant liberal media will always be remembered.
And millions of conservatives out there are surely appreciative.