M. steps back from the immediate and consuming focus on the hacking scandal to reflect on Rupert Murdoch’s role in politics, how he is hated by the left (for good reason) and generally considered a conservative, but in reality is something else.
There has been an interesting and news-consuming scandal in Britain over the last few days, as a Murdoch owned, trashy, nominally right-wing tabloid has been discovered to have hacked into the phones of child murder victims, terrorist attack victims, and soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and listening to (and in some cases deleting) the messages, looking for stories.
The most obvious response is that this is just yet another sign of the continuing decline in British moral standards. This is something that most could agree on, but it is one of those stories to which the left has reacted with particular glee because of the perception that Rupert Murdoch uses his immense influence to push the right-wing, “big evil corporation” agenda so despised by the left. The fact that he is courted by prime ministers and opposition leaders is seen as proof of his malign influence on British politics, as is discussed in the linked article.
But the left have it all wrong, and the wrong way round.
“Courting” someone does not mean acceding to their every demand, and the power that Murdoch wields does not rest in the things he tells his readers to believe, rather, as the ongoing “flash mob” coverage shows in America, it is what you do not tell them that really matters.
The power that Murdoch has is not that he can preach his evil right-wing message to the white working class, but that he has their attention at all. And this attention he assiduously uses to divert their minds away from anything that might challenge the liberal status quo, whilst maintaining the illusion of “speaking for the common man” The left will mock the trashy celebrity tittle-tattle of his publications aimed at the working class and sneer that he should “print some real news.” But ironically, this is the one thing the left cannot afford for him actually to do. All that gossip and rubbish serves a higher purpose. Perhaps this is also a reason why these deplorable techniques were tolerated for so long. There is a tacit understanding amongst the political class that the working classes have a strongly sentimental streak, and are also voyeuristic, and sick though it may be to hack into the phone messages of a murdered schoolgirl, the kind of righteous indignation and sorrow that such tales engender amongst its readers are directed against a solitary “heartless murdering beast” and is thus politically and culturally an inert story. No wider political context comes greatly into play (except for arguing for the death penalty, which they interestingly never do).
The News Of The World and its sister paper The Sun are pitched at the most naturally reactionary segment of British society, the white working class. And if you “read” his papers you can see that they are perfectly pitched to suppress the emergence of any real revolutionary sentiments amongst its readers. Of course it does contain the kind of story that make the left roll their eyes—stories of illegal immigrants and the “perception” that these lowers orders seem to have that crime is increasing, despite the benevolent efforts of the State to eradicate it by abolishing poverty and the family. But it has to contain these kinds of story, because it understands its readers, and knows that this is what they are talking and thinking about. It deals with this fact by presenting these stories in exactly those terms that you have discussed so often yourself—“PC gone too far,” “Another loony left idea that will never happen (whoops, it’s just happened and now it’s illegal to criticize),” stories that present things as a fait accompli, as if immigrants coming her was like the weather, the constant fiction that the government is about to finally swing back to proper “common sense” policies. You know the kind of stuff.
I recently watched a programme in which a journalist talked about the way The Sun creates certain “narratives.” This was about ten years ago when Labour were in power and David Blunkett was home secretary. The Labour spin doctors and The Sun came to an agreement where at the start of the week there would be a series of horror stories about immigrants, followed by a long (by their standards) response from David Blunkett at the end of the week in which he wrote that he had heard the cries of the British people and The Sun and would now “get tough,” etc. Of course, nothing actually changed following this Sun campaign. This is the power of The Sun. If they really wanted to, they could easily push a far-right agenda into the heart of British politics, yet they choose not to.
When leftists talk about the “power of the right wing press” they are really talking about the power of someone to keep a sleeping giant asleep. Rupert Murdoch, and others such as the Republican party, are not actually “right wing” and have no “right wing agenda.” But they are also people who are not signed up to the leftist worldview either. They are cynical enough to see the truth, but also cynical enough not to care, and are therefore prepared to go along with the cover-up as long as the actual liberals are willing to offer them enough money, or whatever else it is they want. The horse-trading that goes on between Murdoch and the political elites is one in which it is known that he does not believe what they believe, and has no reason to lie for them or censor his news for them. Desperate to avoid this core white working class falling into the wrong hands, they buy him off.
This is what the modern right wing is: people who believe in nothing, right or left, but do love money and the feeling of power—for it is a kind of real power, a power the left can never have, the power to expose people to reality. Even though they do not understand it themselves, the left deeply resent this power, because it makes a mockery of them—they can never have the power to expose people to reality precisely because reality is always running against them, and they are the ones trying to hide the fact. Thus their intense loathing for the Murdoch press and the right generally, and thus the reason why they hate the right so much in spite of having it so comprehensively beaten. And ultimately, this is why the current Schadenfreude of the left over the difficulties of Murdoch will end in disappointment for their more naive and deluded elements. For the elites who really understand, it’s a case of “better the devil you know.” What the liberal elites would really fear is the collapse of a media empire owned by a man they know they have bought off, and the potential for something more radical and dangerous to replace it.
This is why Murdoch—and for that matter the Conservative Party and the Republicans—will survive.