We in Britain are watching the crumbling of the Murdoch Empire with disbelief and cautious joy. It looks like the rot will spread to other, non-News International newspapers and perhaps even to News Corps’ American media outlets. It again feels – as after the crash of 2008 – like an end of an era, an end that was previously unthinkable. But as with the financial crisis, the ruling elite will probably become zombified and keep on after their apparent deaths, feeding off the living while holding on to power through rigor mortis alone.
Just as Murdoch in many ways represents the beginning of a change that brought about neoliberalism, so does his fall from grace seem to mark an end of it. Murdoch’s media empire acted as a pillar of support for the barbarism of the last 30 years. That pillar is damaged. Whether the damage is structural remains to be seen.
A lot of people have been linking to old Dennis Potter videos where he denounces Murdoch. It’s worth reminding ourselves that there was a time when it seemed like only people who were terminally ill felt that they could speak openly against him. Potter called his cancer Rupert and what a perfect metaphor for the man. Despite looking like a slug, it was as a cancerous influence at the heart of power that he will be remembered for.
But let’s not make a mistake about Murdoch – the misjudgement that he encouraged – his personal myth that he was a self-made man, a man of the people. This is certainly the way the old boy network in post-war Britain saw him. But their xenophobia blinded them to the truth – Rupert Murdoch was born to rule, an heir to power as much as his son James was to be. Sections of the right welcome Murdoch’s fall because they see him as an uncouth wide-boy, someone whose methods are just not cricket. But there is no other way to play their game. The manner in which Murdoch’s fellow publisher The Right Honourable Lord Black of Crossharbour rose to the peerage is the only way.
Dennis Potter’s last, posthumous work was a terrible SF about a future Britain of ultra-privatisation. We might just be moving beyond that half-baked distopia; a world of shrill emotionally incontinent acting, myopic declamatory speeches and cod-American accents. It has often felt like the last 15 years are further from us than the events of 30 years ago. That this crisis in News Int’l is being referred to by some as Rupertgate is just one example of that. If it’s easy to forget that The Times’ Roger Alton was one of the driving forces behind the pro-war position of the Observer it’s because he and his ilk have still not faced the music for their hackwork. In this clip of his impotent raging on Channel 4 (against the all-powerful forces of Mumsnet, of all things), it’s possible to see in his averted eyes that he can hear rumblings in the distance.
The corruption (and corrupting) of the news media is being laid bare. If their own Watergate moment has finally arrived, then hopefully the press will stop using the belaboured -gate suffix and we can instead make reference in the future to that once malign cancerous lump called Rupert. Ah, schadenfreude.