September 1, 2006
The first death known to me, that was precipitated by a Rupert Murdoch headline, occurred in Sydney in March, 1964, when a schoolboy committed suicide. More of that later. These days, the casualties resulting from military invasions championed by Murdoch are numbered in the thousands, though he is not the sole agent of destruction. One of his former TV producers in the Middle East, Serene Sabbagh, resigned from Fox recently because of its "bias and racism".
What tipped Sabbagh over the edge was the bombing of Qana. "As a mother of three, watching the images, the raw images of children being pulled out of the rubble and then I switched to Fox News to hear some of their anchors claiming that these little kids that were killed, these innocent victims that were killed, were human shields used by Hezbollah. And one of the anchors went as far as saying they were planted there by Hezbollah to win support in this war. And it was unbelievable. For me, that was the breaking point"
On August 6, Serene Sabbagh and a colleague sent a joint letter of resignation to Fox News: "Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House, and Israeli propaganda, you are war mongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism." A verdict which is widely echoed. "Fox News has had reporters running around northern Israel chronicling every rocket attack and every Israeli mobilization, but has shown little or no interest in anything happening on the other side of the border", noted Andrew Gumbel in the UK's Independent.
News Corp had "walked away from professional journalism and crossed over into dutiful propaganda", wrote another analyst," a dangerous new chapter even for Fox News". The whole organization had shifted beyond warmongering into deep censorship, where it "purposely cordoned off topics of discussion In fact, I could not find a single, authentic, independent expert on Arab politics and history who appeared on Fox News to discuss the roots of the escalating violence. Not one."
In the editorial pages of Murdoch's antipodean flagship, The Australian, the bombing of Beirut is presented as "Israel doing Lebanon a favour" and restive Arabs are described as "Nazis". None of this should be surprising, as Murdoch revealed to the Hollywood Reporter that his media ventures are "not as important to me as spreading my personal political beliefs" (November 23, 2005). And these beliefs are dangerous. Murdoch's influential Weekly Standard advocates the pursuit of "regime change in Syria . and a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?"
It does not seem to figure in Murdoch's personal accounting that over half a million civilians are now dead or disfigured as a result of the wars he has already promoted. Instead of reconsidering his politics, like other lapsed neocons, Murdoch is still blazing away with his tools of the trade: hate, lies, fear and censorship.
So here's the nub. In a world facing a series of crises, should an unelected billionaire with a militant agenda and key politicians in the palm of his hand be allowed to preside over a global empire of propaganda? An empire continually expanding, one that gobbles up competitors and is now even blocking free speech on the internet. (See MySpace Is The Trojan Horse Of Internet Censorship)
On top of this, Murdoch's minions reject the inconvenient facts of climate chaos and attack the greens as "a threat to the prosperity and well-being" of the world (The Australian September 2, 2004). Whereas a real threat to the well-being of the world and its people is Rupert Murdoch, as I first discovered long ago.
These days, Murdoch's war-mongering is compulsive and his disregard for human wreckage is both calculated and global; but in the beginning, what marked his output was a casual (and sometimes fatal) disregard for the frailties of humans.
Murdoch's rise to power took off in Sydney in 1964, when he acquired an afternoon tabloid, the Daily Mirror. On March 12, the Mirror front paged a report on "promiscuity" among the pupils of a city high school, which was based on the contents of a young girl's diary. The resulting uproar led to the diarist and a fellow student being expelled from school. A job well done.
That's where the story ended as far the Mirror was concerned, though not for those involved. The 13 year old schoolboy named in the diary, Digby Bamford, was found hanging from his backyard clothesline, having committed suicide. This news was "cordoned off" from public consumption. Even rival papers kept the secret, until a disgruntled Murdoch journalist tipped off an independent magazine. The author of the "school sex" diary was examined by a doctor from the Child Welfare Department and found to be a virgin. During an interview years later, I reminded Murdoch of this event and his reaction was sharp: "Don't you ever make mistakes?" Of course I do. Many. After acquiring the News of the World in London in 1971, Rupert discovered another diary, while he was campaigning against a popular BBC TV show, Top of the Pops. His paper accused its stars of "promiscuity" with young dancers in the audience. One of these was Samantha MacAlpine, aged 15, whose "leatherette bound book", according Murdoch's news desk, "could well blow wide open the scandal at the BBC". The day after this report, Samantha MacAlpine committed suicide.
The News of the World tried to cover itself with the headline, THIS GIRL WAS A VICTIM NOW SHE IS DEAD, but the coroner stated that Samantha's diary was "pure fantasy. unconnected with reality", (like much Murdoch journalism). A Scotland Yard officer accused the paper of being "ludicrous and irresponsible". As is the Murdoch style, the evidence from the inquest was kept from the readers. Also suppressed was the statement of the forensic pathologist, that in his opinion, Samantha had died a virgin.
Two weeks ago, when young Australian Jack Thomas appealed his conviction for receiving funds from Al Qaeda and holding a false passport, he was acquitted by the Victorian Court of Appeal.
FURY AFTER JIHAD JACK WALKS FREE, headlined The Australian, although the fury was largely confined to Murdoch's newsroom. A jury had previously acquitted Jack Thomas of two more substantial matters. The Victorian Court quashed his conviction on the lesser charges, because police statements had been taken from the defendant while he was incarcerated in Pakistan without access to a lawyer and subjected to assaults. (A US interrogator told Thomas he would crush his testicles, rape his wife and put her breasts in a vice). When the Appeal judges freed Thomas, as they were obliged to do under Australian law, the Murdoch media called for public outrage and demanded "rapid amendments to ensure that no judge can make the same mistake". One of the first steps in the Third Reich's campaign to win over the hearts and minds of the German people was to attack the judges. Another step was to consolidate the media. A third step was to fan the flames of fear.
In response to criticism of its assault on the judiciary, The Australian hit back: 'what will it take to get Mr Thomas's apologists to take the terror threat seriously? Suicide bombers detonating aboard Melbourne's trams? A USS Cole-style strike on the Manly ferry?" And sure enough, as I write, another Murdoch missile hits the front page. SYDNEY WILL BE ATTACKED.
After interviewing 572 citizens, the Daily Telegraph has decided that "most Australians believe we are locked in a losing war against Islamic terrorists and an attack on our home soil is inevitable". The number who cite Murdoch's compulsive belligerence as a factor in the escalation of terror is not revealed. On the same day, Jack "Jihad" Thomas is arrested on the beach, slapped with a newly introduced "control order" and ordered home, where his movements are to be restricted. Questioning voices are merely a "civil libertarian lobby that believes John Howard is a greater threat to our way of life than bin Laden", according to MurdochWorld. No, the greatest threat is the control of information from the top. "Fascism ought to more properly be called corporatism", said Mussolini, "since it is the merger of state and corporate power." Beware the global Goebbels.
Richard Neville has been around a while. He lives in Australia, the land that formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in London and published Oz. He can be reached through his very bracing website, http://www.richardneville.com.au/