July 20, 2011

The Day of the Low Crust: Notes on the Demise of the Murdoch Media Empire

Fox’s new reality TV series “Murdoch & Son” premiered July 19th with a 2-hour debut featuring the ‘Old Man’ Rupert Murdoch testifying (but not under oath) and answering questions with his son James before a committee of the British Parliament. While there were occasional moments of hilarity, such as Rupe — a billionaire known for micromanaging his global media empire to the extent that he has fired low-level employees in remote outposts for minor offenses — claiming he had no idea what the top officers of his corporation were up to because, well, he was just so busy doing something else. James himself made impassioned, if preposterous, pleas of his boneheaded ignorance of crimes committed before his very eyes, but he couldn’t match Dad on the giggle-meter. The question is, will audiences believe this kind of broad farce that seems more scripted than real, and Rupert’s declarations that he’s been humbled, and that he is happy to accept the blame as long as there aren’t any consequences? Moreover, will anyone buy Rupe’s logic that, after confessing he was blind to everything happening in his organization, including large payouts for lawsuits involving illegal hacking and arrests of prominent reporters, he is just the man to put things right? That requires a brand of faith available only to those who also worship a Flying Spaghetti Monster as creator of the universe.

Following “Murdoch & Son” we were greeted by the one-hour kick-off of “Rebekah with a ‘K’,” a reality-pod nod to the classic Mary Tyler Moore/His Girl Friday ‘woman in a screwball newsroom’ genre. The plot: henna-haired post-feminist Rebekah Brooks finally lands the editor’s job at one of the world’s largest-circulation newspapers but, once she’s achieved her ambition, her underlings hilariously sabotage her future as they engage in wrongdoing behind her back. Forced to resign and ultimately arrested for their criminal behavior, Rebekah fights back in the only way she knows how — by alluding she was unfit for her high-powered position by dint of her extraordinary obliviousness and neglect. In this writer’s opinion, Fox made a blunder by unveiling this show in the same ‘testifying before Parliament’ format as “Murdoch & Son,” and it shows a real lack of imagination that the producers saddled her with the same sort of incredible excuses used by Rupert and James. Still, the contents of a laptop computer, some personal papers, and a cell phone ‘accidentally’ disposed of in a trash bin near Rebekah’s house and traced to her husband may render enough surprises in future episodes to keep viewers coming back.

But seriously, Rupert — with a history of corrupting politicians, bribery to have laws changed in his favor, depreciating the profession of journalism, and advancing his political agenda disguised as news to the detriment of the public — will ironically be brought down by the same celebutard sleaze-tabloid compost that built his success — committing serious crimes to find out what Jude Law spent on room service, what Hugh Grant says on his cell phone, what Prince Harry discusses in private with his college pals — this is the pathetic black hole that will engulf Murdoch’s News Corporation, first in England and then in the United States. Ruthless sociopath Murdoch has collected enemies over the years, many of them former friends who helped him in his rise to media prominence, but none of them as powerful as Prince Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. To the upper-crust British royal family, the Murdoch’s will always be provincial toads; low-crust louts permitted to peddle their swill as long as they didn’t step too hard on Buckingham Palace toes, and occasionally useful as a way to plant tsk-tsk stories against those the Queen doesn’t particularly care for, such as the late Lady Diana Spencer. But hacking into the private conversations of the royals is another matter, and what will destroy Murdoch’s operations in the UK, as well as bring down the conservative Cameron government Rupert helped put in place. The Queen’s family will not be mocked in lurid 72-pt. headlines.

In the United States, 1977’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act* will curtail Rupert’s clout and ability to do business here since senior corporate officers of Murdoch’s empire condoned corrupting high-level Scotland Yard officials. That by itself should be enough for a judge to order that Murdoch sell off his media assets (imagine Fox News owned by, say, NBC), and be prevented from conducting further business in this country. Aside from that, Murdoch’s obsession with purchasing print media has cost his corporation huge losses over the years and the stockholders have reached the boiling point, ready to junk the ‘dual-class share structure’** that allows Rupert to reign. An indictment for violating the FCPA will be just the edge they need to push the Murdoch’s out of the executive suite.

Don’t expect to see Rupert, James or Rebekah with a K in orange jumpsuits — they are all prosperous enough to ride out any legal battles — but the Murdoch family’s vast media empire is declining quicker than Great Britain’s after World War II. The demise of the 168-year-old News of the World last Sunday is just the beginning of the end.

* The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977

** Dual-Class Share Structure

© 2011 RS Janes. (not active as yet.)

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