Is Rupert Murdoch "fit and proper?" The authorities deciding this should review the behavior of his U.S. property Fox News. It's conduct would be truly shocking to the British public. Murdoch has indicated he wants your broadcasting to be more like American TV, so it's worth taking a hard look at Fox and his other U.S. properties.
Americans who follow Murdoch's Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal opinion page can document a systematic pattern of disregard for facts, intentional misinformation, and the deliberate abuse of journalistic power to repeat the "big lie" till it sticks. In the U.S., Fox News has created a false, alternate version of reality for viewers, corrupting the very notion of facts and truth itself.
A prominent American pollster recently told me that "in the past, people had different opinions about the same set of facts. But since Fox News, people now believe different sets of facts."
This isn't a question of partisanship or ideology -- it's the overthrow of basic journalistic ethics in pursuit of it. Behavior that is undermining the ability of people to govern themselves knowledgeably. To many Americans, the lack of morality at Murdoch's News International in the United Kingdom comes as no surprise.
Fox has fueled the belief among many in America that President Obama is a Muslim who wasn't born in the United States, a "socialist" (a derogatory term in America) who has raised taxes (he's lowered them) and is out to redistribute wealth instead of creating jobs. Fox has featured numerous on-air staff and guests smearing ordinary Muslims as "terrorists" or "terrorist sympathizers." The Washington based group Media Matters has documented Fox hosts making racist comments against minorities.
President Obama has been referred to on Fox as a "racist" who is against white people. When Rupert Murdoch was first asked about this comment, from the notorious and just-departed Fox host Glenn Beck, his reply to Sky News Australia was that while perhaps Beck shouldn't have said it, "if you actually assess what he was talking about, he was right." Other Fox hosts defended Beck's comments on-air.
Fox fanned the flames of opposition to Obama's health care legislation by charging that it would create "death panels" where bureaucrats would decide if Grandma would live and die. It did this prominently, repeatedly, clearly intentionally, along with Sarah Palin (later put on the Fox payroll). There was no truth to it whatsoever. The network also kept charging that the health care bill featured no provisions for restraining the cost of medical care, and that Obama was proposing to do nothing for reform of malpractice abuse -- again, all false.
Perhaps most egregiously, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal repeatedly claim there is no such thing as human-caused climate change, significantly retarding progress in the American business and political communities on this most important issue threatening civilization. They regularly and often exclusively feature the views of industry-funded skeptics who are not climate scientists and have never published peer-reviewed climate science. Fox went into over-drive when the East Anglia University climate emails were leaked, falsely claiming they showed scientists were "hiding evidence" that global temperatures had in fact declined. When NASA, the U.S. space administration, reported that same year that 2009 was the second hottest year on record in the warmest decade ever recorded, there was no word of it on Fox.
Internal Fox News documents leaked by Media Matters show Washington Bureau Chief Bill Sammon explicitly instructing staff to cast doubt on climate science. One errant reporter's coverage of a U.N. World Meteorological Organization story changed that very day.
According to the New York Times (January, 2010) Murdoch was set to have the New York Post endorse Obama in the 2008 Presidential race. Hearing this, Fox News head Roger Ailes (who ran media for Richard Nixon) went to Murdoch and threatened to resign. Ailes is widely credited with making Fox successful, and that year Fox News alone was approaching $700 million dollars in net profit (it is now much more). The Post endorsed John McCain instead. Fit and Proper? As the Fox slogan says, "You Decide."
Multiple opinion polls have found that Fox viewers are far more likely to believe falsehoods about President Obama, global warming, health care, taxes and that it was Saddam Hussein who attacked New York on 9/11. And the more they report viewing Fox News, the more misinformed they are. No wonder. Meanwhile, Murdoch's media have infected other American TV media in a race to the gutter. Please don't let this happen to the United Kingdom. The situation is even more alarming now that Murdoch won't spin-off Sky News. George Orwell thought his "newspeak" would come from a Communist country. But the modern version is coming from a media baron. Please declare him "unfit" for all of our sake.
David Fenton is the CEO of FENTON, a public interest communications firm based in the United States which plans to open in London early next year.
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