Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hunting Fox (And Other Varmints)

This post will examine some of the ins and outs of a typical major English-speaking media outlet. I'll focus on Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (known more widely as News Corp), and its “news” arm, Fox News. (Why is News Corp typical? First, because they're huge, and second, because the other huge players are starting to imitate them – even as far as the bias in their “reporting” of the news.)

Anatomy of a Fox

According to Wikipedia, News Corp is the world's 2nd largest media conglomerate (behind Disney), and is the third largest in entertainment (2009). News Corp's own website states that it is “...a diversified global media company” with total assets as December 2009 of approximately $56 billion, and whose activities “...are conducted principally in the United States, Continental Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Asia and Latin America.” News Corp is publicly traded on NASDAQ and secondarily on the Australian Securities Exchange. Revenue as of 30 June 2009 was $30.42 billion, while operating income was $5.6 billion. Almost 70% of its sales come from US businesses. News Corp has 152 subsidiaries in low-tax or no-tax countries, one of four companies to have more than 100.

The Murdoch family holds a controlling interest in News Corp, owning about 30 percent of the shares. All shares held by the Murdoch family are voting shares. (Some of the shares sold by a corporation entitle their owners to a paid dividend, but do not allow the shareholder a vote in corporate governance.) Three members of the Murdoch family are on the board of directors, with Rupert as chairman of the board and CEO. News Corp's holdings include two book publishers; 54 newspapers in seven countries; 30 magazines in the U.S. and Australia; one music outlet; three radio networks; three sports teams; fifteen motion picture studios; tons (I got tired of counting) of television networks spanning cable, broadcast and satellite TV; and at least 30 Internet media outlets, including Beliefnet, a site dedicated to discussing religion, which was acquired by News Corp in 2007.

Wikipedia has an extensive history of News Corp, and of Rupert Murdoch's activities in building and guiding his empire. Some highlights include union-busting activities in England in 1986-1987 involving printers' unions versus Murdoch's papers; the buying of US papers and media in 1973; and the purchase of 20th Century Fox in 1981-1984 and of the Metromedia group of stations in 1985 in order to form a fourth independent American network. The same year Murdoch became a naturalized US citizen in order to satisfy American broadcast law (which forbade foreign owners of US television stations).

(One sidelight: in 1989, Murdoch bought the publisher Collins, which he combined with Harper and Row which News Corp had bought two years earlier. HarperCollins, as the new company was named, in turn bought out Zondervan, a publisher of Christian books and media. Thus did Murdoch begin his forays into the world of Christian media and publishing. Those who visit “Christian” bookstores nowadays and wonder what on earth happened to “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints” can start looking right here. I discussed these very matters in a blog post many months ago, titled Money and Christian Books.)

In 1996, the Fox News Channel was launched as a competitor to CNN. Just prior to this, a legal complaint was brought before the Federal Communications Commission to the effect that News Corp's Australian base made Murdoch's ownership of Fox illegal. The FCC ruled in favor of Murdoch, stating that his ownership of Fox was in the public's best interests. (And this happened during the Clinton presidency!) In 2007, News Corp bought Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal, and started the Fox Business Network.

In short, News Corp has become a huge and powerful megaphone, broadcasting the heart and soul of Rupert Murdoch.

That Lyin' Fox Tongue

News Corp speaks with a loud voice. But what is that voice saying? And what are the motives of the owner of that voice? Those motives become quite clear when one examines much of the video media produced by the Fox Broadcasting Company, especially that media that is produced by Fox News. This examination reveals News Corp to be a radical promoter of big business, and of the unrestrained prerogatives of the rich captains of big business. Murdoch's message is that anything that restricts or restrains the rights of the wealthy or their pursuit of ever more wealth is to be opposed and demonized.

The world according to Murdoch should be a place where nonwhite nations are subservient to Europe, Australia and the United States, and their lands are open to being plundered by the U.S., Australia and Europe; where nonwhite residents of Europe, Australia and the U.S are subservient to a white majority; and where all who are poor, no matter their color, are subservient to the rich. Those who suggest that the rich should share with the poor are branded as “Socialists!” Those who suggest that the greed of the rich is destroying other peoples are branded as “evil people who hate our freedoms!” Those who suggest that our unrestrained pursuit of wealth is destroying the earth are accused of “fudging the data!”

From a moral standpoint, this mindset makes no sense, and those who believe such things are forced to lie in order to justify such a mindset. Thus it is no surprise that many of the things broadcast by News Corp are propaganda and blatant lies. Here are some examples:

News Corp and Racism: In 2009, the New York Post (a News Corp paper) published a cartoon depicting Barack Obama as a chimpanzee shot dead by the New York Police. They were forced later to apologise. This was hardly the first incident of racism for News Corp. During the 2008 US Presidential campaign, Fox News called Michelle Obama a “baby-mama,” referred to Barack Obama as “Osama,” and attempted to portray him as a secret Muslim. (See “Fox smears Sen. Obama, says he 'covered up' Muslim”, “The Man Behind the Whispers About Obama” and “Fox News Admits Obama/Muslim Story Was Toxic”.) Fox News also used false reporting to blame minorities for the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008, (See “Fox News Special Report on The Banking Crisis”, “Minority Meltdown” and “FOX News: Loaning to minorities is a disaster'”. And for a look at the true role of banks in pushing subprime loans on minorities, see this: “Wells Fargo, Ghetto Loans, and 'Mud People'”.) There's much more to this side of News Corp, but we shall move on... (But not before I sneak one more video in: “Fox News' Racism”.)

News Corp and the Defense of Big Business: In 1994, Monsanto developed a synthetic version of bovine somatotrophin, a naturally occurring growth hormone found in cattle. This hormone was produced artificially via recombinant DNA technology and marketed under the brand name POSILAC, although its trade name was rBST or RBGH. Monsanto sold it to dairy farmers in the U.S. as a means of stimulating milk production beyond natural levels. Monsanto was able to influence the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the use of rBST in dairy cows in the U.S., but such approval was harder to win outside the country. Eventually Canada and the European Union refused to approve rBST for use in their dairy farms. This was due to health problems arising in cows who were treated with the hormone, as well as demonstrated abnormal growth in organs of lab rats who were fed milk from rBST-treated cows. rBST has been linked to increased incidence of certain cancers, and has been implicated in the dramatic rise of early puberty in boys and girls since 1990.

In 1996, two journalists employed by Fox News uncovered some of the damaging information about rBST, including documents from Monsanto which described some incriminating test results. These journalists wrote a story for their local TV station, which began promoting an upcoming series on the risks of rBST. However, Monsanto pressured Fox into covering up the story and firing the journalists, who sued for wrongful termination. They ultimately lost their case when an appeals court ruled that FCC policies regarding reporting the truth by news agencies are not legally binding, and that Fox has no legal requirement to tell the truth in a news story. (See “Bovine somatotropin” and “Interview with Jane Akre and Steve Wilson” for more details on this.) Since then, it's been open lying season at Fox (as documented here.)

News Corp and War: News Corp was a vocal and vehement promoter of the American takeover of Iraq. Rupert Murdoch has also been very candid about the oil, I mean, real reason for the Iraq war, as noted in a Guardian piece titled “Their master's voice.” News Corp has constantly put a positive spin on the war and its aftermath, even when actual evidence was contrary, as shown in this article: “Fox News and the Iraq War: Fact vs. Fox-tion,” and this: “Fox News Spins 9/11 Commission Report.” Fox has never openly criticized the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction or the absence of any link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.

Now, Fox News and News Corp are trying to make the case that Iran is foaming at the mouth to build nuclear weapons so that they can blow up the rest of the world. The thing that makes Fox so hard to believe (and much of the rest of the MSM, along with Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney) is that a) we've been down this road before, only to find out that the allegations were false that were made against a country with stuff we wanted; b) Iran is like Iraq in that the stuff we want over there is oil (and natural gas); and c) our misadventure in Iraq killed over a million civilians, while maiming countless others, not to mention needlessly killing several thousand of our own troops.

News Corp and the Environment: It's no surprise that News Corp has been very aggressive in attacking the notion that climate change is real, that it's a bad thing, and that it's caused by industrial activity. News Corp has also been very aggressive in attacking the reputations of many climate scientists and research organizations. Their attacks have not been against the science so much as attempts to smear the personal reputations of climate scientists. (See “ - Why You Should Be Hot and Bothered About 'Climate-gate'” for instance.)

The trouble is that News Corp has been very quiet regarding all the evidence that proves the phenomenon of anthropogenic climate change, including this report authored by scientists commissioned by the Global Climate Coalition, which stated that “...the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.” (See “Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate - NYTimes,” and “Global Climate Coalition Ignored Own Scientists' Advice.”) Think about that, you Portlanders, as we enjoy an unseasonably warm late winter, decked out in our shorts and T-shirts. Summer is coming...

There's more to mention, including News Corp's role in manufacturing the “Tea Party” and the “Angry Renters”. But time is short; I must wrap this up. Maybe one day I'll dedicate an entire post to the lies of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

The Faltering Fox

News Corp is a big bad corporation run by a rich sociopath. Many people are understandably frightened by this monster, and are wondering what to do in the face of what seems to be an unstoppable juggernaut. But there have been stories over the last year that suggest that this juggernaut may not be quite as invincible as many of us think. A look at News Corp's financial health and financial missteps over the last several years reveals what may be a soft underbelly.

News Corp's relentless drive for growth has required the buying of rival corporations in order to expand market reach. Some of those acquisitions haven't turned out very well. As far back as 1992, News Corp amassed huge debts due to its ownership of the British Sky Television satellite network, which was operated below cost until it could force a rival network out of business. Years later, in 2010, News Corp was forced to sell some of its ownership in BSkyB in order to comply with British antitrust laws. And in 2009, News Corp took a write-down of $8.4 Billion, due in part to the devaluing of the company's newspaper unit, which includes the recently acquired Dow Jones publisher. This was on top of a second-quarter loss of $6.4 billion, due to the loss of profit in its television and movie units. (See “News Corp records £2bn loss,” “News Corp Cuts Cloth as Friedman Moves On” and “Rupert's News Corp Swings to $203 Million Loss”for later snapshots of News Corp performance.)

News Corp has lost money on MySpace, the social media/blogging site that Murdoch bought in 2005. This has led to the resignation of its CEO, along with talks of possible divestiture. According to the UK Telegraph, MySpace will likely lose over $100 million this year.

News Corp is projecting a return to profitability this year, but a closer look reveals that much of that return will be achieved through staff cuts. It's like selling blood to pay the bills. (Source: “News Corp revenue slumps 4.1%.”) At least one analyst sees in the MySpace saga a typical portrait of Rupert Murdoch's failure to manage his media holdings and acquisitions. The MySpace story also highlights a fundamental failure of Murdoch to “get” the Internet and the rise of social media, and his missteps in dealing with this new reality. (See “Turmoil at MySpace blamed on News Corporation” and “Why MySpace and the Internet Could Kill Rupert Murdoch.”) This is seen in his desperate move to try to kill free content on the Web, starting with his oft-repeated threat to start forcing people to pay for access to News Corp sites, including Fox News. (Go ahead, Rupert. Make my day.)

These realities suggest a possible triple threat to Murdoch and his empire. The first threat is that which Murdoch poses to himself, due to his mismanagement. He started losing on MySpace the moment he began trying to control the content of the site. There are many articles on the Web that address his censorship of MySpace bloggers and the deleting of accounts that published things he didn't like. That turns people off, and makes them look for alternatives. The second threat comes from the open nature of the Web, and the incredible power now available to the masses to cheaply create and publish their own content. Not only is it no longer possible for one man or one corporation to control all publicly available media, but it is no longer possible for one man or one corporation to reap all the profits from publicly available media. Anyone can become a creator and publisher of digital content, up to and including high-quality video, for less than $500. Murdoch might survive if he were willing to accept a much smaller, more sustainable piece of the media pie.

The third threat consists of the facts concerning the actual financial health and missteps of News Corp, and the wide publishing of those facts. For while News Corp may exist as a propaganda machine, its main purpose is to make money. If its profits are not growing, this will cause investors to pull out, further collapsing revenue and assets. Companies which suffer this process for any length of time usually find themselves on the road to demise. Our present economy is contracting, along with all the large players in it. Those who don't deal realistically with this contraction will fail. The financial health of News Corp may well be a vulnerable systempunkt that can be exploited through aggressive research and factual reporting of its financial health and management missteps.

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