While Australia was transfixed by the events of 21-24 August, troubles for another leader were mounting in Washington. Turnbull lost the Lodge, and Trump has not yet lost the White House, but a common actor in both dramas remains the Murdoch media.
Rupert Murdoch, at 87, has been around long enough for a pattern of personal traits to be widely recognised. The proprietor of News Corp, Fox News, The Times, and the Wall Street Journal likes to be in control: of his family, his business, his assets, and of several governments. Few events involving him occur accidentally in countries where he is a media presence.
So it would be reasonable to notice that his visit to his home country in mid-August, ostensibly to be guest of honour at the News Corp annual journalism awards, was promptly followed by an anti-Turnbull blitz in the Murdoch media. It was also noticeable that back in 2013 when Murdoch and Tony Abbott spoke at the 70th anniversary dinner of the Institute of Public Affairs, of which Sir Keith Murdoch was a co-founder, a similar blitz followed against Kevin Rudd. Soon after both festive occasions, Australia got a new prime minister.
The Murdoch media like king-making, and one of their motives, it seems, is to get compliant rulers who can be expected to protect News Corp papers from ownership restrictions and its pay-television operations from free to air providers, like the ABC. The unfettered Internet is an asset for Murdoch as well as an irritant. It was the tool used by the hackers at the now defunct News of the World, remember, and allegedly by the Russian manipulators of the highly newsworthy US election in 2016. It is now the feeding-tube for a daily diet of stories that sustain Trump, his Republican supporters, and Murdoch. The Internet and social media that keep the President and his views front and centre for the public are on a circular drip-feed from ‘Fox and Friends’ and conservative journalists like Sean Hannitty, Ann Coulter, and Tucker Carlson.
Carlson on 22 August picked up the story that Murdoch media had been running for more than a year about anti-white farmer violence in South Africa, declaring the ‘country is falling apart.’ That murders were being committed on a large scale, he said, was ‘a settled fact.’ Trump often tweets this material, and far right columnist Coulter used it in March 2018. The South Africa source for much of it is Simon Roche, a member of the millennialist, white nationalist, survivalist group ‘Suidlanders.’ It has been denounced as false by the South African government – which doesn’t deny high murder rates but says they are no worse for white farmers. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/23/white-farmers-trump-south-africa-tucker-carlson-far-right-influence.
Onto the feeding-tube in March were Murdoch columnists in Australia, Miranda Devine and Caroline Marcus. Devine had already expressed fellow-feeling for ‘our oppressed white, Christian, industrious, rugby and cricket-playing Commonwealth cousins,’ who she said would ‘integrate seamlessly’ as migrants to Australia. Marcus reported that South African farmers had the world’s most dangerous job. News Corp readers and viewers will recall that Australia’s immigration debate revived simultaneously, and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was quick to urge cutting back immigration while supporting ‘fast track visas’ for white farmers. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/16/peter-duttons-offer-to-white-south-african-farmers-started-on-the-far-right.
If this was Dutton’s opening gambit in his run for the Lodge, it failed, although not for want of support from News Corp. ‘White genocide’ was admittedly an imaginative choice, but in the mid-2018 climate, when fear of terrorism was no longer as convincing as it used to be, and others were shuddering at cyber-espionage and Chinese influence, what else, apart from Sudanese young people misbehaving in Victoria but not in NSW, could the Home Affairs Minister find to scare us with?
Well, he could for a start have explained goings-on at Border Force. Why was the Commissioner of Border Force, under his mega-ministry, stood aside for ten months without charge on fully-paid ‘miscellaneous leave’ without being questioned by the curiously-named Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity? Why had the Deputy Commissioner resigned, and was it true that both had relationships with women who received staff appointments? (Paul Maley, ‘Chief awaits judgment in Border Force inquiry,’ Australian, 10 October 2017: 2). Dutton might have thought it relevant, with the threat of terrorism still ‘probable’ in Australia, to tell the Parliament and the people – who might be scared – why Border Force was so long without these senior officers. His answer might have been of interest when a series of appointments in Ministers’ offices were arranged for a pregnant journalist whom the Deputy Prime Minister at the time did not acknowledge as his partner. Dutton might also have detailed how it was in the ‘public interest’ for him quickly to intervene to grant a visa to at least one woman, an au pair whose visa had been cancelled by Immigration in Brisbane in 2015, making her an ‘unlawful non-citizen’ (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/mar/26/peter-dutton-defends-decision-to-intervene-and-grant-visa-to-detained-au-pair).
Australians’ attention from these puzzles was distracted for a week by the right wingers’ challenge to Turnbull. Meanwhile Trump, who shares Dutton’s preoccupation with white South Africans, illegal immigrants, importunate women, and border problems, was also having several bad days, prompting his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to tell NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ that ‘Truth isn’t truth’ (26 August 2018). So now we know.
Dr Alison Broinowski FAIIA is slowly writing a book on terrorism.