Rupert Murdoch’s role in a secret project jointly financed by the US government and wealthy backers in the private sector to influence public opinion demands the attention of Australian lawmakers.
Rupert Murdoch’s rise to become the most powerful media proprietor in history was not by chance, according to documents released during the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings in Washington.
His media assets were critical to the Reagan administration’s ‘public perception’ program aimed at winning support for an aggressive policy of ‘regime change’ in Central America.
This operation was led by the CIA, with a senior operative running the campaign alongside the National Security Council’s (NSC) Lt-Col Oliver North from a building not far from the White House.
North hit the headlines after it was revealed he had been involved in the illegal sale of weapons to Iran and that some of the profits were channeled to support guerilla fighters (the Contras) acting as US proxies to remove the socialist regime in Nicaragua.
Journalist Robert Parry and Peter Kornbluh, an information analyst with the National Security Archive, were among the first to reveal how Reagan created what amounted to America’s first peacetime propaganda ministry.
“The president and his men realised from the start that to oust the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, they would need to neutralise the public opposition to US intervention in the Third World,” they reported in 1988.
“To win this war at home the White House created a sophisticated apparatus that mixed propaganda with intimidation, consciously misleading the American people and at times trampling on the right to dissent.”
Murdoch’s role was confirmed in subsequent reports by Parry whose investigative website Consortiumnews published details of meetings between Murdoch and Reagan in the White House.
The first, on 18 February 1983, was arranged by Murdoch’s lawyer Roy Cohn who counted Donald Trump among his clients. Also in attendance was America’s propaganda tsar Charles Wick, director of the US Information Agency (USIA), who was keen for the administration to invest in satellite technology to counter Soviet propaganda.
It was later revealed that Murdoch played a critical role in familiarising Wick with the possibilities of emerging satellite technology and that a collaborative agreement was reached for the introduction of America’s first live global satellite television network. The result was WorldNet, a $15 million-a-year satellite-aided TV network that revolutionised America’s ability to promote its views to the world.
At the time of the 1987 global financial meltdown cash-strapped news agencies across Europe took advantage of the opportunity to cut costs, by accepting ‘clips’ from WorldNet at little or no charge.
It set the trap for the manipulation of the free world’s media.
With the backing of the US State Department, Murdoch gained access to the latest technology that allowed him to expand his growing News Corp empire
Until recently secrecy provisions surrounding the USIA prevented the release of information about the ‘public diplomacy’ program that implicates Murdoch. It helps explain why Wick was invited to join the Board of News Corp as special assistant to Murdoch after leaving government service following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Documents suggest Murdoch was singled out by Republican party stalwarts as a compliant publisher willing to advance the objectives of a first-term president well before he left Australia. As a result, with or without the knowledge of shareholders, News Corp became the vehicle for the spread of global propaganda.
Not a word about Murdoch’s role in the secretive project has appeared in the Australian media, despite Parry publishing a report on 31 December 2014 under the headline ‘Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda’.
The article explained how the Reagan administration “pulled right-wing media executives Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife into a CIA-organized “perception management” operation which aimed Cold War-style propaganda at the American people.
“Although some records relating to Murdoch remain classified, several documents that have been released indicate that he and billionaire Scaife were considered sources of financial and other support for President Ronald Reagan’s hard-line Central American policies, including the CIA’s covert war in Nicaragua,” Parry reported.
“According to the documents Murdoch was brought into the operation in 1983 when he was still an Australian citizen and his media empire was much smaller than it is today.”
Parry said News Corp consistently failed to respond to requests for comment about the Reagan-era documents.
Five days before the first White House meeting with Murdoch, Reagan’s NSC advisor William Clark explained the need to raise money from the private sector to advance the secret project.
“Our intention is to supplement our commitment of public funds with private funds. Some of the public funds would be allocated to private US organisations, which could conduct certain programs overseas more easily than the USG (Government),” Clark’s memo said.
“We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding. Charlie Wick has offered to take the lead. We may have to call on you to meet with a group of potential donors.”
The wording suggests Murdoch was viewed as a source for additional funding even then – and that News Corp was among the ‘private US organisations’ in line for government money.
To improve the project’s chances of success the CIA’s Walter Raymond wrote in another memo: “We recommended funding via Freedom House or some other structure that has credibility in the political centre. Wick, via Murdock (sic), may be able to draw down added funds for this effort.”
On 5 October 2015 Consortiumnews published a Special Report headlined ‘Rupert Murdoch: Propaganda Recruit’ that said in part: “Journalistic objectivity was never high on Rupert Murdoch’s ethics list, but ‘secret’ records from the 1980s show how far the media magnate went to ingratiate himself with President Reagan by collaborating with US propaganda operations.
“Murdoch … had already established close political ties with British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and was developing them with President Ronald Reagan, partly through one of Murdoch’s lawyers Roy Cohn…”
By rights it ought to have had Australia’s Ambassador to Washington in a state of apoplexy and Canberra examining its conscience. It appeared to have done neither.
Six months after that first White House meeting Murdoch introduced the president to Charles Douglas-Home, editor of his London flagship The Times, at a second meeting in the Oval Office.
It provided Reagan with a pathway into the heart of the British establishment.
The catalyst for Murdoch’s move to America came after Reagan confided the intention to repeal the Fairness Doctrine, that since the 1940s required radio and television licensees to respect the need for balanced reporting. Reagan regarded it as an anachronism.
By 1987 when the doctrine was repealed Murdoch was already living in the US, having forfeited his Australian citizenship in 1985 to meet a new regulatory requirement that owners of TV stations had to be American citizens.
As author David Brock explained in his 2004 book The Republican Noise Machine: Right-wing Media and how it Corrupts Democracy: “The end of the Fairness Doctrine meant stations could reflect the political perspectives of their owners. Alongside efforts to eliminate the fairness requirements, the Republicans were working to make it easier for a handful of corporate owners to dictate content.”
It positioned Murdoch to become kingmaker.
In 1986 he launched Fox News and brought in Roger Ailes to run it. In 2011 Rolling Stone magazine published an article titled ‘How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory’.
“An examination of his career reveals Ailes has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign – one that enables the GOP (Grand Old Party) to bypass sceptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion,” the magazine said.
“The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism. The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history … to advance the agenda of the far right.”
Today Fox News is the most watched cable news service in the US. In 2016 Ailes was forced to resign over allegations of sexual harassment. He died the following year.
In the mid-2000s the UK telephone hacking scandal exposed Murdoch’s close relationship with the British establishment, including prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron.
A select parliamentary committee found reporters employed at Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid had illegally tapped the phones of hundreds of unsuspecting victims, including a Royal and dozens of celebrities.
At a televised hearing in 2012, the committee found Murdoch “exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications”. UK lawmakers also ruled that he was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”.
The News Corp chair made a groveling apology, but apart from the closure of London’s oldest newspaper, the sacking of staff and the payment of millions in compensation, he accepted no personal accountability.
Back in America it led Parry to suspect Murdoch’s ties to the Republican Party might warrant further investigation. As we have seen, what he found was not only bad for journalism it was disastrous for democracy.
Murdoch’s co-operative approach to CIA propaganda methodology makes a mockery of the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) bestowed on him in 1984 “for services to the media, particularly the newspaper publishing industry” which News Corp continues to dominate today.
It lends weight to the assertions of former PMs Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull that the Murdoch media is a danger to democracy.
Most of those involved in the CIA’s deception program, including Casey, Raymond, Wick, Ailes and lawyer Cohn are now dead. So, too, is Bob Parry who died in 2018 after suffering a stroke at the age of 69.
Parry’s reporting is required reading for those who still believe in good governance, the rule of law and the role of the media in a working democracy. A key link can be found at: http://consortiumnews.com/2013/03/14/iran-contras-lost-chapter