JOHN MENADUE. How a rogue organization operates.

This week Crikey has been running a series, the Holy Wars on ‘How The Australian targets and attacks its enemies ‘This prompted me to recall my own experiences and earlier writing on how News Corp intimidates its critics and threatens and seduces governments.

The way News Corp operates must be traced to Murdoch himself for he has told us that ‘for better or worse (News Corp) is a reflection of my own thinking, my character and my values’.  

Let me give examples of how News Corp operates

Ken Cowley was a former very senior and very loyal. executive of News Corp for many years. He was my Production Manager in Sydney at News Ltd. Unwisely 3 years ago Cowley told the Australian Financial Review that Lachlan Murdoch was not particularly smart and that The Australian ‘is pathetic’. To defend Lachlan, people were wheeled out within 24 hours. Cowley was brought to heel. The Australian extracted the following from him ‘The Australian has always been good, the Editor in Chief has been doing an excellent job…I have great respect for Lachlan Murdoch…

But this was all too late to avoid the smack down. The Australian had a leak, presumably from someone near the Murdoch family that one of Cowley’s business ventures had gone bad. News Corp refused Cowley’s request for help.

The News Corp modus operandi was clearly on display. Take us on at your peril

Rod Tiffen’s book ‘Rupert Murdoch, a reassessment’ published by UNSW Press Ltd. tells us a great deal about how News Corp operates. His account is consistent with my own experience

The central conclusion of Tiffen is that News Corp is a rogue organisation. Tiffen says ‘These outrages [the hacking scandals] were not the product of a few rogue individuals as much as of a rogue corporation. Of course, the great majority of News Corp’s 50,000-plus employees, and the overwhelming majority of its journalists, are as repelled as the rest of the population by the abuses that have been revealed. However, the scandals were the product of a corporation where power is, perhaps uniquely, concentrated and where a confirming hierarchical culture makes it difficult for instructions to be questioned or challenged. This is a corporation impatient with any ethical impediments to achieve the results it wants and which greets external criticism with blanket denial and often aggression’.

It is not a matter of a few rotten apples. The malady is deep seated.

Tiffen describes the governance of News Corp   as “a docile board, acquiescent management in thrall of the genius of their CEO, a vision of hereditary succession and a “whatever it takes “ethic”” Only a company with that sort of governance could pay $A89m in remuneration in fiscal 2017 to Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch from 20 th Century Fox alone

When confronted with even mild criticism News Corp’s retainers go into immediate attack mode and turn the issue into us against them. “Them “being a politically correct elite. Murdoch now usually limits himself to twenty word tweets. They are ideal as orders of the day for admiring and uncritical retainers around the world..

In 1992 PM John Major had just won an election. He asked the Editor of the London Sun how he proposed to cover Britain’s decision on the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. He was told “Well John let me put it this way, I’ve got a bucket of shit on my desk and tomorrow morning I am going to throw it all over your head”.  The ALP gets the same bucket treatment in Australian elections.while News Corp slavishly protects the Coalition and big business at almost every turn.

Ed Milliband, the leader of the British Labour Party was foolish enough to say that Rebecca Brooks, who was charged before UK courts, “should examine her conscience”. The Sun political editor responded ‘We take it personally and we are going to make it personal to you. We won’t forget.’ (p.309)

Tom Watson a British MP who relentlessly and courageously tracked News Corp tells of “threats, bullying, covert surveillance, hacking, aggressive reporting and personal abuse” at the hands of News Corp.  p.288

Appalled by News Corp’s methods of operations the UK Parliamentary Committee by majority vote (Labour and Liberal Democrat) found that ‘Rupert Murdoch was not a fit person to exercise stewardship of a major international company.’ p265. Perhaps the Conservatives were too frightened to say what they really thought.

On page 327, Tiffen says perhaps too politely that ‘Murdoch’s power has more often diminished rather than benefitted the quality of democratic life.’  It has been most obvious in the telephone hacking in the UK.

The New York Times identified Rupert Murdoch as someone  Donald Trump speaks to ‘on the phone every week’ although the White House denies this. At the ceremony in New York to remember the Battle of the Coral sea Donald Trump said.’Thank you my very good friend Rupert Murdoch-there is only one Rupert we know’

He is the largest employer of journalists in the English speaking democracies.  News Ltd holds 70% of the circulations of metropolitan dailies in Australia. In Brisbane and Adelaide there is little alternative to News Corp publications. Not content with its stranglehold on metropolitan media, News Corp wants to cripple the ABC.

Famous US journalist Carl Bernstein speaks of “Murdoch’s destructive march across the democratic landscape”p327Matthew Freud, Murdoch’s son in law told the New York Times “I am by no means alone within the family or the company being ashamed by Roger Ailes (the CEO of Fox News) horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News, its founder and every other global media business aspires to”. p.252. Yet Murdoch could say with a straight face “.people love Fox News.”p.253.

The slogan of Fox News used to be ‘fair and balanced’. But perhaps after the ridicule that followed and the demise of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly the slogan was changed to ‘most watched and trusted’ But even that is not true. MSNBC regularly out rates it and Fact Checks make it the most negatively rated.

But there is some consolation in this for News Corp and Fox News. The new bill in the Australian Parliament to buy the support of Pauline Hanson in her vendetta against the ABC is titled ‘Australian Broadcasting Commission Amendment (Fair and Balanced) Bill 2017

News Corp. lives by a code of never admitting s mistake. It was the shrillest of all the urgers supporting the invasion of Iraq. The London Sun said of Saddam Hussein’s WMD ‘He’s got them. We know he’s got them’. ‘Many newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Economist have confessed that they got it badly wrong on Iraq. I have yet to hear of a News Corp outlet that has made a similar confession despite almost a million deaths in Iraq and neighbouring countries and untold destruction and chaos. Critics of News Corp were described as ‘weasels’.. Germany and France who opposed the invasion were an ‘axis of weasels’. The Australian referred to opponents of the invasion as the’ coalition of the whining’.

Just it was grieviously wrong on Iraq and Middle East New Corp now continually tells us we are all wrong on global warming despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.. Murdoch dismisses renewable energy as ‘windmills and all that nonsense’. Like Joe Hockey he decries the renewable energy projects that are ruining the English country side with ‘uneconomic bird killing windmills’ . With a President like that, cranks on climate change can be sure of a sympathetic run in the News Corp media.

Murdoch told us in 2014 that the ‘NBN was a ridiculous idea. It still is.’

On page 314 of his book, Tiffen recounts that. ‘Bruce Guthrie, Associate Editor of the Melbourne Herald, asked Murdoch at a “Confab” at Aspen, Colorado, in June 1988 “Do you have an ethical framework at all at the London Sun”.’ Tiffen records that Murdoch turned ‘red with anger’, and said to Cowley, I see we have a Fairfax wanker in our midst.  It was not a good career move for Guthrie.

Murdoch boastfully and recklessly told Thomas Kiernan in “Citizen Murdoch” ‘You tell these bloody politicians whatever they want to hear and once the deal is done you don’t worry about it” (Tiffen p 185). News Corp trifles with the truth. Murdoch told the Leveson Enquiry ‘I have never asked a PM for anything’. Only the most naïve and partisan would believe that .I know he asked Prime Minister Whitlam to be appointed Australian High Commissioner in London. I know because I was the intermediary. Its true but Murdoch denies it is no doubt that Murdoch does inspire the loyalty of staff. They are usually well paid and provided they remain loyal, they will prosper. We see that time and time again. However many people with ability or a point of view don’t stay for long – either by their own choice or through dismissal. Andrew Neil, the Editor of the Sunday Times commented that ‘During the eleven years I was editor Rupert fired or eased out every Chief Executive of real talent or independent mindset …. [Murdoch) has never expressed regret about those he has axed and has repeatedly said that every individual can be replaced’ Tiffen p.298.

Loyalty counts for more than competence.

In China Murdoch failed to make commercial progress. One reason was that he was impatient, but the more important reason is quite simply that he could not brow-beat the political leadership in China in the way he has been able to brow-beat almost all political leaders in Australia, the UK and the US. .

Rod Tiffen explains very persuasively how and why News Corp is a rogue organisation that is doing untold damage to the fabric of public life. It will take us a long time to repair the awful damage.

Yet in his early days Murdoch offered so much promise and hope. After the entrenched conservatism and parochialism of the state based media ,The Australian was like a breath of fresh air. But the air has now gone rank and putrid. What a tragedy Murdoch’s career has been for himself and the media.

‘Power doesn’t always corrupt. What power always does is reveal. When a guy gets into a position where he doesn’t have to worry anymore then you see what he wanted to do all along’ Robert Caro

I have used the name News Corp to refer to all Murdoch’s operations in Australia, UK and USA. I was General Manager News Ltd. Sydney 1967-74.  John Menadue

See also:

Quentin Dempster.  Countering Rupert Murdoch’s plan to destroy public broadcasting in Australia.

ROBERT MANNE. Murdoch’s war.

Rodney Tiffen. Murdoch – The tabloid tweeter tangles the truth.

JOHN MENADUE.  John Menadue talks to John Faine about Rupert Murdoch, the great rent-seeker (Repost)


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7 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. How a rogue organization operates.

  1. Trevor Parmenter says:

    Dear John
    My subscription seems to have dropped off. I have tried several ways to get reinstated but to no avail. I have attempted to unsubscribe and then reapply but this does not work.
    Can you advise me on options, please? This appears to be the only way I can get a message to you directly.

  2. Evan Whitton says:

    Murdoch went bad on June 6, 1960 when he did a deal with the Premier of South Australia, Tom Playford: he would go easy on Playford if Playford dropped charges of criminal libel against Murdoch and others at The News.

  3. Jaquix says:

    Murdoch is a malignancy that’s seriously damaged the Australian mindset for 3 generations over last 50 years. Enjoyed this article starting the conversation about it. New Zealand escaped this date, and it shows in the way they get things done, they think. The Australian ignores or ridicules every effort of the Labor Party. Readers believe it. It also regularly targets high profile females, pursuing them relentlessly. No other news outlet in Oz does this. Gillian Triggs, Yassmin recent examples. Now Jacinda Adhern is getting the beginnings of the treatment. Look forward to more articles covering Murdoch. Thankyou for this one and I must get Tiffens book.

  4. Paul Frijters says:

    Hi John,

    I have never really gotten into the Murdoch issue, probably because I suspected that he was doing what many others would have done as well, making it more important to study the political economy of the industry than any person.

    Since you and others know far more about it though, some questions:
    1. What motivates Rupert? If he is just motivated by money and power, then, indeed, he just seems to be good at his job but others would have done the same.
    2. How does he slavishly go along with special commercial interests and how is he rewarded? Can one buy favourable pieces in his newspapers and who to contact for inserting a piece? Can one pay to suppress a story in his newspapers and, again, whom to contact to set up such a deal? Or does it go via advertising deals with variable prices and volumes? Or in some other way?
    3. How dependent is this empire on financiers, like banks and investors? If Rupert needs continued support from them to remain in charge, then clearly, they like what he is doing and he must be looking after them. If he doesn’t need them, his actions can more firmly be said to be his rather than representing a whole bunch of owners.

    The hierarchy stuff and “for me or against me” loyalty stuff sound quintessentially Australian to me. He is merely showing Oz a dark mirror. The political parties in Oz work exactly the same way. And the universities too. It’s a very old formula.

  5. Jim KABLE says:

    Such essays – from time to time – are necessary – to refresh in our minds the god-awfulness of Murdoch and his NewsCorp etc hench-figures! (Oh, I’m of that same cohort referred to above by Bruce Wearne!)

  6. Bruce Wearne says:

    Thankyou for this John. I look forward to your further reflections on the manner in which the state-crafting of the Commonwealth of Australia has been twisted out of shape by the unscrupulous mongering of the papal knight in question. I guess it is not just my generation of University students from the late 1960s who would be interested now in discussion about the ways in which successive Prime Ministers (Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Howard) and their all too compliant and elitist parties have all become enmeshed in the net of News Ltd.
    Keep up the good work.

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