The suggestion that the Rupert Murdoch media empire is crumbling may seem premature to any half decent corporate accountant. Undoubtedly, the cash flow has never looked healthier for NewsCorp. Nevertheless, profit and influence can be adjudicated as two very different metrics. Although the Manhattan headquarters of the conglomerate and its flagship network, Fox News, still casts a large shadow over the political discourse, there does appear to be something of an ongoing decline in the once robust propaganda machine.
For those who have passed by the sleek Fox News office block, they will note that images of the network’s primetime television lineup are hoisted proudly along the windows of the Manhattan skyscraper. Once upon a time, Fox’s ‘star’ lineup of notorious spin doctors, infamous narcissists and unwilling Daily Show participants gave some unfortunate credence to the 24 hour news tagline, ‘The Most Recognised Name in News.’ Recently, there has been somewhat of a shifting of the guard. The smiling anchors that are photographed today may carry the polished characteristics of the traditional American news anchor but that is where their familiarity with the public ends. Although the smug face of the well established Trumpist and highly rated conservative hack Sean Hannity remains adorned across American TV sets at night, the dramatic fall from grace of cable’s great puppeteer Roger Ailes and his biggest star Bill O’Reilly, has left Fox decadent of the talent that has long served the news channel well. It is more than a little poetic that the recent death of Ailes has coincided with the demotion of Fox from America’s number one outlet for cable news to number three.
Ailes and O’Reilly did significant damage to the political atmosphere in the United States. Their workplace misogyny is no surprise and they were deservedly ousted. It may be the foreshadowing of a larger sow being reaped. As Bill O’Reilly’s picture was removed from a 6th Avenue window and replaced by that of the lesser known Tucker Carlson, the deterioration of an older criminal institution, Las Vegas, comes to mind. The last Sinatra gig has finished and whilst the newer talent will still draw money, the landscape has changed. It is worth considering whether the final curtain draws near and the agenda of the man behind it, Rupert Murdoch, is gradually being exposed for the cynical, wealth plundering ploy that it always has been. Murdoch may adjudicate the Trump presidency as another crowning achievement in his career. Another example of his ability to erode the pillars of a free and just society. News International will outlast Trump as a seat of global power in much the same way that Caesar’s Palace remains present where Trump’s casinos do not. Oddly, Trump’s upset may be contributing to a progressive shift in the winds. After all, he is merely a cartoonish parody of what the political and media establishment have long been and there has never been such an honest portrayal of who the GOP really are than in Trump’s sociopathic tendencies.
As the new King of American Late Night Stephen Colbert once so articulately put it, ‘reality has a well known liberal bias.’ Trump has become the first President to reach a 60% approval rating in little over 100 days and Fox News’s dominance of cable news is over. Of course, the overriding contributor to this has been the rise of the internet. The online landscape has led to a democratisation of the news. Where Fox News and the Murdoch tabloids in Britain managed to engineer the economic anxieties of older, less tech savvy voters and hurdled those unfortunate men and women towards ‘Brexit’ and a Donald Trump presidency, the recent electoral successes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders highlights the mobilisation of a younger generation who simply do not consume the traditional right wing fodder. We have grown up on the internet. We possess the greater education and the larger economic burden. As such, we read our news differently. In last week’s general election, the character assaults and hatchet attacks of Corbyn may have played well amongst the consumers of ‘The Sun.’ The record breaking number of young voters who showed up to cast their ballots in Britain paid no mind to that sort of ugly vitriol.
So Murdoch retains influence but it is diminishing. It appears that the old man’s powers are beginning to wane. Where the misdirection and showmanship could once draw in a large crowd, the rise of technology and progress has named the great political illusionist as a liar. The question now is whether the sordid tales that once interested the public can be displaced by facts that serve the public interest. It is a complex question. As cable news desperately tries to cling on to viewers, the corporate strategy remains a cynical one. It is telling that as Megan Kelly recently made her MSNBC debut, she offered a platform to the despicable online conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, a man who claimed that the mass shooting of young children in Sandy Hook was manufactured. Ignorant figures such as Jones and digital news outlets like Breitbart have shown a knack for attracting younger people and manipulating their natural distrust for the press through blatant racism. Strains of hope have been offered through the populist uprisings of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and the online news network, ‘The Young Turks.’ Real or fake, the news belongs to us now.