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Op-Ed: On Working for Murdoch in 2020

As we weather through a year of bushfires and global pandemics, and when truth and unbiased journalism matters the most, Patrick Marlborough asks when – if ever – has it been conscionable to work for News Corp?

In mid-January, Australian media Twitter was aflutter over a scathing all-staff email News Corp employee Emily Townsend addressed to executive chairman Michael Miller. In it, Townsend said: “I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies.”

Amongst all the self-congratulatory amens and applause, I found myself asking aloud: Heck! When has it been conscionable to work for News Corp?

Townsend, who had put in her letter of resignation in December, now choking on smoke and, like the rest of us, no doubt glued to the news of our nation being engulfed in apocalyptic hellfire, decided that the current crop of questionable content from News Corp was too much. As if to say, “I can’t believe the media empire that brought us refugee fear mongering, stolen generation denial, African gang race baiting, and the 19th century cartoon stylings of Bill Leak and son would stoop to such hijinks.”

I have always believed that to work for News Corp is to bloody one’s hands. Maybe I’m simple. I never studied journalism, so I don’t have a 40k debt niggling at my moral compass, and I’ve never longed to call people like Andrew Bolt or Miranda Devine “my peers” (unless we were locked in some kind of Marathon Man-esque sci-fi prison). Nor did I attend a school where you wear one of those dinky boater hats, so I have no problem pissing on a bridge that was never really there for me to burn in the first place.

I do not have the undeniable smarts of the anonymous The Australian’s “Mocker” or the unfiltered genius of someone who suffered a major brain injury after falling off a balcony, but I have to say that working for News Corp in 2020 should cause one to pause, and reflect.

I think Emily Townsend understood this.

News Corp have created a bubble of unreality that has coddled their readers, but more importantly, their hacks, for decades. The egos of their commentators are incredibly fragile, too delicate for what is coming. The shock of it will be the end of them.

The solipsistic bukakke party of self-assuredness that spews forth from News Corp publications on a daily business is, like the mining industry they love so much, unsustainable. Ironically, the same calamitous reality that has come for the mining industry (and all mankind) is the now irreversible Anthropocene; one of the recurring eco-disasters on a scale once unimaginable, like this past summer’s fires.

It is easy to lie to people about celebrities, the queer community, Indigenous Australians, Islam, refugees, and your “expertise,” it is hard to lie to them about a sky black with smoke and burned down towns.

The Australian has a page dedicated to the hysterical denunciation of trans people. They spent the better part of two years inflating fears over an all but fictional African gang crisis. Andrew Bolt, joined by some News Corp peers, was the major defender of convicted pedophile Cardinal Pell, going so far as to accuse the victims of lying.

The News Corp offices in New York. (Photo by Alex Proimos/Creative Commons)

In the last year, Bruce Pascoe’s seminal work of research, Dark Emu, has stuck in the craw of many at News Corp, rejuvenating an old tactic that they haven’t wielded to full effect since the History Wars of the early 2000s: attacking an Aboriginal critic’s Aboriginality.

To list their decades of muckraking, hate mongering, and outright fibs in full would require a feat of rhyming sing-song verbiage on par with “Yakko’s World” from Animaniacs, and folks, Rolling Stone has told me they won’t pay for the studio time.

Like all empires, however, Murdoch’s is fragile, however. His decision to stick with newspapers, cable, and community networks paid off when no one thought it would. He cornered a demographic that was being ignored by an onanistic media industry that wrong-headedly conflated ‘relevance’ with ‘youth.’ Murdoch put all his chips in on older readers, older viewers, and an older worldview. The problem is, like Murdoch himself, this demographic is mortal, and by the very laws of nature, will cease to exist. Then what?

Then there is the second problem, the one common to any cannibal tribe. News Corp fed their audience right wing extremism, got them hooked, and now, like junkies, they are craving the harder stuff. Murdoch and co. do their best to oblige, but at the end of the day they cannot compete with the comment section for sheer lunacy without startling their shareholders and leaving themselves open to citizen arrest.

Murdoch media, here and abroad – but here especially – can only shift so far to the right without alienating ‘average’ readers and viewers. Yet, they cannot shift back to a sensible centre without losing their rabid base. The only work around, and the one Mudoch has successfully been proceeding with since 9/11, is to make extremism seem normal. Money, reach, and power is on his side, even if time is not.

So how do we combat this? How do you beat Rupert fucking Murdoch?

You can’t, really. Rupert Murdoch will die someday. His empire will live on, sadly. But you can take action. A boycott of any and all things News Corp will, at the very least, upset John Lehmann, which is, at the very least, funny.

(Data courtesy of Roy Morgan)

Research house Roy Morgan recently reported a slump in News Corp mastheads’ readership in 2019. The second quarter financial results showed the mastheads taking a drop in revenue 9 per cent in the three months leading to December 31. The Daily Telegraph lost 15.5. per cent of its readership in both print and digital, The Herald Sun 7.7 per cent, and The Courier Mail 1.4 per cent.

News CEO Robert Thompson said the results were “affected by a sluggish Australian economy, uncharacteristic softness in book publishing, and foreign exchange fluctuations.” But the research may be more reflective with the publics’ growing disinterest with, and exhaustion from, News Corp’s culture wars.

For my “peers” and anyone with 40k worth of student debt thinking of a career in “the media”, I would implore not to work at News Corp or anything Murdoch. “But Patrick,” I hear you say, “you write for VICE Magazine! Doesn’t Murdoch own 5% of that?” Heck yeah he does, and I have enough of a moral quandary dealing with them promoting the music of Action Bronson, so trust me I when I say my conscience keeps me up at night. But let’s make it a “majority owned” rule for Australian freelance writers, so I don’t have to eat my dog to keep me writing pieces about Waluigi for another month.

In the wake of the fires and as we weather the lockdowns caused by COVID-19, we have to start asking ourselves what lies we are willing to allow and what lies we are going to hold companies like News Corp responsible for. Again, I don’t have a journalism degree, but could I meekly suggest: all of them?

Patrick Marlborough is a writer, comedian, and musician from Fremantle, WA. He has appeared in VICE, The Guardian, Meanjin, Crikey, The Lifted Brow, JUNKEE, and other publications. You can see his work here, listen here, and follow @cormac_mccafe