In today’s column from luxury magazine Monocle, we learn about Rupert Murdoch and how his reign as a despotic media honcho may have been more consensual and less dictatorial than we might have imagined.
In times such as these, it is something of a reflex to reach for Baron Macaulay’s well-wearing 180-year-old maxim that, “We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.”
In this time in particular, it is worth persisting with the rest of that particular paragraph of Macaulay’s defensive biography of Lord Byron, where he writes of the tipping moment when “…some unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out as an expiatory sacrifice.”
Rupert Murdoch is, to understate matters audaciously, an unsympathetic scapegoat: a ruthless billionaire press baron, certain of whose newspapers would have made brutal sport of Byron, pioneering archetype of dissolute celebrity. There is also an undeniable vindictive symmetry to the seizure of rectitude, which has hounded the News of the World into oblivion and may demolish further bastions of Murdoch’s citadel. For more than four decades, since the Australian-American tycoon bought the News of the World and The Sun in the late 1960s, he has been orchestrator-in-chief of the formidable British capacity for self-righteous seething. It is difficult to be entirely unamused by the spectacle of him experiencing the receiving end.
However, of all the allegations that have been made of Murdoch and his henchpersons, or may be made as this gripping scandal unfurls, nobody is going to charge that Murdoch, or anybody acting on his behalf, ever compelled anyone at gunpoint to purchase one of his newspapers, or watch one of his television channels – or, more crucially, grovel wretchedly in his direction once elected to public office. All tyrants, without wishing to belittle the risks of standing up to them, tyrannise to some extent by consent. A little over a month ago, News International’s summer party was dutifully attended by many of the senior British politicians who appear to have noticed, just in the last week or so, that the same company is an untouchable sink of depravity.
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By Andrew Mueller
Image by The Guardian