December 2012, Week 3


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Fri, 21 Dec 2012 22:56:24 -0500
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Why the US Media Ignored Murdoch's Brazen Bid to Hijack
the Presidency

Did the Washington Post and others underplay the story
through fear of the News Corp chairman, or simply tin-
eared judgment?

Carl Bernstein
The Guardian, 
Thursday 20 December 2012

So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable
evidence of Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most
audacious attempt - thwarted, thankfully, by
circumstance - to hijack America's democratic
institutions on a scale equal to his success in
kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic
institutions of Great Britain through money, influence
and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.

In the American instance, Murdoch's goal seems to have
been nothing less than using his media empire - notably
Fox News - to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support
the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in
the 2012 election.

Thus in the spring of 2011 - less than 10 weeks before
Murdoch's centrality to the hacking and politician-
buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was
definitively revealed - Fox News' inventor and
president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to
Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President
Obama's expected offer to become CIA director and,
instead, run for the Republican nomination for
president, with promises of being bankrolled by
Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox
News and run the campaign, according to the
conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T
McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense "analyst" and
former spear carrier for national security principals
in three Republican administrations.

All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus's
meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose
account of their discussion, accompanied online by
audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post
- distressingly, in its style section, and not on page
one, where it belonged - and, under the style logo,
online on December 3.

Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes' and Murdoch's
disdain for an independent and truly free and honest
press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of
their messenger to convey their extraordinary
presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to
Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by
the American press and the country's political
establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes
and Fox - or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch's,
Ailes' and Fox's contempt for decent journalistic
values or a transparent electoral process.

The tone of the media's reaction was set from the
beginning by the Post's own tin-eared treatment of this
huge story: relegating it, like any other juicy tidbit
of inside-the-beltway media gossip, to the section of
the newspaper and its website that focuses on
entertainment, gossip, cultural and personality-driven
news, instead of the front page.

"Bob had a great scoop, a buzzy media story that made
it perfect for Style. It didn't have the broader import
that would justify A1," Liz Spayd, the Post's managing
editor, told Politico when asked why the story appeared
in the style section.

Buzzy media story? Lacking the "broader import" of a
front-page story? One cannot imagine such a failure of
news judgment among any of Spayd's modern predecessors
as managing editors of the Post, especially in the
clear light of the next day and with a tape recording -
of the highest audio quality - in hand.

"Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran," Petraeus announces on the
crystal-clear digital recording and then laughs, "but I
won't . but if I ever ran, I'd take him up on his
offer. . He said he would quit Fox . and bankroll it."

McFarland clarified the terms: "The big boss is
bankrolling it. Roger's going to run it. And the rest
of us are going to be your in-house" - thereby
confirming what Fox New critics have consistently
maintained about the network's faux-news agenda and its
built-in ideological bias.

And here let us posit the following: were an emissary
of the president of NBC News, or of the editor of the
New York Times or the Washington Post ever caught on
tape promising what Ailes and Murdoch had apparently
suggested and offered here, the hue and cry, especially
from Fox News and Republican/Tea Party America, from
the Congress to the US Chamber of Commerce to the
Heritage Foundation, would be deafening and not be
subdued until there was a congressional investigation,
and the resignations were in hand of the editor and
publisher of the network or newspaper. Or until there
had been plausible and convincing evidence that the
most important elements of the story were false. And,
of course, the story would continue day after day on
page one and remain near the top of the evening news
for weeks, until every ounce of (justifiable) piety
about freedom of the press and unfettered presidential
elections had been exhausted.

The tape of Petraeus and McFarland's conversation is an
amazing document, a testament to the willingness of
Murdoch and the wily genius he hired to create Fox News
to run roughshod over the American civic and political
landscape without regard to even the traditional
niceties or pretenses of journalistic independence and
honesty. Like the revelations of the hacking scandal,
which established beyond any doubt Murdoch's ability to
capture and corrupt the three essential elements of the
British civic compact - the press, politicians and
police - the Ailes/Petraeus tape makes clear that
Murdoch's goals in America have always been just as
ambitious, insidious and nefarious.

The digital recording, and the dead-serious
conspiratorial conversation it captures so chillingly
in tone and substance ("I'm only reporting this back to
Roger. And that's our deal," McFarland assured Petraeus
as she unfolded the offer) utterly refutes Ailes'
disingenuous dismissal of what he and Murdoch were
actually attempting: the buying of the presidency.

"It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have," Ailes
would later claim while nonetheless confirming its
meaning. "I thought the Republican field [in the
primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be
a good candidate."

The recording deserves to be heard by any open-minded
person trying to fathom its meaning to the fullest.

Murdoch and Ailes have erected an incredibly
influential media empire that has unrivaled power in
British and American culture: rather than judiciously
exercising that power or improving reportorial and
journalistic standards with their huge resources, they
have, more often than not, recklessly pursued an agenda
of sensationalism, manufactured controversy,
ideological messianism, and political influence-buying
while masquerading as exemplars of a free and
responsible press. The tape is powerful evidence of
their methodology and reach.

The Murdoch story - his corruption of essential
democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic -
is one of the most important and far-reaching
political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an
ongoing tale without equal. Like Richard Nixon and his
tapes, much attention has been focused on the necessity
of finding the smoking gun to confirm what other
evidence had already established beyond a doubt: that
the elemental instruments of democracy, ie the
presidency in Nixon's case, and the privileges of free
press in Murdoch's, were grievously misused and abused
for their own ends by those entrusted to use great
power for the common good.

In Nixon's case, the system worked. His actions were
investigated by Congress, the judicial system held that
even the president of the United States was not above
the law, and he was forced to resign or face certain
impeachment and conviction. American and British
democracy has not been so fortunate with Murdoch, whose
power and corruption went unchecked for a third of a

The most important thing we journalists do is make
judgments about what is news. Perhaps no story has
eluded us on a daily basis (for lack of trying) for so
many years as the story of Murdoch's destructive march
across our democratic landscape. Only the Guardian
vigorously pursued the leads of the hacking story and
methodically stuck with it for months and years, never
ignoring the underlying context of how Rupert Murdoch
conducted his take-no-prisoners business and journalism
without regard for the most elemental standards of
fairness, accuracy or balance, or even lawful conduct.

When the Guardian's hacking coverage reached critical
mass last year, I quoted a former top Murdoch deputy as
follows: "This scandal and all its implications could
not have happened anywhere else. Only in Murdoch's
orbit. The hacking at News of the World was done on an
industrial scale. More than anyone, Murdoch invented
and established this culture in the newsroom, where you
do whatever it takes to get the story, take no
prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will
justify the means."

The tape that Bob Woodward obtained, and which the
Washington Post ran in the style section, should be the
denouement of the Murdoch story on both sides of the
Atlantic, making clear that no institution, not even
the presidency of the United States, was beyond the
object of his subversion. If Murdoch had bankrolled a
successful Petraeus presidential campaign and - as his
emissary McFarland promised - "the rest of us [at Fox]
are going to be your in-house" - Murdoch arguably might
have sewn up the institutions of American democracy
even more securely than his British tailoring.

Happily, Petraeus was not hungering for the presidency
at the moment of the messenger's arrival: the general
was contented at the idea of being CIA director, which
Ailes was urging him to forgo.

"We're all set," said the emissary, referring to Ailes,
Murdoch and Fox. "It's never going to happen," Petraeus
said. "You know it's never going to happen. It really
isn't. . My wife would divorce me."


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