A Tale of Two Australians


8-04-07, 9:37 am

I recently showed Citizen Kane, which many regard as the greatest American film of all time, to a summer school course on US history that I teach. The film, of course, was loosely based on the life of media Robber Baron William Randolph Hearst, war monger, red-baiter, and uncrowned king of 'yellow' journalism. The film, coming at the end of the New Deal era, contended hopefully that men like Hearst (fictionalized as Charles Foster Kane) had seen their time come and gone, and were like dinosaurs screaming wildly in the night as society passed them by.

Rupert Murdoch who has been endlessly compared to Hearst (a biography of him is even titled Citizen Murdoch) is buying Dow Jones, meaning the Wall Street Journal, and all of the news is filled with this 'big story.' What will Murdoch do with Journal, whose editorial pages function for U.S. and global capitalists the way L'Observatore Romano, the official publication of the Vatican, operates for Catholic Hierarchy, as an official mouthpiece and defend of the faith (in this case the faith in market, and its assorted prophets, from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman)?

Will he turn its long legitimately respected investigative journalism into a businessman's New York Post, which was, some of us are old enough to remember, a liberal labor newspaper before Murdoch bought it in the 1970s?

How will this fit in with Murdoch's global media empire? Murdoch's holdings are far greater than Hearst ever dreamed of. Murdoch has used his publications to support the political forces and business interests that he represents in many countries, but also to endorse or deal with existing ruling forces: he supported Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Tony Blair in Britain, Bush now in the U.S., and various right-wing government in many countries. At the same time, he seeks to cut global television deals with representatives of Peoples Republic of China and may support Hillary Clinton for the U.S. presidency if the Republican position becomes completely untenable. Like Charles Foster Kane, Murdoch has always had opinions on everything but has never had any convictions. The only thing that he has really stood for is Rupert Murdoch, which explains everything, except why such a man should be the object of such interest.

Rupert Murdoch became an American citizen so that, it is widely contended, he could expand his Fox Network television empire. He bought my baseball team, the Dodgers, used it as an asset while his people undermined the team, and then sold it for $4 billion dollars. (He has, of course, done objectively many worse things.)

His media empire floods the society and the world with junk food for the senses. And we can't even say as young Orson Welles could in Citizen Kane in 1941 that he is a dinosaur who the forces of progress and reform, from organized labor to a progressive government regulating business abuses, would soon help either die out or be driven out.

Actually, I really don't care what Murdoch does to the Wall Street Journal. I thought of another Australian-American when I read about Murdoch, a sort of anti-Murdoch, Harry Bridges.

Harry Bridges led the International Longshoreman's and Warehouseman's Union (ILWU) to victory in the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, the most successful major strike in American history up to that time. It was a strike that helped usher in a period of unprecedented labor upsurge and victories that made the major social legislation of the New Deal period, the National Labor Relations Act, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Minimum Wages, the Forty-Hour Week, among other progressive legislation, possible.

Harry Bridges, as everyone knew, was closely associated with the CPUSA. Harry Bridges came to the U.S. and contributed to making the U.S. a much better country. For that he faced a life-time of red-baiting and a series of unsuccessful attempts by the Justice Department over nearly two decades to deport him to Australia for his 'subversive activities.' Harry Bridges legacy lives on in the ILWU, still a progressive union in the best sense of the American labor movement, and in the militancy and social consciousness of the larger labor movement, not on Wall Street or on television.

Rupert Murdoch doesn't have to worry about being deported to Australia for the social parasitism, waste and wreckage that his junk media empire has represented in the U.S. and in the world, by either or Republican or Democratic administration (not even by a progressive Attorney General who happens to be a Dodger fan).

But a progressive government in the U.S. would go after the Murdoch media empire and also strengthen public media, NPR and PBS rather than sit by while the commercial cable stations emulate Murdoch's right-wing tabloid approach, the broadcast networks follow suit, and PBS becomes in its news coverage a sort of New York Times-pre Murchoch Wall Street Journal of the air. And the left must work to create and support print and electronic media like the People's Weekly World, and Political Affairs, not to mention the Nation, Mother Jones, and the other liberal and Social Democratic media.

We are still a long way from giving Harry Bridges the national recognition and respect that his memory deserves and seeing Rupert Murdoch with the mixture of pity and contempt that Citizen Kane portrayed Charles Foster Kane. But that is what we should be working for today as Rupert Murdoch continues to buy newspapers, politicians, TV networks here and abroad and, to paraphrase a line from Citizen Kane, offer tips to those who serve him in and out of the mass media.

--Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs.

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