How Did Rupert Become ‘Murdoch the Kingmaker’? An ANZAC Day Reflection on the ‘Aussie Prince’ Who Powered Brexit and Trump Populism
Last week’s sacking of Fox News super-star Bill O’Reilly provoked widespread speculation about a shift in power in 21st Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch to his sons Lachlan and James.
Despite a decade of corporate scandals, Rupert Murdoch cemented his power as a king-maker in 2016 by shaping the Brexit and pro-Trump / anti-Hilary populist campaigns.
- Together, Brexit and Trump represent the biggest shift in the world’s political order since 1945.
- Not a bad year’s work for a man who kept a Lenin bust on his desk at Oxford, and who began his career by inheriting a small city newspaper in Adelaide.
For ANZAC Day (April 25), I tweaked my reflections on how the Gallipoli debacle helped establish Rupert’s Murdoch Dynasty.
An Australian Prince:
You can’t get a fix on Rupert Murdoch until you understand the father:
- Keith Murdoch was the son of a Scottish Presbyterian minister who had settled in the respectable Eastern suburbs of far away Melbourne.
- Despite a severe stuttering problem, Keith excelled at Camberwell Grammar and then during his cadetship as a reporter at The Age.
- He earned a series of rapid promotions to chief Parliamentary reporter where he established very close ties with Australia’s political leaders.
Gallipoli: Breaking the Cover Up
By 1915, Keith Murdoch was stationed in wartime London running the leading Australian news wire.
- Australian PM Andrew Fisher asked him to report on conditions in the Dardanelles, where a British-led Australia & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) force had been assigned to choke off the Ottoman heartland.
- It was a strategic folly cooked up by Winston Churchill.
- Murdoch defied British wartime censorship: he exposed a British ‘cover up’ in the name of ‘national security.’
- He reported that the Dardanelles campaign was an incompetently-led disaster.
A Myth for a New Nation
- Australia was in 1915 a newly-formed union of six distinct colonies.
- The new federation lacked a nation-building narrative, like the American fight for independence or the French revolution.
- Murdoch told a story of heroic ANZAC lads who were pinned down on beaches and foothills.
- They were trapped in a doomed struggle against two forces: withering Turkish fire from above, and an incompetent British high command that was safely moored off the Turkish coast.
Trailer for Peter Weir’s ‘Gallipoli’
- It has been said since that ‘we went to Gallipoli as colonials and came back as a nation.’
- In my own home and at school in Melbourne, I learned that Keith Murdoch was the author of the story of how ‘we became Australians.’
The ANZAC story captured a national tragedy of unthinkable scale. Consider this:
- U.S. population in 1970: 200 million. Vietnam War dead: 58,000
- Australia’s population in 1915: 5 million. Great War dead: 59,000
- It is estimated that 400,000 men were killed and wounded at Gallipoli: 14o,000 Allies and 250,000 Ottoman soldiers.
ANZAC Day is scheduled on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing:
- It is our most solemn national holiday, and in New Zealand, too.
- I don’t know of other nations whose major patriotic holiday celebrates a military defeat.
A ‘First Family’
After Gallipoli, Keith Murdoch was a living national legend who went on to acquire and publish newspapers:
- He was a key political power-broker until his premature death in 1952.
- His wife Dame Elizabeth, who passed away quite recently at 103, became a warmly-regarded philanthropist.
- Rupert Murdoch’s family was at the very center of the Australian political and social establishment.
- Visiting powers and potentates from all fields enjoyed the hospitality of Melbourne’s first family.
- For example, General Douglas MacArthur set up his HQ in Melbourne after the retreat from Manila. It was on Collins Street that MacArthur began the American-led campaign to roll back the Japanese from the Western Pacific.
- The Generalissimo was a frequent visitor to the Murdoch home.
- In our respectable, leafy suburbs, a post-War folk memory persisted that MacArthur took a personal shine to the young Rupert, who taught the American how to play cricket in his back yard.
- Many who don’t know Australian history see Rupert Murdoch as a harshly-accented ‘outsider.’
- But nothing could be further from the truth about the ‘Australian Prince.’
- He was groomed by his kingmaker Dad to fuse media ownership and political access.
- He became the ‘Dirty Digger.’
- And then the master sculptor of Brexit and Trump populism.
- It will be fascinating to watch how the 3rd generation of Murdoch’s manages this legacy.
- (Fox is the majority owner of National Geographic Partners, the operator of Nat Geo Channel and Nat Geo Wild, and where the younger Murdoch’s are deeply involved).
- And BTW, Rupert Murdoch was a principal funder of Peter Weir’s Gallipoli.
- Below: James, Rupert and Lachlan
- And analysis from WAPO on O’Reilly’s sacking
Great piece. That’s what I call essential reading!
For the record, there are a couple of parallels to your mob’s Anzac Day in terms of the national celebration of defeat:
- The Serbs are famously in awe of their own decimation at the hands of the Ottomans at the Battle of Kosovo (1389).
- And, a tad more recently, there is the Ur event in recent Chinese history: The Long March, which, while it saw the complete defeat of the Red Army and the longest “strategic retreat” in all of human history, yet it also cemented Mao’s iron grip over both power and propaganda in modern China.
Ruthless Murdoch to the Establishment: “How Can I Help You?”
Your post on Keith and Rupert is a fantasy straight from a garden party in one of those “leafy” Melbourne suburbs that you New York-based expats long for.
Sure, the young wives of newly-minted surgeons and law partners practically fainted when they received their first invitation from Dame Elizabeth. They were in! But who was left out of the Murdoch-calibrated ranks of the respectable?
Take the Gallipoli story: Australians were bitterly divided over the Great War. Irish Catholics made up about a third of the population and they loathed their English colonial overlords. They fiercely resisted moves to introduce conscription. Their leader was the youthful Archbishop Daniel Mannix who had been exiled from British-occupied Ireland (its ‘West Bank’) to Melbourne for advocating Irish independence. The powerful Labor movement resisted the Great War in Marxist terms as an Imperialist massacre of working class lads.
As the casualties piled up and up, the conservative political class needed to reframe their ‘demo-cide’ of Australian Males 20-40. That’s when Keith Murdoch said to his Establishment friends: ‘What can I do for you?’
His Gallipoli story provided an alternative narrative to wasted lives. It became unpatriotic to question or resist the war … ‘disrespectful’ to our heroic mates in the trenches.
Sound familiar? Fast forward to Rupert’s leadership of the media drum corps that banged away, day in and day out, for the attack on Sadaam’s Iraq.
Like father, like son. The Murdoch story is not about your Melbourne garden parties and phone hacking. That’s the froth on the surface. Underneath, it’s an ugly, inter-generational saga of how a ruthless family uses wars to seize and extend dynastic power.
Keith the Hacker
You fail to note that Keith Murdoch was himself accused of ‘hacking’ the Gallipoli story: he blew through the battle zone, and many say that he plagiarized the detailed field reports of Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.
… More from the Left
Bruce Page: A Real History of Rupert Murdoch (Counterpunch, July 18, 2011)
… And New York Times
Maureen Dowd on the Gallipoli connection, July 20, 2011. Her article was published days after mine, and bears an unsettling resemblance to my work.