When two former Prime Ministers from one of the leading democracies in the world sound the alarm about Fox News, and specifically, the sprawling media empire of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, it’s time our elected politicians in America stop sitting on their asses and do something.
While Fox has been spewing its brand of hate, division, and lies over here for decades now, in some ways, it’s comforting to know that it’s not just happening over here. Australia, too is suffering from the same infection. It appears that their parliament has begun to take it serious enough to conduct an inquiry into the media giant, spurred on by a petition signed by 500,000 Australian citizens and initiated by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Both Rudd and one of his successors, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, testified on April 12 to parliament about the dangers of News Corp and its threat to democracies worldwide. Turnbull did not mince words: “News Corp outlets were utterly liberated from the truth,” he said. “They don’t care about lying; they don’t care about making stuff up.” Rudd called News Corp a “cancer on democracy.”
Both are well aware of the events of January 6, 2020, at our nation’s Capitol and Trumbull lays much of the blame squarely on Fox News’ continuous and blatant rhetoric that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
“What does Vladimir Putin want to do with his operations in America? He wants to divide America and turn Americans against each other,” he said. “That is exactly what Murdoch has done: Divided Americans against each other and so undermined their faith in political institutions that a mob of thousands of people, many of them armed, stormed the Capitol.” Indeed.
It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when political leaders from other countries worldwide have a better take on what’s happening in America than do its own elected officials. Republicans in Congress would much rather talk about anything else, unfortunately. It’s time to move on, they say. Yet, it’s pretty clear that the rest of the world grasped the enormity of what happened on January 6.
And why would that be? Because whether we like it or not, the rest of the free world sees our democracy as the crown jewel, the one beacon of light that shines on regardless of its imperfections and setbacks. If America comes within an eyelash of coming apart at the seams, the rest of the world takes notice. And so too, it seems, do the autocratic leaders currently in power in places like Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, and Brazil, to name a few.
Those strong-armed leaders are watching and watching closely. While Republicans would like you and me to think January 6 was nothing but a few malcontents getting a little carried away, Putin and others like him see it as a way to put the whole idea of democracy in question. Fueled by the rise in white nationalism here, the insurrection also gave authoritarian governments around the world even more credence to their own divisive and hateful movements.
In other words, the same kind of crap Fox News pushes on a nightly basis. “He wants to divide America and turn Americans against each other.” Ominous words from a former Prime Minister, and spot-on. It’s precisely what they do at that network, and they’ve managed to convince a relatively large part of this country that people who don’t look like them are not to be trusted. Oh, and the scientists and other elitists? You can’t trust them either.
Yet, they’re allowed to continue saying whatever the hell they want because we have something in America called the First Amendment, and it’s a slippery slope when we ever go down the road of trying to curtail people’s right to free speech. So what can we do about it?
In Australia’s case, the inquiry that Rudd spearheaded with his petition surrounds the idea of media concentration and ownership. The idea is that News Corp is becoming too big, owning several print publications and other media outlets and broadcast networks.
Here, though, it’s even more complicated than whether certain media companies are too large or whether one media company should be able to own multiple print, online, and broadcast media in specific markets. It’s an argument we need to have in this country. But not now.
What’s really at issue is that folks on Fox can say anything they want, regardless of whether it’s provably false or not. And what we need to ask ourselves is whether we’re ok with a network that spouts conspiracy theories and outright lies that continue to put Americans in danger. Is it free speech, or should we start labeling it dangerous speech? Is there not a difference?
We’ve got to do something about it. Rudd and Turnbull know the danger News Corp poses to their country, and they also know what it’s doing to America through its TV network Fox News. Perhaps Australia will answer with legislation limiting what types of media a specific individual or corporation can own. Or, maybe they’ll end up doing nothing.
The bottom line, though, is that democracies around the world are under assault. And when the leading nation of the so-called free world is nearly overrun by a bunch of flag-waving lunatics trying to overthrow an election, we better wake the hell up.
I’m not well-versed in Australian politics’ inner workings, but I know a little about what’s going on over here. And it’s not good. One of our political parties has long left the building, at least as far as feeling a sense of patriotism and love for our form of government. Who the hell knows what they care about anymore?
After 9/11, we came together as a country, at least for a while. We all felt the pain of that day, and both political parties managed to stand on the steps of the Capitol to sing God Bless America. Remember that? It seems so long ago. So much has changed in 20 years. It’s a wonder we can even name a post office anymore without partisan bickering and backstabbing.
But maybe the answer we seek is a simple one. Perhaps we should start requiring news outlets to begin carrying a public service message before a program begins. Something along the lines of this: The program you’re about to see does not necessarily reflect the views of management and whose intent is for, but not exclusive to, the entertainment of our viewers.
Perhaps that statement sounds somewhat familiar because it’s similar to what Fox’s lawyers argued in a recent lawsuit targeting Tucker Carlson for slander. In part, the judge’s opinion read like this: The “’general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that Carlson is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’”
She then wrote: “Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrives with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statement he makes.”
If Fox hosts had to precede their shows with something similar, maybe it would, at the very least, inform their viewers that much of what they say is nothing but bullshit.
If that’s what it takes to help save our democracy, why wouldn’t we make them do it?