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Friday 2 December 2011

The Murdoch Primary

The Murdoch empire – or, more specifically, the Super Soaraway Currant Bun – likes to give the impression that it has influence in UK General Elections, although much of the time, the paper merely follows the crowd, as it did with Tone. The Sun didn’t manage to get Young Dave over the win line, but in the USA it’s different: there, Rupe has the sledgehammer that is Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

That means not just partial reporting of the Presidential Election next year, but also significant influence over who becomes the GOP choice to challenge Barack Obama. Fox has been giving most airtime recently to Herman Cain, but the former pizza magnate has run into a series of allegations over past indiscretions, and his stock is in freefall.

So the field appears to be narrowing to a choice between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Romney is the clean-cut but uninspiring one, while Newt is the consummate politician. Gingrich, however, also comes with a lot of baggage over his private life and past political career. On the face of it, Romney looks the safer bet.

Rachel Maddow sets the scene (video from MSNBC)

But someone at Fox – make that Roger Ailes, after consultation with Rupe – has decreed that only Newt can beat Obama. So this week the treatment the two men have been given has been markedly different. Gingrich had an hour’s softball with professional loudmouth Sean Hannity, while Romney did an interview with Brett Baier, ostensibly part of Fox’ straight news operation.

However, Baier’s approach was far more critical than Hannity’s, challenging Romney on his changes of stance on a range of issues. Gingrich had a far easier ride. Then Baier went on Bill O’Reilly’s show to dish the dirt on what went on backstage with Romney, painting him as a whinger. Professional propriety apart, it was obvious that Fox was favouring one candidate over the other.

But, so what? Well, that’s rather like one media outlet sticking its oar into the decision over who leads one of the UK’s major political parties. Imagine the outcry if a broadcaster was seen to be muscling in to the process of choosing a party leader, rather than the party’s MPs and members. Because that is what Fox is doing with the Republican Party right now.

Hence the phrase “Murdoch Primary”. Rupe and his Stateside troops effectively get to say whose name goes forward to represent the GOP next November. But those unhappy about the level of influence Murdoch is able to wield should also bear in mind that many right leaning pundits outside the Murdoch empire are hostile to Gingrich, and his old nemesis Bill Clinton is still around for the Democrats.

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