Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Tale of Two Australians

Yesterday I showed Citizen Kane, which many regard as the greatest American film of all time, to a Summer School class that I am teaching in U.S. history. 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 (CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder once advised CPUSA members to read the publication in order to understand what the capitalist enemy was up to) 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 his global media empire, infinitely greater than Hearst ever dreamed of, where he has used his publications to both support the political forces and business interests that he represents in many countries, whether that means supporting Bill Clinton in the 1990s over opponents to Clinton's left, supporting Tony Blair in Britain, Bush in the U.S., and various right-wing government in many
countries while he seeks to cut global television deals with representatives of Peoples Republic of China and, perhaps, support Hilary Clinton for the U.S. presidency if the Republican position becomes completely untenable. Like Charles Foster Kane in the movie I showed last night, 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 four billion dollars(he did objectively of course 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 Wells 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, although I would even question my support for the Dodgers if he moved its editorial pages to the left. Actually, 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 and a
strike which 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 pro labor pro people legislation, possible.

Harry Bridges as everyone knew (and if they didn't the Hearst and most other newspapers informed them every time that he was mentioned) was closely associated with the CPUSA, whose activists made the ILWU's and the general labor movement's victories and concrete gains largely possible. 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 and and must work to create and
support print and electronic media(in the tradition of the People's Weekly World, and Political Affairs, not to mention the Nation, Mother Jones, and the other liberal and Social Democratic media that still, perhaps because they have never examined the effects of the cold war on them, rarely mention the People's Weekly World or Political Affairs.

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

1 comment:

imsmall said...


This life of mine entirely has
Been predicated on
"Freedom of speech," although, alas,
No ease is thereby won;
However, even though not once
I never heard applause,
This pauper´s life is not a pawn´s
Subservient to false laws.

In serving art I rather served
Inherently my nature,
And, actualized, although the curved
Path sometimes seems a torture,
Because, as in a vacuum, verse
Falls upon ears none deafer,
Yet I pursued my course, no curse,
Not led like a dumb heifer.

Though dramaturgs as man the gates
Exclude one with contempt,
It is not talent designates;
So I but pull on hemped
Cables as backdrops to the fly
Get shuffled from the scene,
And even though I early die
Fulfillment too is seen.

In my own way, like Orson Wells
I keep with the performance,
Though no marquee my "brilliance" spells,
Nor, dressed in pearls and ermines,
Come highfalutin damsels with
A gentleman escorter
Upon each arm, to praise the myth
But wish that it were shorter.

So in my solitary way
The cradle will get rocked,
And I will have my honest say
Though slanderers concoct:
The warp and woof of all a living
Were founded on free speech,
While, should it pass, less cause for grieving
I find than they who screech.

My life is passed, and nearing closure,
That of rewards had scant exposure--
Free speech provides its own ambrosia
While I sit calm beneath the loggia.