Murdoch as the Prime Minister’s media bodyguard

For I know that some human beings are like horses—the more they get what they want, the more unruly they are apt to become. [3] The way to manage men like that is to put the fear of the bodyguard into them. Xenophon Hiero 10, 1-3

All politicians need good publicity to be elected. Without good publicity, they will not be elected nor will they stay in office. When they are under threat from political opponents, they need the press to be on their side. In the UK, when Margaret Thatcher was under threat, she turned to Rupert Murdoch.[1] He came to her with an offer she could not refuse as he asked her to support his plan to expand his control of UK media; in return, she received his continued support. However, like all politicians she needed more than a sympathetic ear or someone who would promote her policies, she needed someone to attack her political enemies inside and outside the party. David Cameron needs the same.

During the election, Cameron benefitted from Murdoch’s papers attacks on his opponents.[2] The same power helps him to maintain party discipline.[3] In return, Cameron provides access, information, and influence over the policies that will affect News Corp. In particular Cameron has accepted Murdoch’s views on the BBC.[4] A topic where they have a mutual interest for they both see that the BBC as a potential barrier to their respective ambitions.

Those who claim to fight tyranny are often those who secretly desire it.

In this view, they follow Thatcher’s path. Despite her claims to defend liberty, she could influence if not control what people read through Murdoch. Murdoch through his newspapers controlled what people read and attacked her ideological and political rivals with near impunity.

“It has been the guiding sentiment of tyrants in every age who believe that if you can control what people read and thereby what they think then you can control them.”[5]

The statement describes what Thatcher, Blair and Cameron do with Murdoch’s help. In this she was being consistent for she behaved as she believed when she undermined the common good.[6] As she famously argued, there is no such thing as society or a common good. There are only individuals or individual goods.[7]

Once you have a media bodyguard, you cannot do without it.

Once established, the relationship became the test for all future Prime Ministers for without his support they could not retain the office as Gordon Brown knows.[8]. Murdoch’s papers have also attacked opposition leaders like Jeremy Corbyn. In this, they show the PM their value as a media bodyguard. In return, Murdoch enjoys access to the PM and the Chancellor.[9] Leo Strauss writing in a different context describes their problem.

“Thus no tyrant can dispense with a bodyguard which is more loyal to him than to the city and which enables him to maintain his power against the wishes of the city.”[10]

The only uncertainty in this relationship is social media’s ability to disrupt the media monopoly. However, its effect is still uncertain and the political establishment is conditioned through severe punishments to develop the habit of obedience to Murdoch.

Courting Murdoch becomes a habit where politicians are trained to obey.

Murdoch demonstrates democracy’s media weakness. He acts as a Praetorian Guard shaping the electorate’s perceptions to protect the PM. As a result, no PM since Thatcher has been elected without his support. Until one is elected without his support, Murdoch thwarts democracy.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/28/how-margaret-thatcher-and-rupert-murdoch-made-secret-deal “She was trailing in the polls, caught in a recession she had inherited, eager for an assured cheerleader at a difficult time.”

[2] For example see this article http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/rupert-murdoch-berated-sun-journalists-for-not-doing-enough-to-attack-ed-miliband-10191005.html and this analysis of the coverage http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/05/06/general-election-front-pages_n_7219736.html

[3] Or do you say that a ruler, once he becomes popular, will have no further need of a bodyguard?” [2]

“No, no, he will need them, of course,” said Simonides. “For I know that some human beings are like horses—the more they get what they want, the more unruly they are apt to become. [3] The way to manage men like that is to put the fear of the bodyguard into them. Hiero Chapter 10 section 1-3. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0210%3Atext%3DHiero%3Achapter%3D10

[4] http://theconversation.com/how-the-murdoch-press-has-waged-a-relentless-campaign-against-the-bbc-and-why-its-worked-45523

[5] http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108364

[6] This is not surprising at all. In all of her public statements from 1945 she only mentions the term “The common good” 16 times. In nearly 60 years of public statements this seems surprising. Rupert Murdoch is mentioned 19 times (although in some cases he is mentioned by her interlocutor)

This is found at this site http://www.margaretthatcher.org/

With this search http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/results.asp?dt=4&btn=Search&w=%22Common+Good%22&searchtype=and&t=0&starty=&startm=&startd=&endy=&endm=&endd=&onedayy=&onedaym=&onedayd

However, this should not come as a surprise given her antipathy to the idea of the common good. She believed in the individual and the individual good. She believed that if the individual pursued their own good, then the public would benefit as it would be automatic that they would act for the common good to achieve their personal good. Yet, this seems to ignore or forget the famous book by Mandeville The Fable of the Bees: Or, Private Vices create Public Virtues http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/846 She knew that individuals have unequal talents and unequal access to opportunities so her proposals would privilege the few at the expense of the many. Her approach would undermine the common good upon which justice depends. Like a classical tyrant, she pursued her individual good at the expense of the common good and justice.

[7]http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=106689

[8] Consider the following Aesop Fable of the horse and the stage as quoted by Aristotle. Rhetoric Book 2 Chapter 20 section 5 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0060:book=2:chapter=20&highlight=body%2Cguard

“The horse agreed to the terms and the man mounted him, but instead of obtaining vengeance on the stag, the horse from that time became the man’s slave. So then,” said he, “do you take care lest, in your desire to avenge yourselves on the enemy, you be treated like the horse. You already have the bit, since you have chosen a dictator; if you give him a body-guard and allow him to mount you, you will at once be the slaves of Phalaris.”

[9] See for example, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/07/30/george-osborne-challenged-over-bbc-cuts-murdoch-meeting_n_7908196.html

[10] See Leo Strauss On Tyranny Corrected and Expanded Edition eds Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth University of Chicago Press, 2013 London) p. 75

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in demagogic, democracy, ethics, journalism, new media model and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Murdoch as the Prime Minister’s media bodyguard

  1. jasonblog says:

    Reblogged this on jasonpoliticalcomment and commented:
    An interestingly brief piece looking at the relationship between Murdoch’s media and politicians in the UK.

    I considered the recently deposed and utterly detested Australian PM, Tony Abbott, to have been the world’s first tabloid prime minister. His public utterances and seeming ideology having the unsophisticated, under-nuanced lack of being able to comprehend a complex world that made Abbott not just a menace but a blundering danger.

    The Abbott government was a scary proposition in that it wasn’t a government with a compliant propagandising media – the Murdoch stable – at its service, but rather the Abbott government was simply the political wing of News Corp.

    The observations that the following article makes on tyranny echo my own thoughts.

  2. Pingback: Rupert Murdoch’s Last Hurrah | Media Meditations

  3. Pingback: Trump threatens US reports to make them obedient | Media Meditations

  4. Pingback: Trump threatens US reporters to make them obedient | Media Meditations

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