Rupert Murdoch Unfit to Head Media Outlet? Who Knew?

Page-three girls--the sort of outstanding journalism we've come to expect from Rpuert Murdoch. 

A new British Parliamentary report on the phone hacking scandals involving Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World operation concluded that Murdoch is “not a fit person” to head media conglomerates and news agencies. Wow! Who would have guessed? In related news, scientists have offered conclusive proof that grass is green and the sky is blue.

The Parliamentary report is as outmoded as the monarchy. Where have they been since 1969? That’s the year Murdoch landed in the UK and took over a decent-but-troubled newspaper called the Sun, converted it into a tabloid, kicked out its vaguely left-oriented staff, and made the “page-three girl” part of the British lexicon. (For those who’ve never seen a page-three girl, think Playboy in newsprint.) Murdoch was a Thatcherite during the 1980s, though he admired the Iron Lady from abroad, having moved to the United States and taken citizenship there in 1985.

His first big U.S. venture is another milestone for creative journalism–he took over the Star, that staple of bored patrons standing in supermarket checkout lines across the nation and the major faux news rival of the National Enquirer. In 1986, Murdoch launched the Fox Broadcasting Company. Need I say more?

Well, yes, I should. In 1995, the Federal Communications Commission investigated Murdoch for violation of media antitrust laws. Once upon a time, media mogulship was controlled in this country–one was not allowed to own multiple news outlets in the same market. There was a quaint idea circulating that competition prevented manipulation of information, ensured that multiple viewpoints and ideologies would be aired, and gave consumers a silly old thing called “choice.” That great “liberal” Bill Clinton scuttled that rule. (If Clinton’s a liberal, I’m the schizophrenic reincarnation of both Marx and Engels!) Thanks to Bonkin’ Bill–whom Murdoch repaid by running several fundraisers for Hillary, though he generally channels about $1 million per year to Republicans–Murdoch was able to launch a new venture in 1996: Fox News. That outlet is to objective news what a gallon of Jack Daniels is to sobriety. I’m sure that America’s squeamishness about sex is the only thing between anchor Patti Ann Browne and a video version of the page-three girl on Fox News Live.

Murdoch’s record has been tawdry and sleazy everywhere he’s set up shop, and that includes Italy. My lord! What does it say when a country that produced the Borgias and whose major media player is Silvio Berlusconi finds Rupert Murdoch’s behavior questionable? Is there anyone on the planet who thinks Murdoch is fit to run a media empire? Probably not, but the better question to ask is whether there’s anyone in the United States that cares enough about the public to strip Murdoch of his power, overturn Clinton’s foolish ruling, and restore competition to the North American media.   


Arab Spring Springs Major Leaks

The new "democrats" in Egypt fear this guy? 71-year-old actor Abel Imam

There’s not much in life that gives less satisfaction than saying, “I told you so.” Readers of this blog know that I have routinely inveighed against getting too excited about “Arab Spring,” that series of upheavals that convulsed the Middle East in early 2010. Its Western defenders hailed it as an outbreak of democracy that promised to empower the masses and bring an end to regional strife. I can forgive the magical thinking of average Americans whose ignorance was a product of ahistoricism and altruism. Our leaders and intellectuals should have known better.

At the time I was among the few observers that cautioned that we ought not to throw around terms such as democracy, elections, and mass participation with such cavalier recklessness. My own take on the Middle East history is tempered by familiarity with seven decades of Islamic state policies on Israel, gender equity, and multiculturalism. I have seen lots of anti-Semitism, misogyny, and cultural intolerance; I have not seen much that passes for democracy, nor do I hear it gurgling up from those groups likely to replace deposed governments. I also know that theocratic states have been much worse on the aforementioned issues than those authoritarian regimes the West reflexively revile. Surely only a fool would equate leaders such as Mubarak, Saddam, or Assad with social justice, but Egypt, Iraq, and pre-civil war Syria under those tyrants surpassed the social justice record of theocracies such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the Taliban. Lest we forget, pre-revolutionary Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognize Israel’s right to exist. (Jordan is the only other.)

The 1979 Camp David Accords will be in serious jeopardy under an Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Lately I’ve been hearing people say that the Brotherhood has to be given a chance—that it contains “moderate” elements. More magical thinking, say I.  Why are well-intentioned people so reluctant to call out bad behavior? Why are the same people–Noam Chomsky, who is Jewish, leaps to mind–so intent on tolerating those who wouldn’t tolerate them? Mention “values clash” and you get accused of being anti-Muslim. Applied to individuals, I agree, but there is a fundamental values clash between Muslim theocracies and Western nation-states. I’m all for letting Muslim nations work out their destinies independent of U.S. interference. We have no business in dictating their paths, and Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan graphically indicate that we’re no damn good at nation building. Step aside, and in doing so, let’s stop kidding ourselves: in cultural and political terms, these are not our people. Those who wield power simply don’t believe in multiculturalism, Israel, empowering women, the rule of civil law, or most of the precepts Americans enshrine in the Bill of Rights.

The latest case in point is the jailing of Egyptian comedian Adel Imam. He’s serving a three-month prison sentence for “insulting Islam” in roles in films such as “The Terrorist” and “Morgan Ahmed Morgan.” At this point I should mention that Imam is 71-years-old and that his first “offense” occurred in a 1994 film, the second in 2007. Mubarak deemed neither film worthy of prosecution, but the conservative Salafi Muslims now running the (soon-to-be-sinking) ship in Cairo somehow deem Imam a threat.  (Gee--it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Imam supported Mubarak, could it?) Still think the new Egypt is on the road to democracy? Free speech? It sounds more like something out of Orwell to me.  And, yes, I told you so.


Steep Canyon Rangers Latest a Bluegrass Treasure

Nobody Knows You
Rounder 1166-0649-2

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Remember when bluegrass songs were often just an excuse for instrumental breakouts? Today’s bands pay a lot more attention to the melodic and lyrical hooks of their songs, but few do so with the skill of the North Carolina-based quintet Steep Canyon Rangers. Not that there’s anything wrong with those breakouts. Mike Guggino and Graham Sharp can pick the mando and banjo with the best of them, Charles Humphrey knows how it slap the stand-up bass, Woody Platt can dazzle with his flat-picking, and Nicky Sanders adds soulful depth on fiddle. But what will linger after the instrumentals fade are the catchy tunes, the clever word play, the tight harmonies, and meaty melodies that bore themselves into your brain. The memorable banjo riff of “Rescue Me” will replay itself like the song’s chorus. Ditto the line “I always tried to do my best/I’ve mostly done the opposite,” a quiet opening prelude to some jaw-dropping breakdown banjo, mando, and fiddle. Many of the arrangements are dramatic and enigmatic, two adjectives not generally attached to bluegrass songs, a characteristic heard to great execution on “Easy to Love.” And then there’s “Natural Disaster,” a song that’s as catchy as anything on the pop charts. (”Love is a natural disaster/never get what I’m after…”) This well-produced album is one of many moods: the classic bluegrass style of “Ungrateful One,” the old-time flair of “Open Country,” the jazzy undertones of “Knob Creek,” the swingy backbeat of “Between Midnight and the Dawn,” and the pop-laced “Reputation,” which sounds like a bluegrass variant of The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.” These guys have been riding high on the bluegrass charts, have shared bills the Dixie Chicks and Steve Martin, and were the 2011 International Blue Music Association’s “Entertainers of the Year.” It’s easy to hear why.