Donald Trump

How much blame does Australia share for America’s anti-immigrant hysteria, which culminated in this month’s mass shooting in El Paso? Quite a bit, as our post-Tampa rhetoric has been mediated through Fox News into “stop the invasion”.

That’s the view of New Yorker writer and Fox-focused critic Jane Mayer. On the podcast Pod Save America, Mayer described News Corp in Australia as “maybe even more toxic” than Fox News. Here, she says, News Corp “has tried to profit off anti-immigrant sentiment [and] fan the flames of a sort of xenophobia and kinds of white grievances”.

Mayer attributed this Trump-era shift to the generational change of Lachlan Murdoch taking over as Fox CEO and bringing his own, Australian-learned vision into the US.

Changing narratives

It’s a change from the narrative arc of the Showtime biopic series The Loudest Voice. The show depicts Fox News executive Roger Ailes’ fight to shape the message imported by Rupert’s Australian media mafia, which originally had a more quaint view of what “fair and balanced” meant. Both are two sides of the same coin. It’s a reminder that, just as the intrusion of conservative conferences into Australia leave us hot under the collar about the Americanisation of Australian politics, plenty of Americans are fired-up about Australians, too. 

This is a 21st century example of what Australian historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds in their book Drawing the Global Colour Line called the “imagined community” of white men across the settler countries, whose shared whiteness transcends individual nationality.

At the extreme end, it’s a community where the Christchurch shooter is inspired by the global alt-right and, in turn, inspires the shooters in Poway, California, and El Paso, Texas.

Cultural exchange

In Australia, we see more clearly how News Corp acts to push US cultural talking points like a sock down our throats through, for example, The Australian’s trans issues page or The Daily Telegraph’s outrage over NSW legislation to decriminalise abortion. It was this sort of cultural transmission through politics that lead to the Howard government blocking the way to marriage equality, with everything that move contributed to our culture wars over the following 15 years.

This goes beyond simple telegraphic transmission. As former News Corp journalist Rick Morton reported in last week’s The Saturday Paper, the company’s mastheads (particularly The Australian) act as the processing plant for localising US memes. Taking Trump’s demonisation of Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists, and applying a sheen of journalism to produce Melbourne’s own “African gangs crisis”; or taking US transphobia and, according to Benjamin Law’s Quarterly EssayMoral Panic 101, turning it into 90,000-odd words in The Australian on the Safe Schools program.

The exodus

As the US right is purging “Never-Trump” Republicans, apolitical or moderate voices in Australia’s News Corp arm seem to be experiencing their own (perhaps self-induced) purge. Morton is a notable departee; leaving after publicly criticising the company. Sky News editor David Speers has been recruited to host the ABC’s Insiders. Others departing include Anthony Klan, Stephen Fitzpatrick and James Jeffrey.

Many are public with their criticism. Tony Koch, once a News Corp star, famously attacked the company’s 2019 election coverage and this month described The Australian as a “grubby, insignificant apology for a newspaper” and The Courier-Mail as “pathetic”. Journalist Anthony Klan tweeted out his resignation from The Australian, saying that he “had … serious misgivings about the direction that is now being taken”. 

In his soft-spoken way, The Australian’s early ’90s editor-in-chief David Armstrong noted on Facebook that he was cancelling his subscription, triggering a stream of comments from Australian-alumni, many more in sorrow than in anger about the paper’s direction.

Once upon a time former News Corp journalists were more reticent. Like most newspaper companies, News Corp is, in its own way, a kind of imagined community — you leave but never check out. Now, the company’s feeding of the Trumpian right makes it harder to stay quiet.

Peter Fray

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