Last week, in New York, we learned just how rich the Trump and Brexit years have made the Murdoch family. And in Sydney we (and Malcolm Turnbull) learned how they use the power that money gives them.
In the US, Forbes magazine released their annual billionaires list, demonstrating (as Australia’s rich list did just last month) what a lovely pandemic it’s been if you’re rich enough. The Murdoch family now sits at number 71, with assets of about $30 billion.
Just five years ago when Trump was the outsider US presidential candidate and Brexit a laughed-off distant possibility, the family’s wealth was a more meagre $14.6 billion.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Murdoch companies were making news for another reason: a shock-and-awe strike in Tuesday’s The Daily Telegraph (three stories and an editorial) against the appointment of former PM (and vocal News Corp critic) Malcolm Turnbull as chair of the NSW Government’s Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy board — a strike that was rewarded with a same day governmental back-flip.
It was a peculiarly Australian version of the story told in the newly released memoir by former Republican speaker John Boehner, describing his party’s descent into “Looneyville”, driven by Fox News. He tells of a 2011 threat from one of his caucus to take her unhappiness over a particular appointment to Fox: “I wasn’t the one with the power, she was saying. I just thought I was. She had the power now. She was right, of course.”
Just as Boehner was forced to recognise his limits in Fox’s Republican Party, Turnbull has come to recognise his own in Murdoch’s Liberal Party — although both are now seemingly more prepared to talk about it after they’ve retired from politics.
For News Corp, it’s not personal — or not ALL personal, anyway. It’s business. It’s News Corp application of monopoly tactics to right-wing politics, seeking to control both the news and the politicians who make it, relying on its traditional mix of strong product design for market fit, a ruthlessly waged war against potential competitors and regulatory and political capture.
It’s the little things that make the difference: deals under the news media bargaining code that minimise benefits to new players, building an internal competitor to the relaunched AAP news service, or federal government funding support to outbid the Nine network for broadcast rights to cricket and netball.
It’s the sport-focused tabloids apparent downgrading of rugby union coverage since the broadcast rights moved from Foxtel to Nine’s Stan: just six pars in the 20 ad-free pages of yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph — Sport.
It’s jiu jitsu against the ABC by asserting that only News Corp opinionistas can provide the balance the broadcaster requires. (“Go woke, go broke,” as Sky News exalted at falling Q+A ratings last week.)
Once, News Corp hoped to bring its skills to dominate the Anglosphere attention economy through newspaper and pay television monopolies delivering the companies’ own news, sport, and entertainment content.
Now that the social media internet has exploded the attention infrastructure, they’ve pivoted. In 2016, Rupert Murdoch recognised that streaming services like Netflix meant domination in film and television entertainment was beyond reach, selling out of the sector in a share swap with Disney. (The rise in those Disney shares now underpins the family’s wealth.)
Over the past month, new investments have shown the sectors the companies now hope to dominate: books, business news and information, real estate advertising, and the interface between right-wing politics and media.
In books, News Corp announced in the week before Easter that it was buying Houghton Mifflin’s Books and Media Segment for about $460 million (after missing out on the purchase of Simon & Schuster late last year). This is expected to take revenues from the company’s Harper Collins book publishing arm to about a third of the company’s total.
A couple of days earlier, News Corp strengthened its position in business media, buying Investor’s Business Daily for about $360 million.
In the same week, the family’s Fox arm seemed to make peace with its major competitor in the right-wing media space by hiring Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara as a paid contributor.
“Welcome to the family, Lara” the network said as it announced the news on its morning show.