Why is Rupert Murdoch so clueless about Fox News?

The sad truth is Murdoch either has no idea what kind of programming Fox News now produces, or he's too embarrassed to acknowledge it.

Did you know that Sean Hannity is “an academic” ? That Obama administration officials love Fox News' White House reporters? That CNN refuses to have Republicans on its program? That Glenn Beck is “purely Libertarian” ? Or that there's no bias -- none -- in Fox's presentation of the news?

At least that's the gospel according to Rupert Murdoch this month.

In truth, thanks to Murdoch's recent laundry list of public falsehoods, we now know that Fox News' misinformation culture starts at the very top, inside the corner office of Murdoch, the CEO of News Corp., Fox News' parent company. It turns out Murdoch functions as his own one-man misinformation machine. Who knew?

Of course, the Murdoch falsehood that recently generated the biggest headlines last week came when, sitting for a television interview with Sky News Australia, he agreed with the claim made by Glenn Beck that President Obama (aka “this guy” ) was a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” Defending Beck, Murdoch stressed that Obama himself had made a “very racist comment” (which apparently only Rupert Murdoch heard), and that Beck was “right” to point out Obama's racist ways.

Murdoch's claim was so bizarre (and false) that soon his corporate flak was forced into damage control mode and issued a non-apology apology in an effort to smooth over Murdoch's smear against Obama. But with his “racist” claim, as well as a collection of other recent falsehoods regarding Fox News, a rather obvious question has been raised: How come Murdoch remains systematically uninformed about his controversial cable channel?

The sad truth is Murdoch either has no idea what kind of programming Fox News now produces, or he's too embarrassed to watch and acknowledge it. Neither scenario is particularly flattering for the aging CEO.

Murdoch's Sky News interview in particular proved to be a treasure trove of misinformation. (See below.) But as I watched Murdoch casually toss out falsehood after falsehood about Fox News, I wondered if Murdoch was trying to fool viewers or if he was really trying to fool himself. Was Murdoch completely whitewashing the hate and unethical behavior that Fox News routinely traffics in because Murdoch himself doesn't want to be forced to honestly defend it? My hunch is that the answer is yes.

Murdoch wants to pretend (at least to himself) that ratings are up because of the sterling and insightful news reports and opinion programs Fox News is producing. He doesn't want to sully his reputation by acknowledging the hate speech and faux journalism he profits off of because Murdoch, no doubt, wants very much to maintain his charter membership in the very clubby social circles that he's traveled in for years between Washington, D.C., and New York City (i.e. Murdoch likes being invited back to Charlie Rose's round table). It's where the very serious gather to discuss the very serious topics of the day. But, of course, Fox News today is a purposefully un-serious operation (i.e. Obama is nothing more than a lowly racist/communist/Nazi/fascist), which, if Murdoch publicly acknowledged, would reflect poorly on him.

So, instead, he opts for the charade and he creates his own idea of what Fox News is today -- an idea that does not match reality.

In truth, Murdoch's outlandish claim about Obama's fictional “racist comment” is just one of many falsehoods the CEO has recently made, either during that Australian television interview or on a conference call with U.S. shareholders earlier this month.

Check out these recent greatest hits in which Murdoch:

  • falsely characterized Sean Hannity as being an “academic” ;
  • falsely characterized Glenn Beck as being “purely Libertarian” ;
  • falsely claimed nobody on Fox News had ever compared Obama to Stalin (i.e. “No, no, no, not Stalin” );
  • falsely suggested Fox News' ratings shot up after its public dispute with the Obama administration began last month;
  • falsely claimed that administration officials agree that Fox News has been “absolutely fair” in its White House reporting;
  • falsely claimed the White House just doesn't like “two of our [Fox News] commentators” ;
  • falsely claimed Fox News' television competitors “only have Democrats” on to debate the issues;
  • falsely claimed Obama had made a “very racist comment” ; and
  • falsely implied that The O'Reilly Factor, Your World With Neil Cavuto, and Fox & Friends, among others, are not “commentary” shows.

Where do you even start? Sean Hannity, the hyper-partisan and paranoid shouter/whiner who's built a career off being allergic to facts (and professional ethics), is an academic? Good Lord, I doubt even Hannity could keep a straight face hearing that whopper.

Meanwhile, Fox News' competitors ban Republicans from the airwaves? On what planet does that booking policy exist? Fox News' ratings spiked after its dispute with the White House went public? That's just plain false. No Obama/Stalin comparison? False. And Murdoch's cable channel only hosts two programs that traffic in partisan opinion? That's odd, because many of the channel's overt bouts of partisan misinformation appear outside the confines of Hannity and Glenn Beck:

Murdoch's robust bouts of misinformation in recent weeks have been impressive in their totality. But it was Murdoch's answer to the question about Beck's “racist” attack on the president that was disconcerting in so many ways; ways in which you rarely see the CEOs of media companies behave in public.

The obvious tact for a person in Murdoch's position when asked to defend the avalanche of Beck's odious and paranoid rhetoric would have been to stress that Beck's views were his own, and note that the cable channel's a defender of the First Amendment. Murdoch could have simply pointed out that while he himself would never use that kind of incendiary rhetoric, he respects Beck's right to do so. (i.e. Yada, yada, yada.)

And it's not like Murdoch doesn't have practice cleaning up after his outlets' tasteless Obama attacks. Last spring, when his money-hemorrhaging New York Post published a cartoon that seemed to liken Obama to a bullet-ridden chimp shot dead on the sidewalks of NYC, Murdoch released this statement:

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Instead of taking that approach when pressed about Beck, though, Murdoch gamely defended the host by agreeing with him that Obama was a racist. Specifically, the CEO claimed Obama had made a “very racist comment” [emphasis added]:

MURDOCH: On the racist thing, that caused a [unintelligible]. But he [Obama] did make a very racist comment about, you know, blacks and whites and so on, and which he said in his campaign he would be completely above. And, you know, that was something which, perhaps, shouldn't have been said about the president, but if you actually assess what he [Beck] was talking about, he was right.

This was the context of the “racist” nonsense, which is key to understanding just how blatant Murdoch's misinformation was. Beck's “racist” attack was made in the wake of last July's controversy involving professor Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer, Sgt. James Crowley. After Obama made news with his comments about the issue during a July 22 press conference, Beck called Obama a “racist.” Fast-forward to November, and Murdoch claimed that in that context, Obama made “a very racist comment.”

That's pure fantasy. Obama did say that the Cambridge Police Department acted “stupidly” in arresting Gates in his own home; a comment Obama quickly walked back. But there's no way that was a “racist” comment. Murdoch's claim that the president made a “very racist comment” last summer was a pure fabrication.

Again, for the head of a media and “news” company to go on international television and peddle that kind of racially tinged misinformation about the president of the United States is really quite stunning. It's more akin to what Obama's partisan political enemies would do, not a businessman.

Question: Why won't Murdoch just stand up and proudly defend what Fox News has actually become? Instead of defending what Fox News really is, Murdoch goes on television and pretends it's something else entirely. Murdoch doesn't want to talk about what Fox News has transformed itself into. He doesn't want to talk about how it's become a hothouse for the most hateful and ill-informed elements in our society. Murdoch doesn't want to acknowledge what Fox News has become because the CEO thinks of himself as a serious man, and a very serious man would be embarrassed to be associated with today's Fox News.

And who knows? Maybe deep down, Rupert Murdoch is.