Fox News deals with Kremlin propaganda. So why not freeze Rupert Murdoch’s assets? | Nick Cohen


IIf the West plucked up the courage, it would order an immediate freeze on Rupert Murdoch’s assets. His Fox News anchors and Russian propagandists are so intertwined that separating the two is as impossible as undoing a cake.

In Russian state news, as on Fox, the braying ideologues shout threats and then lament their victimhood as they incite anger and self-pity in equal proportions. His arguments range from the appropriation of anti-fascism by the imperialists of Greater Russia – the 40 countries supporting Ukraine were “today’s collective Hitler”, viewers were told last week – to the apocalyptic delirium of the boss of RT (Russia Today) Margarita Simonyan. Nuclear war is my ‘horror’, she shuddered, ‘but we’ll go to heaven, while they just croak’.

Russia would never grant airtime to genuine Western journalists. But he can still find a place for his favorite quisling: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. He pushes back Russian propaganda lines or perhaps creates his own lies for Russia to use. Ukraine, not Russia, is the real tyranny. NATO provoked poor Vladimir Putin. The West is plotting to use biological weapons. Last week he advanced the theory that the war was not the result of an unprovoked invasion by a colonialist dictatorship but of the Biden administration’s drive to avenge Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

It was a big hit in Moscow, BuzzFeed’s Julia Davis reported. “The propagandists of state television liked it so much, Russia 60 minutes included it not once, but twice on their evening show – carefully framed by Kremlin war propaganda.

Putin’s appeal to both the far right and the far left Chomskyan wing in Europe and North America is in itself worthy of study. He was a dream for the ultra-reactionaries: a white, Christian strongman, who was anti-liberal and anti-EU. His victories heralded a world in which might was just and morality was for the losers.

In Europe, Russia’s atrocities have forced everyone from Arron Banks and Nigel Farage to Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini to find urgent reasons to change the subject. In the United States, there remains a market for Putinism among a large minority of Republican voters. Their desire for dictatorship, as evidenced by the support for the denial of legitimate election results and the fascist forces that have stormed Congress, is greater. The hatred of the Liberals in power runs deeper.

Murdoch boosts Russian morale and, conversely, undermines Ukrainian resolve by providing a dictatorship with foreign validation. Don’t underestimate its importance. Russians who suspect their TV presenters are state-sponsored suckers are more likely to believe foreign commentators who assure them the lies they hear are true. Journalists risk their lives but Putin cannot fire or jail Fox News anchors, steal their wealth or poison them with Novichok. Russian forces will not reduce their cities to rubble, rape them, torture them, burn them alive in theaters or shoot them in the head along forest roads. Murdoch and his employees have nothing to fear from Putin. Their endorsement of Kremlin war propaganda is compelling because it is freely given.

Equally useful for Russia is the broader chilling effect. I’ve seen journalists begin with eloquent and plausible critiques of the left’s hatred of free speech, for example, or its tolerance of regressive religion, only to discover that the worst right-wing media careers have a price. To succeed on Fox News in the United States, they don’t have to agree with banning abortion or denying climate change, but they must never go public with their objections.

British sanctions regulations include among the grounds for freezing an oligarch’s assets “obtaining an advantage or the support of the Russian government”. Biden’s White House vows to punish those “responsible for providing the necessary support to back Putin’s war on Ukraine.” Under both interpretations, there is a plausible prosecution for freezing Murdoch’s NewsCorp assets.

Because it is a media conglomerate, sanctions would be an attack on freedom of expression. I say this simply because so many writers and politicians claim they are not asking for censorship when that is precisely what they are doing. Nevertheless, in this case, the threat to freedom is minimal. Murdoch would not be punished for revealing embarrassing truths about the West, but for spreading demonstrable lies for a hostile foreign power.

If you still feel uneasy, imagine if Murdoch’s media organization was exactly as it is today and produced the same arguments the Kremlin uses to justify its crimes. The only difference is that Murdoch is Russian rather than Australian. I don’t believe there would be any hesitation in removing him and his family from control of their businesses. Indeed, the UK, EU and US have already announced sanctions against Russian broadcasters and individual journalists. I have not heard anyone claim that he is attacking the freedom of the press, rather than trying to cripple the propaganda capacity of a warmongering state.

The Murdoch Empire contains the Time and the wall street journalwhose Russian coverage has been admirable, and HarperCollins, who with a bravery few other publishers would match, repelled a vicious legal assault by the Russian oligarchy and their favorite London lawyers against a critical study of Putin’s power .

But good deeds count for nothing in assessing the appropriateness of sanctions. Tycoon Oleg Tinkov spoke on behalf of many wealthy Russians when he denounced the “massacre” in Ukraine and called for an end to the “mad war”. The oligarchs that the West has sanctioned are losing their fortunes and what little influence they had. Of course they hate Putin’s strategy. Western governments don’t care because, as Tom Keatinge of the Royal United Services Institute explains to me, they know that much of the oligarchic wealth is at Putin’s disposal. Their private thoughts and, when they dare to risk assassination attempts, public protests are irrelevant. The need to end the war in Europe comes first.

Soft-hearted readers may object that Murdoch is now 90 and may not be in full control of his organization. But surely this is an argument for removing it? If in his teens he allows himself to become a cross between Lord Haw Haw and Tokyo Rose, it would be a kindness for Western governments to save him from himself.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

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