- The Murdoch Mindset: Cynicism
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- The Murdoch Mindset: Cynicism
Cynic: a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons.
It’s critical to recognize that the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is a result of cynicism—Murdoch’s own dark and corrosive suspicion of everyone’s motives. This bleak view of human nature has long pervaded all Murdoch’s editorial products, from the News of The World to Fox News. Cynics have little faith in government, their fellow human beings, or the world in general. Worst of all for journalists, they have little faith in truth. I learned this first hand when I dealt with Murdoch’s New York Post reporters back in 1993 and 1994. I was Director of Corporate communications for QVC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller. It was during Diller’s attempts to takeover Paramount Communications and then CBS that the Post reporters repeatedly floated bogus stories, even after I had cautioned them that they were incorrect. Being wrong was not as important as being first and entertaining. One clear goal of these Murdoch acolytes was simply to spark Wall Street speculation in potential takeover targets.
Being cynical makes one extremely skeptical of good intentions. Cynics worship at the altar of power and money because of its verifiable influence. Winning is what matters, not rules or the law. As New Yorker columnist Ken Auletta wrote in a 1995 profile of Rupert Murdoch, “Murdoch is a pirate; he will cunningly circumvent rules, and sometimes principles, to get his way.” Murdoch will even abandon his conservative principles when necessary. Witness his support for a Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. And if winning is the almighty goal, then it’s no surprise that bribery and phone hacking were employed to scoop the competition.
Because he himself is driven by the earthbound goals of money, power and fame, Murdoch is convinced that virtually everyone is driven by the same base goals. As his lieutenant and Chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes put it to me when he briefly ran CNBC in 1993, “So, what motivates you, money, power or fame?” When I responded that I wanted to produce better business news on TV, he retorted, “No, really! What motivates you–money, power or fame?”
The Murdoch style of reporting as we’ve seen over the decades in a variety of venues and countries is remarkably consistent—appeal to the visceral and hold nothing dear. That’s why Fox News highlights the most combative and extreme elements in U.S. politics. And that’s why his British tabloids attack and exploit anyone in the public eye, from Queen Elizabeth II to 13-year old murder victim Milly Dowler, whose cell phone was hacked by Murdoch’s News of The World newspaper. If anyone challenges a Murdoch media practice they are treated with sophomoric thuggery. Ask Clare Short, a Labour Member of Parliament who dared to try and ban Murdoch’s page 3 topless photographs of young women. The Sun relentlessly attacked Short, calling her “fat and jealous.”
The deeply cynical don’t believe in any higher authorities, not even church or country. Note Murdoch’s acceptance of a Papal knighthood, not long before divorcing his Catholic second wife, and the trading of his Australian citizenship for American, in order to own U.S. media properties. A cynic’s lack of belief in moral authority makes law breaking a technical hurdle rather than a personal failure. And it makes the Murdochs’ appearance before a British Parliamentary committee seem like a contrived deception rather than decent contrition.
My focus this week is on the fifteenth trait of The Good Among the Great, that is—being appreciative. The good souls among the great achievers in our world “have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.” So wrote Abraham Maslow, the late, great 20th Century psychologist who studied the healthiest psyches. Focus in particular on Maslow’s words, “basic goods of life.” The best individuals that I’ve met and profiled delight in the simple pleasures that we can all share, such as beauty in nature, family, music, simple kindnesses, peace and quiet. These fundamentals are not what delight the Rupert Murdochs of the world. They appreciate only money, power and fame. And when they are in positions of influence such as his, it is to all of our detriments.
Cheers From Sonoma,
Donald Van de Mark
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