CONASON: Murdoch Dumps Tories; Is Bill Kristol Next?

A shudder of fear and disgust must have shaken American conservatives when Rupert Murdoch threw his tabloids behind Labor in the coming British election. No comment has been heard from the pundits and politicians of the right about their beloved patron's betrayal, a silence that cannot have been easy to maintain. And while there are many conservatives who have enjoyed the largesse of the Murdoch media empire in recent years -- from columnists to book authors to TV talking heads -- those who must be most embarrassed by his apostasy are the editors of The Weekly Standard and the New York Post. Their devotion to right-wing dogma has been casually mocked by the man who signs their checks. But their humiliation over the Labor endorsement -- an event of little lasting significance in this country -- may signal a far worse disillusionment ahead for Mr. Murdoch's ink-stained minions.The media mogul's endorsement of Labor on March 18 in The Sun showed how decisively his ideology can shift when he becomes impatient, as he did with Prime Minister John Major. His habit of protecting and advancing his business interests through endorsements, contributions and contracts, without regard to philosophy or policy, is one of the better-known phenomena of our time. Although his flirtation with Labor's Tony Blair began more than a year ago, the Tories managed to sound shocked that the two men had cut a deal.The fury of those who hoped that Mr. Murdoch would remain loyally reactionary was expressed quite amusingly the next day by Ronald Spark, a former editorial writer for The Sun, in the Daily Telegraph. It seems Mr. Spark woke up and realized that his old boss lacks principle. His column recalled caustically how in Australia, Mr. Murdoch had "switched from Labor to Liberal with all the casual grace of a Soho stripper when it suited his commercial purpose. Now, from his eyrie in Beverly Hills, he is thinking of what is best not just for Britain, but, more importantly, for his manifold media interests here and around the world."Such righteous scorn was diluted, of course, by a full measure of hypocrisy. Mr. Murdoch's avid pursuit of advantage through political logrolling never troubled the Tories -- whose governments returned his favors -- so long as his interests coincided with theirs.Back in the States, conservatives are rediscovering how much they love to hate Red China, a development that can only make Mr. Murdoch edgy. As a stirring Weekly Standard editorial declared: "We now have an America led by an Administration eager to shovel the truth about the world's greatest tyranny under the rug. For shame." Even Mr. Murdoch's old hireling Newt Gingrich seems to be playing the anti-China card as he tries to hold onto his Speakership.No doubt this revival is inspired by China's repression of political and religious freedom, but it also coincides nicely with pending investigations into alleged attempts by China to influence the Clinton Administration. Moral fervor rarely suits partisan purposes quite so conveniently.Few of the conservatives now beating the drums against Beijing sounded quite so fierce in the months following the Tiananmen massacre, when the Bush Administration's emissaries were toasting the Chinese tyrants. But back then, quite a few of these opportunists were working for the Bush Administration.And now more than a few of them work for the Murdoch empire, continually expanding into the world's largest nation no matter how many of its people are murdered, enslaved or imprisoned. Among Mr. Murdoch's investments there are Star TV, a satellite TV and radio operation that broadcasts to China (and from which he dumped the BBC for offending Beijing censors); a new music firm which will produce artists and sell albums in China; movie channels in Chinese hotels; and a $20 million deal to build four TV studios in Tianjin. Surely the cutest project is China Byte, the Web site launched in January by an information technology joint venture between Mr. Murdoch's News Corporation and the People's Daily, China's main organ of state propaganda. This partnership is a truly abject form of kowtowing -- but for Mr. Murdoch, there seems to be no deal too demeaning when he thinks of a billion potential consumers.There is, as Mao Zedong would have said, an antagonistic contradiction here. Eventually, the Chinese will notice that Murdoch employees and allies are fomenting a crusade against their regime, and the moment of truth is likely to arrive before Congress votes later this spring on renewal of China's "most favored nation" trading status. Already, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol has urged an "insurrection" by conservatives to cut off Chinese trade privileges. "In the case of China," he complained in the March 10 issue, "the Republican establishment has joined the Clinton Administration in subordinating both strategic concerns and American principles to business interests."Tastefully, there was no mention of whose business interests are implicated. But how long before Mr. Murdoch decides here -- as he did in England -- that the politics of his own organs of propaganda are overdue for what Mao used to call a "rectification of line"?

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