SOLOMON: Kissing the Boots of a Media Goliath
In a media world where the preposterous has become routine, it's hard to be shocked anymore. But I hope you're sitting down.A major religious organization has decided to give its "Humanitarian of the Year" award to ... Rupert Murdoch.What's next? Prizes to Jenny Jones and Howard Stern for quality journalism? A posthumous award to Marshall Herff Applewhite for affirmation of life?Media mogul Murdoch is getting his Humanitarian of the Year plaque from a group that calls itself "the largest philanthropic organization in the world." The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York will honor Murdoch at a posh dinner in late May.Fawning over mighty tycoons is nothing new. But the UJA- Federation is pushing the obsequious envelope.Murdoch, whose grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, has emerged as the planet's media giant. His possessions in this country include the Fox television network, TV Guide, the tabloid New York Post, HarperCollins book publishers, Twentieth Century Fox and the right-wing Weekly Standard magazine.Lax federal regulation has swelled the profits of Murdoch's News Corp., now a $28 billion conglomerate. As a recent New York Times article noted, his 10-year-old Fox TV network "could never have succeeded if it had not received generous treatment at the Federal Communications Commission." Naturally, turning such big governmental wheels requires lots of political grease.Last year, Murdoch donated $1 million to the California Republican Party, while News Corp. gave another $654,700 in "soft money" to the national GOP. The current chairman of Fox News is Roger Ailes, the former media adviser to George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign who went on to become executive producer of Rush Limbaugh's TV show.Murdoch has floated an abundance of lofty rhetoric about his Star TV global satellite network. For example: "Satellite broadcasting makes it possible for information-hungry residents of many closed societies to bypass state-controlled television." He touts new media technology as a "threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere."But Murdoch quickly kowtowed to China's totalitarian regime when Beijing objected to Star TV transmissions of BBC News reports about Chinese human rights abuses. In 1994, Murdoch's network dropped the BBC from its broadcasts to Asia. "The BBC was driving them nuts," Murdoch reportedly said. "It's not worth it."In Murdoch's native Australia, News Corp. dominates the mass media. In Britain, Murdoch controls more than a third of daily newspaper circulation along with much of cable and satellite television. While using his media outlets to push for the slashing of government social services, Murdoch was a pioneer of union-busting in the newspaper industry.Why would the UJA-Federation choose to laud this man?Well, of course, he's extremely wealthy -- wielding enormous media leverage and political clout on several continents. And he's an avid backer of Israel. Meanwhile, a News Corp. subsidiary boasts of being "the largest R&D firm in Jerusalem."The UJA-Federation -- proud of its aid programs for Jewish immigrants in Israel -- avoids the concept of human rights for Arabs in the holy land. The organization encourages the attitude that Palestine belongs to Jews but not to Palestinians. With a similar spirit, Murdoch declares "my faith and News Corporation's faith in the integrity and worthiness of the Zionist undertaking."So, it's appropriate that the presenter of the upcoming Humanitarian of the Year award will be none other than Henry Kissinger. The former secretary of state has never apologized for a bigoted remark he made in June 1992 while speaking at an "Israel benefit" event for the Jerusalem Foundation: "You can't really believe anything an Arab says."Next month's salute to Murdoch also features "honorary dinner chair" Sumner Redstone, the Viacom CEO whose vast media empire includes the UPN, MTV, Nickelodeon and USA Networks, Simon & Schuster and Paramount Pictures. Many other media titans will be at the head table.By proclaiming that Rupert Murdoch is Humanitarian of the Year, the award sponsors have chosen to kiss the boots of a media Goliath. The May 29 banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria will pay tribute to a global magnate who exemplifies how wealth and media power can buy a gloss of moral legitimacy.