Flouting the laws and sacrificing truth, the new mogul empire is a perpetual-motion machine fueled almost entirely on bullshit.
By Eric Alterman
February 14, 2017
Though they hail from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, Bibi Netanyahu and Donald Trump are, politically speaking, brothers-in-arms. Each serves as the titular head of a government out of his control, held hostage by far-right forces that care little for the rule of law or even the dictates of nature, and whose members answer to higher powers— political, financial, and theological.
But one weapon that both men share and that none of their adversaries, enemies, or even “frenemies” can match is their ability to deploy massive media empires to intervene on their behalf. Each has long cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with powerful right-wing billionaires willing to put their money behind propaganda networks designed to bludgeon the public mind in the service of their business interests and pet political causes. As it happens, Netanyahu and Trump even share the same media cronies.
Currently, Netanyahu finds himself under criminal investigation for, among other things, a deal he tried to cut with Arnon Mozes, the wealthy owner and editor in chief of Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage in Israel’s most popular paid paper. In exchange for Mozes forcing his editors to be nicer to Bibi, the prime minister apparently agreed to lean on his friend, the multibillionaire and right-wing zealot Sheldon Adelson, to curb the Sunday edition of his multimillion-dollar pro-Bibi propaganda sheet Israel Hayom, whose free distribution nationwide has played havoc with the economics of Israel’s newspaper industry. The pact was never sealed, however, and in late 2014, when the Israeli Knesset appeared ready to pass a law that would have outlawed free newspaper distribution so as to “defend written journalism” in the country, Netanyahu dissolved the parliament and called new elections in order to upend the legislation.
Trump is also tight with Adelson. In preparation for his February 15 meeting with Netanyahu, Trump and his know-nothing UN representative, Nikki Haley, had dinner with Adelson and his wife. According to press reports, the Adelsons planned to lobby against even rhetorical support on the part of the Trump administration for a Palestinian state, as well as for a quick move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Adelson has called in the past for the United States to bomb Iran without any particular provocation—something Netanyahu has long lobbied for. Good luck, everyone.)
Like Netanyahu, Trump regularly cuts deals with sympathetic media properties to ensure favorable coverage. After the election, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner bragged to business executives that he’d done exactly this with the Sinclair cable network, which is prominent in swing-state America. Then there’s Breitbart, whose right-wing, racist lies presented under the guise of journalism were understood by “multiple writers and editors,” according to reporting by McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed, to have been part of a “pay for play” deal with Trump when the site was overseen by the fascist- admiring Steve Bannon, now Trump’s top White House adviser.
Of course, Trump’s biggest “get” is Rupert Murdoch, the world’s most powerful media owner, and among the most opinionated. According to reporting by New York’s Gabriel Sherman, Trump and Murdoch speak at least three times a week. While initially skeptical of his candidacy, Murdoch has recently shown himself as willing as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to go the distance with Trump.
The orders have apparently gone out across the entire Murdoch empire. It’s not just the endless pro-Trump infomercial hosted by Fox News’s Sean Hannity (at least 50 interviews during the primaries alone, in which the host one-upped the mogul with such lunatic observations as “We know now through WikiLeaks [that] some of these networks were colluding with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to defeat you”). It’s also Murdoch’s willingness to lose superstar Megyn Kelly, Trump’s bête noire, and replace her with Trump suck-up Tucker Carlson. Conservative Trump critics like William Kristol and George F. Will have also been cut loose. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal just parted company with an editorial-page editor who refused to get on board, and the paper’s editor in chief is warning reporters and editors not to say that Trump is lying, no matter how obvious it is to the rest of the world. Murdoch’s New York Post, already in the tank for Trump on every page it publishes, even fired a writer for a private anti-Trump tweet. The Trump-Murdoch romance is also a family affair: Until recently, Ivanka Trump was a trustee for the shares of 21st Century Fox and News Corp. owned by Murdoch’s daughters Grace and Chloe, reported to be worth around $300 million. (Ivanka stepped down after this arrangement was revealed by the Financial Times.)
Netanyahu and Murdoch are tight, too. To pick just one connection, former Murdoch flack Gary Ginsberg, now at Time Warner, also advises the Israeli prime minister. And when Netanyahu’s deal with Mozes fell through, it made perfect sense for the panicky prime minister to call Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s son, to ask if he would pitch in by scooping up the Israeli daily. That didn’t happen either, and as a result of these efforts, there’s a good chance that Bibi will find himself under criminal indictment, because Israel’s justice system still functions as America’s does not.
Potential illegalities aside, the most worrisome aspect of the above is that this system of political-media back-scratching creates a closed epistemic loop in which actual verifiable truth plays no role. Trump and Netanyahu lie to their lackeys, who in turn report those lies as fact. Trump hears those lies on Fox and then believes them even more strongly. No less important, so do the millions of people consuming the lies through the newspapers, television programs, websites, and talk-radio shows that parrot them. It’s a perpetual-motion machine fueled entirely on bullshit, with not only truth, but the lives of millions here and elsewhere, at its mercy.