Rupert Murdoch in the Newsroom (Courtesy of Luxedb)

“I’m a catalyst for change. You can’t be an outsider and be successful over 30 years without leaving a certain amount of scar tissue around the place.” – Rupert Murdoch

“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus

In 1992, Carl Bernstein, the journalist famed for his Pulitzer-Prize winning work on Watergate, wrote an article in The New Republic entitled “The Idiot Culture”. In it, he decried the state of the media in the early ‘90’s:

“In this new culture of journalistic titillation, we teach our readers and our viewers that the trivial is significant, that the lurid and the loopy are more important than real news. We do not serve our readers and viewers, we pander to them. And we condescend to them, giving them what we think they want and what we calculate will sell and boost ratings and readership. Many of them, sadly, seem to justify our condescension, and to kindle at the trash. Still, it is the role of journalists to challenge people, not merely to amuse them.”

Bernstein believed that this sensationalist trend would lead to ascension of an “Idiot Culture”, a culture informed by talk show hosts and a sensationalist mentality; gimmicks, to frame it in a word.

Culo, with Sean "Diddy" Combs listed as Executive Editor (Courtesy of Borders.com)

Even today, respected journalist Anderson Cooper has his “gimmick”, things like the comedic light-news segment, the “RidicuList”. For example, here he can seen here talking about Sean “Diddy” Combs’ book about butts.

The point is, news producers feel they have to break up the news, and with the “RidicuList”, Cooper highlights the stories that would seem too trivial to air otherwise (see “Gerard Depardieu“), and reports, in a sense, on them.

It would seem, that modern news people and news shows essentially dilute (some, like Bernstein, would argue, “taint”) their product with entertainment and sensationalized news.

It is interesting that in an interview in the Guardian, how Carl Bernstein draws a parallels between the Rupert Murdoch and Watergate. Not just because of the phone hacking scandal, which he elaborates on in the article, but because of the effect Rupert Murdoch has on the society as a whole. In the interview Bernstein shifts so fluidly from the Watergate comparison to an elaboration on how Murdoch effects the media, precisely because his name is so linked with change in the model of cable news.

But when it comes down to it, newspapers are a business; and there is no more prosperous newspaper entrepreneur than Murdoch. According to Yahoo Finance, News Corporation, where Murdoch serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, made 33 billion in revenue in the past year.

And arguably, Rupert Murdoch’s empire has shaken up journalism, in some ways as much, if not more than, Watergate.

For instance, his brand of opinion journalism and punditry at the Fox News Channel has changed the landscape of cable news. Ever since Bill O’Reilly began his run at Fox in 1996, there has been a dramatic increase in the influence and, more importantly, the ratings of opinion news shows. MSNBC, for instance, has positioned themselves as a sort of counterbalance, the antithesis, if you will, to Fox News. This, of course, has effected public perception of what is considered news.

According to the PEW Research Center, people associate the term “News Organization” mostly with cable news networks, like CNN or FOX News. CNN was associated with this term by 43 percent of the surveyed, with Fox News right behind them, at 39 percent.

On the other hand, Watergate, while usually cited as one of the most important examples of investigative journalism, does not have the same journalist impact, long-term, that history would have you believe. As Bob Woodward has stated, “to say that the press brought down Nixon, that’s horseshit“.

The point that is conveyed strongly here, and is argued more throughly by Woodward later in the article, is that while the press plays a important role, it would be a mistake to overemphasize the press’ coverage.

For all it’s legacy, the main journalistic precedent that Watergate affair set was a proliferation in the usage of unnamed sources. It was not a common maneuver in journalism before Watergate, because it could diminish the credibility of the story, etc., it became much more popular afterwards.

All this, of course, is to prove a point. The changes that a titan of the media has, in terms of profitability and content, established, is more powerful than the pinnacle of journalistic excellence.

If there is a question raised in the importance of Rupert Murdoch in the news industry, it is this: for better or for worse, just how permanent will this change be?

A parody of The Sun's infamous page 3 with former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks. The Sun is a Rupert Murdoch holding. (Courtesy of Political Scrapbook)

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