Rupert Murdoch’s global media operation is honing its sights on the ABC after the public broadcaster aired a critical look atand its relationship with Donald Trump.
News Corp has published 45 articles in just two days attacking the public broadcaster across its Australian mastheads.
The pushback against the ABC came even before the two-part program reported by Washington correspondent Sarah Ferguson had aired.
Fox News headquarters in New York sent a legal threat, saying the ABC had “clearly violated” its own standards by “exhibiting bias and a failure to maintain any level of impartiality in the presentation of news and information”.
Four Corners spoke to former Fox News insiders who claimed the rightwing channel became aunder the watch of Rupert Murdoch himself.
Ferguson said Fox’s ratings plunged after the network called the state of Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, and Trump loyalists turned off in disgust and switched to rival far-right networks.
“To satisfy the mob, the Murdochs needed scapegoats,”. “They chose the two senior journalists on the Election Decision Desk. Fox News’s managing editor in Washington was forced to retire. Chris Stirewalt was sacked.”
On Tuesday The Australian published what amounted to a front-page editorial,, which said the program was a “conspiracy-laden and error-ridden ‘expose’ into Fox News”.
The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Christopher Dore, went on to publish 10 articles rubbishing the ABC and Four Corners. Commentators included Chris Kenny, Gerard Henderson and former Murdoch editor Mark Day, who called it a “full-frontal hit job on Rupert Murdoch, News Corp and the US Fox News channel”.
“It had a septic odour, as if it were cobbled together from a trash can with only the rancid bits selected for regurgitation,”.
Henderson, who is a trenchant ABC critic, said it “proved to be another hyperbolic, one-sided account of the impact of the Trump administration on US society”.
The Murdoch tabloids joined the pile-on too. Articles by rightwing columnists Rita Panahi, Tim Blair and James Morrow were syndicated across the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, Mercury, Cairns Post, Townsville Bulletin, Advertiser and popular website news.com.au.
Murdoch’s most popular columnist, Sky News presenterthe ABC itself “is an echo chamber and propaganda vehicle that destabilises democracy”. The Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine, who is based at the New York Post in the US and is a regular on Fox, joined in saying the ABC’s documentary “would put the worst Fleet Street beat-up merchants to shame”.
The chair of ABC Alumni and former Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes said the coverage was a “classic example of the empire striking back”.
“It’s a phenomenon that we’ve seen for decades that the News Corp columnists gang up on individuals or organisations that they don’t like; we saw it with Gillian Triggs and Yassmin Abdel-Magied,” Holmes said.
“They know what the party line is on these kinds of topics; they don’t have to be told to write a column.”
Holmes said the attack on the Capitol on 6 January was an “extraordinary event” and examining the role of Fox News in the lead-up was “completely legitimate” for the ABC’s Washington current affairs correspondent.
Thenewsletter author Tim Burrowes said the News Corp coverage reminded him of “another low point” in 2013 when the Telegraph likened the then Labor minister because the paper was opposed to his media reforms.
“The response to Four Corners makes News Corp look worse than the program did,” Burrowes told Guardian Australia. “Which makes me think it wasn’t a coordinated attack but was based on instinct. Those who come up in the News Corp culture know who the natural enemy is and obviously the ABC is one. So when News Corp is attacked it’s very tribal and they all return fire.”
News Corp denies the coverage was coordinated.
“No, it is not fair to say that there has been a ‘coordinated campaign’ about the ABC’s 4 Corners program,” a News Corp Australia spokesman told Guardian Australia.
“What has happened is that the editors and journalists who watched the program chose to report and comment on its bias and obvious failings as a piece of serious journalism.”
The ABC told Guardian Australia News Corp’s reaction was expected. “The Australian’s first column attacking the story was published before the first episode had even gone to air,” a spokesperson said. “Since then, the striking uniformity of the attacks from News Corp journalists, commentators and outlets across the nation has only further served to highlight the importance of having a range of independent voices in the.
“News Corp not liking a story does not mean the story is biased or inaccurate. The Four Corners report is based on multiple on-the-record, on-camera interviews with people who were employed by Fox News who give first-hand, verifiable accounts of their own experiences.
“The story was rigorously tested against the ABC’s Editorial Policies and the ABC stands by it.”