Mark Karlin: How do you feel about
the power- and profit- hungry side of the corporate media industry that
we are seeing unravel in Murdoch's News Corp?
Robert Kane Pappas: Through lobbyists, media companies like News
Corp largely write the laws and fill in the key details of regulations.
In the fall of 2002, prior to our invasion of Iraq, I was filming around
the congressional office buildings.
[Independent Vermont Senator] Bernie
Sanders' chief of staff assigned a friendly and competent assistant to
take me around and show me where it happens, how laws are written,
through the halls and committee hearing rooms - places the mainstream
news organizations rarely place their cameras.
Podiums and sound bites
are their methodology. It's easy and cheaper.
Here, I was introduced to something called "place-holders." Outside the
hearing rooms - where lawmakers are examining, for instance,
telecommunication policy - down-and-out looking people are paid to show
up first thing in the morning.
They stand or sit on the floor on little
round pieces of paper about 12 inches wide, saving places (places
supposedly reserved for the public) for the lobbyists, who show up
minutes before the hearing begins in their Brooks Brothers suits, and
replace the placeholders. It's about writing the laws, the inherent
promise of future jobs in the private sector (the revolving door) and
So, in addition to the drafting of the laws, the
regulators and politicians are captured by the people they are supposed
to be regulating, including corporations like News Corp.
MK: The use of quotations from Orwell's "1984" as an ongoing
analogy to the modern media age is quite effective in the documentary.
How did you come up with this idea and pick specific passages from
RKP: I had been thinking independently about our ability to forget
things that happened, specifically, events that clearly were wrong, that
crossed the line. It seemed to me during the 2000 election recount that
the media's narrative was being orchestrated. Shockingly, after the
Supreme Court decision, the media simply said, "Time to move on," end of
reporting: "Here's the new story." And everyone forgot.
I remembered Orwell's "1984." I picked it up, reread it, looked for
relevant passages. A researcher, Tom Blackburn, combed through the text
for specific quotes.
Orwell also focuses on the meaning of words, and the manipulation of
them. I thought, "Let's film an Orwellian media dictionary." I made
lists of words that are used and altered in the media political nexus.
MK: This film is in large part a personal reflection - interspersed with
experts on media consolidation such as Bernie Sanders, Robert McChesney
and Mark Crispin Miller.
How did you personally come to focus on the
pernicious effects of profit-driven corporate media owned by just a few
RKP: I went to the NYU Tisch graduate school of film. Many of us had
this idea of doing independent film, of making personal, relevant films,
as opposed to Hollywood fluff. I directed a few.
The problem for
independent filmmakers is that huge companies control all the promotion,
all the advertising. Hollywood films' advertising budgets are as large
as their shooting budgets. We didn't understand this, at first. It
doesn't matter how good your film is; if people don't know about it,
they won't go and see it.
So, I understood the paradigm and could recognize it in the way stories
had come to be covered. At one point while I was at NYU, the Iranian
hostages had been in captivity for over 350 days, and for each of those
days, The New York Post had a little hand-drawn picture of a blindfolded
hostage, with the number of days accrued typed below.
I called it "the
never-ending news story."
I got fed up with the ongoing soap opera,
grabbed a primitive video camera from a classmate, and talked my way
into a video interview with Murdoch's editor at The New York Post, who
ended up telling me he was quitting in disgust.
MK: Yes, you have a great clip from more than two decades ago, with you
interviewing the then-outgoing editor of The New York Post after Murdoch
acquired it. It is grainy and faded and seems to be a ghost from the
past that foretells so much.
What has happened in the intervening years
to strengthen your conviction that the information we receive about
public policy issues and the "news" is brought to us in an Orwellian
RKP: Media manipulation has been going on for a long time. There are
William Randolph Hearst comes to mind. The difference is
in degree. In my new doc on the science of aging, "To Age or Not To
Age," scientists discuss "degrees" of aging damage.
simple idea is that the degrees, over time, change the nature of things.
I think this is relevant to the pickle we are in, not only with regard
to the corporate media, but also our economy, the various wars,
As there is more and more media concentration, less reporting,
more manufactured PR, the nature of the impact to our society changes,
has unforeseen negative effects that become cumulative in nature.
MK: In what ways do the campaign contributions of these large "news
delivery" companies influence politics in the US?
RKP: This is similar to the problem of independent films. A politician
without money for advertising is out of luck. They are not taken
seriously. The media companies control whether a candidate gets
"coverage" - which itself is tied to the knowledge of how much he or she
The networks then know how much money the candidate is
likely to spend on commercial airtime buys – so, this is a reinforcing
system of legal corruption and quid pro quo news coverage.
MK: Does it surprise you at all that it appears that Murdoch pretty much
"owned" the current UK prime minister and is rumored to have heavily
influenced Tony Blair?
RKP: It doesn't surprise me in the least. A number of the potential GOP
presidential candidates are paid commentators on Fox. Murdoch had
perfected the technique, until the hacking of a British teenage girl
MK: How has it come to be that Fox "News" has set the tone and framing
for discussion of public policy and politics on television and even on
RKP: Fox News is able to set the range of discussion partly because of
the vertical nature of Murdoch's holdings, which includes,
He is the kindling and fuel for
ideas developed by people like Koch and in right-wing think tanks. This
is an infrastructure that dwarfs the silly talk about so-called liberal
bias in the media, which is a right-wing myth generated by the likes of
Moreover, News Corp has become so powerful that the other major media
entities like NBC, etcetera, feel compelled to respond to a Fox
narrative, further driving the coverage.
On Capitol Hill, the GOP is almost totally captured by special
interests. The Republican leadership propels talking points, period.
That is the basis of their careers and leads to regular appearances on
TV. They become well known.
A great number of the Democrats are captured
as well, and this adds up to a tipping point of corrupt politicians and
a rigged media narrative.
MK: You discuss in the film how the majority of Americans held beliefs
on certain reasons the Bush administration cited for going to war with
Iraq that were simply not true.
Isn't that, in large part, because large
news outlets became simply megaphones for the White House during the
buildup to the Iraq War?
RKP: If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. It really
is public brainwashing and misinformation.
MK: We've seen a precipitous decline in investigative reporting in the
corporate media. Is this because investigative reporting is not
profitable or it might reveal too much about the government that the
for-profit media relies upon for favorable business regulations?
RKP: I think the answer is both. In-depth reporting is expensive.
much cheaper to have people sit around or on remotes and talk about
politics like it's baseball. But there is also a predetermined intent in
terms of what is reported and how it is reported, and the degree to
which a story is pushed. Both have bad effects.
I can answer this with an analogy. Scientists have had trouble
conquering certain diseases precisely because there are multiple causes,
redundant processes and feedback loops.
Dr. Guarente at MIT explained
that in aging, so many things are going wrong that it was thought
impossible to fix enough of them at once in order to intervene, to slow
aging down. Then scientists accidentally stumbled on certain nexus
genes, which operate high in the pyramid of cause and effect to
influence many downstream effects.
Likewise, the problem of
media/politics is multifold. Many things are out of whack. How can we
get around the snafu? Well, Rupert Murdoch is a nexus point; this may be
an opportune moment.
MK: Murdoch's News Corp is grievously wounded - perhaps critically in
the UK - and time will tell if this is the case in the US and Australia.
How did Murdoch come to be a shadow powerbroker with such enormous
political influence and clout in the US, UK and Australia? In the UK,
and certainly in the Republican Party in the US, the connection between
Murdoch and the government is almost seamless.
RKP: Murdoch's empire is several decades in the making. He is absolutely
hands-on. I interviewed his former private chef and housekeeper.
first thing his chef said was,
"When I get a call, it is Rupert Murdoch
on the phone, not an assistant."
They also told me that Rupert, at that
time, couldn't operate a VCR or a computer, but that he had a Rolodex
that contained the personal phone numbers of heads of state, top
financiers, even Princess Diana.
He makes and breaks political careers
and has been doing business in a certain way for a long time.