In 2022, the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma reached an agreement with attorneys to pay $6 billion to resolve claims that they had fueled the opioid epidemic in America by pushing their drug OxyContin onto the public.
The family said, as part of the agreement, that they “sincerely regret” the damage that OxyContin had done.
Last week, Rupert Murdoch was ordered to pay $787 million, a good deal less than the Sackler family. And, unlike the Sacklers, Murdoch was not required, nor did he express a scintilla of ‘sincere regret’ for the damage that his own drug, Fox News, had done to the country.
The similarities between the Sackler family and the Murdoch family are rather strong. Both knowingly produced and aggressively promoted a drug that they knew was both highly addictive and destructive to people’s lives.
Make no mistake, Fox News is also a drug; an addictive drug and a drug far more dangerous and destructive than OxyContin, which at least has some redeeming aspects to it.
If you want to understand the Fox Drug, then you must understand its origins. It is not now and never was, since its birth, conceived of primarily as a journalistic institution.
Fox News may have been founded by Rupert Murdoch, but its true parent was Roger Ailes. Murdoch grew up in the newspaper business, but Ailes the man who really invented what Fox News became and all it stood for and stands for came not from news and journalism but rather from the world of TV talk shows.
He was the Executive Producer of The Mike Douglas Show — a Cleveland based 1960’s daytime talk and entertainment show. The Mike Douglas Show was a mix of musical performances (a Barbra Streisand just starting her career appeared on the show), along with people of ‘interest’, such as athiest Madeline Murray. News, this was not. It was entertainment, plain and simple. It was, however, very very successful. Think of this as early Oprah.
In 1967, Ailes met Richard Nixon, a guest on the show, and after the show, buttonholed Nixon and explained to him the power of television. Impressed, Nixon hired Ailes as his media consultant for his run for the Presidency, which he won in 1968.
Ailes largely re-invented Nixon, who had been trounced by JFK in 1960 largely, many thought, owing to his ghastly appearance in the first televised debates. A tanned Kennedy was great TV; a sallow Nixon was terrible TV before Ailes got hold of him. Ailes created what was called The New Nixon. A better, more TV friendly Nixon — a neat trick for the endlessly stiff and rather unappealing Nixon. Ailes engineered Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’, dog-whistle racism to peel off what had been the solid Democratic South after LBJ passed equal rights laws. Ailes always knew how to draw a crowd, regardless of who the crowd was.
Ailes’ television career following Nixon was successful, but always peppered with accusations of racism, anti-semitism, but more often than not, the pandering to the lowest common denominator, always in search of ratings, and more often than not, succeeding. Again, this was television, but had nothing to do with anything approaching journalism, but it worked.
When Ailes was hired by Murdoch to run Fox, the objective was ratings, because ratings means money. It was a pure business decision. And Ailes knew how to grab an audience and keep them addicted to the stream of ‘content’ that his network was pumping out.
OxyContin was an extremely profitable, highly addictive narcotic masquerading in the guised of a pharmaceutical intended to help people. Fox News is in many ways no different. It is addictive, it gives its users a high in its own way. Like OxyContin, the user, once hooked, has to keep coming back for more. And, like any addictive drug, you have to keep upping the dosage for a bigger and bigger hit each time. The emails that the Dominion discovery published reveal quite clearly that the major players at Fox knew quite well that their drug was working, but you could not dial back on the dosage or you would lose the addicts.
And, like OxyContin, an addiction to Fox News also wrecks lives. As Jonathan Friedland points out in The Guardian today, we may lay much of the deep divisions in the country, not to mention the violence that accompanies them, at the feet of Fox News. In search of ratings, they have broadcast endless hours of lies, designed to do nothing more than drive up ratings and hold their addicted viewers for their advertisers.
At least the Sackler Family was forced to apologize for the damage they had done. The Murdoch Family will pay the fine and roll on, unabated.