The latest Twitter-born gaffe by the chairman and CEO of News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWSA) took place over the weekend, when Murdoch, who has been weighing in on the escalating Israel-Gaza conflict, tweeted, “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?”
The tweet provoked an impassioned response, both on Twitter and by journalists who saw the comment as odiously anti-Semitic. CNN’s Howard Kurtz called it a “shameful slam,” while the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart blasted it as “dumb and offensive” to both journalists and Jews.
Murdoch apologized for the tweet a few hours later, clarifying that his comment was not aimed at specific journalists: “‘Jewish owned press’ have been sternly criticised, suggesting link to Jewish reporters. Don’t see this, but apologise unreservedly.”
Nevertheless, some media outlets -- including the Daily Beast, CNN and Variety -- have theorized that Murdoch’s tweet was aimed at the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), whose chairman and publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., is of Jewish descent. Murdoch has not been coy about his desire to take down the Times (News Corp. purchased the Wall Street Journal in 2007 with the goal of turning New York City into a one-broadsheet town), nor has he necessarily softened his view of Sulzberger as his archenemy.
But putting Murdoch’s personal feelings aside, his charge of a Jewish-controlled press simply doesn’t hold up. To start with, Sulzberger was raised Episcopalian. His father, Arthur Sr., was Jewish, but his mother was of English and Scottish origin. So the implication that a Jewish person “controls” the Times Co. is an untrue one.
In fact, the same can be said for most major newspaper companies. Gannett Co. (NYSE: GCI), the country’s largest, is head up by CEO Gracia Martore, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. The Hearst Corp. is run by Frank Bennack Jr., who is not Jewish, and nor is the Hearst family. Ditto for the Graham family, which owns the Washington Post. Sam Zell, the business mogul who serves as chairman of the Tribune Company, is of Jewish descent, but that hardly connotes a conspiracy.
Of course, what makes Murdoch’s tweet so particularly insidious is not that it takes a swipe at a rival, but that it perpetuates the long-held myth that Jewish people do somehow control the media -- a myth that is almost as old as the American media itself. It was in the 1920s that Henry Ford printed and circulated thousands of copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a fraudulent anti-Semitic manifesto that purported to describe a Jewish plan for world domination. Ford doggedly perpetuated those myths for eight years through his weekly newspaper, the Dearborn Impendent, which proclaimed that the Twelfth Protocol “contains the entire plan of Control of the Press, reaching from the present time into the future when the Jewish World Government shall be established.”
Nearly a century later, the head of one of the world’s largest media companies should know better. Today, the falsehood of the Jewish-controlled media persists mostly through fringe groups and the occasional off-hand comment by Oliver Stone. Like any myth, though, it will probably never completely go away -- at least not as long as Rupert Murdoch keeps tweeting.