Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shocked, Deeply Shocked!

In the 1942 film classic Casablanca there is a priceless moment when Captain Renault, the amiably corrupt Frenchman who heads the local constabulary (played by the inimitably droll Claude Raines), closes down Rick’s.

Rick (Humphrey Bogart): How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

The scene comes to mind when I hear the expressions of horror at the misdeeds of Rupert Murdoch's media empire and the FBI’s sudden discovery that Washington-based propagandist Ghulam Nabhi Fai has been working for Pakistan's ISI.

So what’s really going on?

It seems to me to be an indication of the widening rift between Washington and London.

The British have traditionally used their mass media as cover for intelligence and propaganda operations. With radio, that was a simple matter, for the BBC was a government monopoly with the World Service still paid for from the Foreign Office budget. (See the fascinating blog by a BBC insider at With newspapers centralized control was impossible, so London has traditionally worked through compliant “media barons.”

Murdoch has three predecessors. Two were Canadians: Max Aitken aka “Lord” Beaverbrook (1879-1964) and Roy Thomson “Lord” Thomson of Fleet (1894-1976). The third was Czech-born Ján Ludvík Hoch, better known by the name the British Secret Service gave him, Robert Maxwell (1923-1991). Like Murdoch, they came out of nowhere to build global media empires, and all became confidantes of the high and mighty in Britain.

With the opening up of the post-Cold War rift between Britain and the liberal Establishment of the United States, Murdoch’s right-wing media organs in New York, The Daily News, Fox TV, and The Wall Street Journal have been valuable assets in the heart of hostile territory, collecting intelligence and spreading propaganda. (The phone hacking of which Murdoch's companies are accused is probably the least of their sins.)

As for Fai, he is essentially a sideshow, albeit an important one in the Indian perspective. Washington’s sudden discovery of his ISI links points to the fact that an important driver of the US-UK rift is South Asia.

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