Liberals love to hate Rupert Murdoch. The federally funded Kennedy Center in D.C. even imported an Australian play that fervently imagines Murdoch’s powerful life on stage. Andrew Beaujon at Poynter Media Wire reported at the Thursday performance he attended, “applause broke out on my right and left when one character criticized Republicans.”
For all of the ardor liberals muster against Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers and Fox News and their grasp of the facts, is it surprising that this play doesn’t restrict itself to the facts? Director Lee Lewis explained the play is a “fantasia” against the right-leaning media baron:
RUPERT is a fantasia, a theatrical daydream, a biographical delusion...we make a lot of stuff up. About everyone. Shamelessly. Slightly irresponsibly. Definitely deliciously. All for the sake of a little fun in the theater.
AP reporter Brett Zongker raved the play was “a funny, cabaret revue-style show where the media mogul jokes, tap dances and narrates his own story from his first small newspaper editing job in Australia to the creation of Fox News and the phone-hacking scandal at his tabloids in the United Kingdom.” Australian playwright David Williamson told AP he “finds Murdoch's influence and vast media ownership in Australia to be dangerous.”
He said he read nearly everything ever written about Murdoch in writing the play. The story follows Murdoch's journey from being an Australian, then English, then an American — and his influence on politics in each country. Williamson said he was eager to bring the play to the U.S., in part because "Fox News has changed the political climate of the whole nation, in a way."
Williamson faults Murdoch for hewing to a "simplistic...free-market fundamentalism." (See video below.)
Beaujon enjoyed it, noting the actor playing young Rupert “offers asides to the audience that Frank Underwood [of “House of Cards”] would admire. ‘Good patriotic Americans wept with relief!” he proclaims, half-seriously, about the launch of Fox News.”
But the glee with which [Sean] O’Shea [the actor playing the old Rupert] recounts Murdoch’s life echoes the thing that drives so many people crazy about Murdoch — the more they treat him like a “genocidal tyrant” (an actual Murdoch complaint), the more fun he has. And “Rupert” is a gas, even if sometimes I wondered how many references people who weren’t media reporters or serial readers of unauthorized biographies would get.
That’s why liberal Washington Post drama critic Peter Marks panned it, with this line: “The list of Rupert Murdoch's business conquests is long. ‘Rupert’ feels even longer.”
Virginia Lovett, attending the DC production as the boss of the Melbourne Theater Company, panned the Post in The Age of Melbourne: "We had a standing ovation here last night and the feedback so far has been brilliant," she said. "The Washington Post is an important paper but sometimes reviewers can dissect things too forensically."
In the end, the play was attacked for being too detailed about Murdoch’s business conquests, but it's not exactly nonfiction. Then, naturally, the director claimed they were only aping Rupert’s style. Beaujon concluded:
“Rupert” makes no claims to accurate biography. “I don’t believe in true stories,” Lee Lewis writes in a director’s note. “That may well be the result of growing up in the era of Murdoch press.” Like Murdoch’s more downmarket media outlets and O’Shea’s impish character, “Rupert” can be a lot of fun. It’s a rough approximation of a life — and if it’s more entertaining than the truth, well, that kind of makes it more authentic.
I pinged Beaujon on Twitter about that curious line about authentic non-truth. It was “authentic to the experience of reading tabloids like the Sun,” he replied. Perhaps powerful media moguls are brought down a peg by “rough approximations” by playwrights. But as we’ve seen from Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, these satires can end up in the liberal mind as “factual.”
All the Fox-owner-bashing comes from a "national center for the performing arts" that receives more than $40 million in taxpayer money each year.