Once those pictures were published in the Murdoch press - first The New York Post, later in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, the snobbery about social media seemed to have gone into abeyance. In its place is some sort of general malaise about the world that we live in, rather than experienced people identifying the problem and calling it out.
The IS is posting those pictures because it wants to draw the United States and other western powers into another war on their territory in western Asia. This does not oblige the Murdoch press to run those pictures. What obliges the Murdoch press to run those pictures is the fact that its business goes up slightly when its major markets (the US, UK, and Australia) are at war.
The sales of newspapers have been in longterm decline for many years. That decline is lessened slightly when there's a war, or the prospect of one. People tune in to small-n news outlets to find out what's going on, and to hear the ploughshares beaten back into swords.
The Murdoch dynasty was forged in the First World War, and the pattern of its coverage was set at the time. It belittles politicians who oppose war, or who work to avoid conflict, as gutless and treasonous. It praises politicians who wantonly splash around blood and treasure as courageous and patriotic.
Over the period 2001-03 we saw the US government decide to go to war over a very slender pretext, the so-called 'weapons of mass destruction'. The Murdoch press was sufficiently powerful in all its main markets to force those markets to war in Iraq regardless. It destroyed politicians, including some with decorations for battlefield bravery, who urged caution or at least other means of removing Saddam Hussein. It praised fabulists who made silly promises that the war would be a cakewalk and that western armies would be welcomed as liberators. It invited itself to military funerals and splashed images of grieving, powerless widows across its pages in the hope that product ads on those pages might somehow be more attractive to consumers than they would be otherwise.
The Murdoch press wants war again.
For some years now, Sydney's Daily Telegraph has been playing a double game with its readers: it claims to represent western Sydney and rails against misrepresentation of it, while at the same time misrepresenting Muslims in the area as violent extremists. It has insisted that Muslims denounce extremists without similarly demanding that Christians denounce, say, pedophile clerics. Now it is doing the IS's dirty work for them, in the hope that its business model might be boosted by social discomfort, exclusion and maybe even violence on the streets of Sydney and other Murdoch markets.
It should be unthinkable that a major news organisation should succumb to propaganda from the self-declared enemies of its audience. Yet, the IS wants war, Murdoch wants war, so Murdoch outlets run IS propaganda as though it were 'high quality content'. It wasn't as though intrepid Murdoch journalists leopard-crawled across hundreds of miles of desert to capture those images; they were fed them by IS. Foley worked for GlobalPost; Daniel Pearl worked for The New York Times; there are journalists who put themselves in harm's way to get the big stories, and then there are Murdoch journalists. Murdoch outlets were happy to help the IS in its call for war because it shares those aims.
When journalists from Al-Jazeera English were imprisoned in Egypt, journalists around the world protested at the abrogation of their colleagues' rights and dignity. When the same journalists were confronted with the execution of Foley, a sentence from which no appeal or pardon is possible, there was no protest. Some declined to turn a dollar from the ordeal, but Murdoch outlets happily did.
If you're a journalist - and you put yourself in harm's way doing your job - keep in mind the possibility that Murdoch will turn a dollar from your crisis and stalk your relatives in their grief.
When Tony Abbott left open the possibility that Australian military forces were not only open to engaging in humanitarian missions such as aid to the Yaziri, but could well participate in conflict in the region, he is not acting at the behest of the US Administration. He is acting at the behest of the Murdoch media, who want Australia involved in any such war as they successfully pushed in 2003. Abbott is Murdoch's Manchurian Candidate.
Murdoch outlets are running the IS images because they are gunning for war. It is extraordinary that they are so weak, so unprincipled, that they allow a small bunch of semi-literate bullies far from their traditional markets to dictate their corporate tactics like they do. Their readership will complain, but they will flout the wishes of their readership because the wishes of Rupert Murdoch are for provocation to war. When Murdoch executives excuse their behaviour as though they were mere vessels of their audience, and as though the audience is to blame for Murdoch vulgarity, consider today's output and think again.
Those who do not believe Australians should go to war in IS territory will be marginalised, and the smarter ones are ready for that.
There is, however, a solution that is right and proper. One which plays the IS at their own game and which slakes the almost satanic bloodlust of those who run the Murdoch press.
It's traditional to say that there are some Very Fine Journalists 'working' at the Murdoch outlets - but who are they? Gideon Haigh, perhaps - but he's a freelancer rather than someone in a position to set the tone of a masthead or the organisation as a whole. Samantha Maiden sat on this until ordered to Make Glorious Propaganda Against Running-Dog Hockey and lacks the courage to pursue that rort wherever it might lie, like the non-Murdoch elements of the UK press did with that country's MPs. Malcolm Farr is asleep and Simon Benson is a joke. Sharri Markson is Brynne Edelsten without the wit, talent, or news sense. Paul Kelly said in 2012 that the Coalition had fifty fully-costed policies ready to go, but the evidence from this government is that they've never had any. None of Murdoch's
It is undeniable that the best possible use of any and all Murdoch employees, those with bylines or without, is to issue them with giggle hats and rifles and drop them into the area around Mosul dam. Maybe they could capture a printing press there and churn out some of that high-quality content that nobody wants to read. Joe Hildebrand and Miranda Devine could disport themselves like Rudd and Hockey on Sunrise. They could bust their buddies Glenn Mulcaire and Andy Coulson out of prison for some Dirty Dozen-style redemption. You can't think of a better use for such people, and neither can those who employ them.
Maybe they might see that Muslims in Mosul are mostly people going about their business and no threat to social cohesion, neither there or in Australia. Their employment, however, depends upon them not seeing it, which is a pity: more so than the fact that nobody else has a more constructive proposal for NewsCorp than that in the preceding paragraph.
Journalists can get very sniffy about social media, but rather than finger the Murdochs when they step out of line they assume - wrongly - that they are acting in accordance with the audience. They see opponents of Murdoch manipulation as cranks. They were fooled last time, and are gearing themselves up to be fooled again, as though misleading the audience they are supposed to serve was a lesser tragedy than them losing the jobs they have no right to occupy. Start noticing that Murdoch is beating the drum for war and that he has no grounds to do so. Once you do that, you can empower decision-makers to go against Murdoch. And if you can go against Murdoch on a big issue like war, you can go against the old bugger on other issues too, and get on with your life.
In the olden days newspapers were sold on the basis of hype and bullshit. People are awake to this now, which explains the decline of newspapers and other traditional media. War should be an instrument of state policy, a resort when politics has failed, rather than a (poorly executed) business model. A company in the information business should be dominating the information age but it is barely getting by. The idea that we have to get stirred up and go to war to pump a few extra bucks into an exhausted business is pretty sad, but those who get stirred up in service of that are sadder still.
NewsCorp is like the Soviet Union: it might seem overwhelmingly powerful to some, especially those unable to laugh at its flaws and contradictions. One day the whole farce will be over, leaving a whole bunch of people who yearn for leadership of whatever quality without it, while the rest of us will adapt to its historic downfall much easier than might be imaginable today.