The 87-year-old Australian-born media mogul has been quietly bankrolling a newspaper advertising campaign to make the Equal Rights Amendment, popularly known as the ERA, part of the United States Constitution.
“Mr. Murdoch has two teenage daughters”—the youngest of four daughters from three previous marriages, namely 16-year-old Grace and 15-year-old Chloe by his third ex-wife Wendi Deng—“and men that become aware of the basic inequity in our system are appalled,” said ERA activist Kamala Lopez, an actress and filmmaker who founded Equal Means Equal, a non-profit that supports passage of the amendment.
Murdoch and his fourth wife, Jerry Hall, recently invited Lopez and her actor-husband Joel Marshall to dinner at their Beverly Hills estate to discuss the ERA campaign. Murdoch retains the curiosity of a lifelong newspaper proprietor, so he peppered Lopez with questions, although he had already been funding the full-page newspaper ads for the better part of q year—actually at the behest of impassioned ERA activist Lizzy Jagger, at 34 the eldest child of Jerry and Mick.
“Lizzy became very, very involved [with Equal Means Equal] and did a lot of work,” Lopez said. “She asked for a birthday present from her mom. Her mom said, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ And she said, ‘I want you to pay for an ad.’ And so her mom looked into it, and her mom… told Rupert. And Rupert was like, ‘What are you even talking about?’ And then I guess they watched the movie, and then he was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ And then he did his own research, and then… they gave her the birthday present.”
Lizzy Jagger—described by Bustle.com as “The Model & Actress [who] Won't Rest Until The ERA Is Ratified”—declined to comment to The Daily Beast. Murdoch, likewise, declined to comment, but a source close to him confirmed that he has spent his own money, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, to fund full-page pro-ERA newspaper advertisements in states that have yet to ratify the amendment.
According to Equal Means Equal, three full-page ads scheduled to run in late October and early November in The Arizona Republic—marked “Paid for by Jerry Murdoch & Elizabeth Jagger”—were actually funded by Rupert.
“Make history happen, Arizona,” the ads exhort. “Ratify the ERA!”
“Mr. Murdoch in particular is not an American by birth, so he was absolutely flummoxed by the fact that we did not have equality in the constitution for both sexes,” Lopez told The Daily Beast. “He honestly didn’t believe it initially. And then, as he looked into it and watched my film, it was really not a difficult sell.”
Indeed, Murdoch became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985, but his home country of Australia—where non-indigenous women received the right to vote in 1902, 18 years before their American sisters—enacted several laws protecting women, including mandated equal pay, during the 1970s; in 1983, Australia ratified the United Nations’ so-called “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”
Lopez’s documentary, also titled Equal Means Equal, traces the 98-year history of the amendment, which was approved by Congress in 1972 but was ratified by only 35 of the necessary 38 state legislatures before a congressionally-imposed artificial deadline of June 30, 1982.
The amendment is one state away from hitting the magic No. 38, having been ratified by Nevada in March 2017 and by Illinois in May of this year. Murdoch has purchased newspaper ads in Illinois and also in Virginia and Arizona, targeting state legislatures that have yet to debate the amendment.
All this surely comes as unexpected news about a gimlet-eyed tycoon who’s hardly known as a bleeding-heart liberal or, for that matter, a beacon of enlightenment when it comes to women’s empowerment.
Murdoch’s British tabloid, The Sun, with its history of featuring topless young women on its lascivious “Page 3” feature, continued to publish photos of near-naked models for male titillation many months after the feature’s supposed cancellation in January 2015.
“HAPPY NUDE YEAR,” blares a headline that remains on The Sun’s website to promote the 2017 “Page 3” calendar. “Babes bare all in sultry new shoot guaranteed to brighten up every day of the year.”
Meanwhile, Murdoch’s Fox News Channel has shown no aversion in recent days to spreading pernicious right-wing conspiracy theories, especially regarding a non-existent migrant invasion rife with lepers and terrorists from the Middle East—a caravan supposedly funded by Jewish billionaire George Soros.
Then there were the hair-raising allegations of sexual abuse at Fox News, where millions of dollars in stockholders’ money were paid out to victimized women to ensure they’d keep quiet about the alleged misconduct of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and others who were accused of behaving inappropriately toward less powerful female employees.
The pro-ERA forces Murdoch is now aligned with are pursuing two different tactics to rescind the deadline: either sue in federal court to have it declared unconstitutional or lobby Congress to overturn it through legislation.
The ERA reads as follows: “Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”
Beyond the ads, it’s unclear what impact Murdoch is having on the ERA debate.
Arguably, his behind-the-scenes advocacy might give a degree of comfort to conservative Republican state legislators who would otherwise be wary of the ERA as a constitutional bulwark supporting abortion rights—an argument ERA supporters reject as false.
But Illinois State Rep. Steven Andersson, who is pro-life and was an influential Republican backer of the ERA in May, said he didn’t even know about Murdoch’s role; nor does he believe it would have had much of an effect if his fellow Republicans had known about it.
Andersson said he was keenly aware of an open letter to the Illinois legislature written by Lizzy’s dad.
“Dear Illinois Representatives,” Mick Jagger wrote. “Please vote yes on the Equal Rights Amendment. I have three daughters who are US citizens and they should all deserve equal rights under the Constitution of the United States. Thank you.”
Andersson told The Daily Beast: “I met his daughter [Lizzy] when she came down for one of the rallies. And that was kind of rock-star fun.”