This week, Rupert Murdoch’s long history of journalistic malpractice and hubris finally caught up with him.
The ongoing scandal surrounding the widespread phone hacking of thousands — including Royals, celebrities, slain soldiers, victims of the horrific 2005 terrorist subway bombing, and even a murdered child — by his since-shuttered News of the World, had Rupert looking more Murduck than Murdoch during testimony before a British parliamentary committee.
Sitting beside his son James, the aging News Corp. patriarch opened his testimony before the body by awkwardly claiming that the occasion was “the most humble day of [his] life.”
More than anything, Murdoch’s statement was likely an attempt to collectively relieve newspaper editors around the globe of their headline writing responsibilities.
What followed those initial remarks was anything but humble. The elder Murdoch refused to take personal responsibility for the scandal. He blamed his rivals for dwelling on the story for business gains. And perhaps worst of all, Murdoch sought to spin the issue as initially unworthy of his attention because News of the World was only a small fraction of his empire.
To watch the father and son duo live on your choice of cable news network — CNN, MSNBC, Current, CNBC, heck even Murdoch’s Fox News and Fox Business went live — was to sit in on a master class in the art of responsibility avoidance.
Over the course of the hearing, which ran forty-five minutes past its scheduled conclusion, the media baron painted an image of himself as a distant CEO uninterested in the day-to-day goings on of his little newspapers. When Members of Parliament got wise to his attempts to deflect responsibility with such a blame-the-underling portrait and began pushing back, Murdoch responded without a hint of irony, claiming “to say that we are hands-off is wrong.”
Legal posturing aside, the later Murdoch claim of hands-on leadership lines up clearly with what we know of the executive. The idea that he would have so little knowledge of the problems facing News of World is preposterous on its face given facts readily available to anyone with access to Google.
Four years ago, as Murdoch was positioning himself to purchase the Wall Street Journal, the business-focused daily published a 4,000 word, front-page “detailed examination of Mr. Murdoch’s half-century career” and storied history of editorial interference at various newspapers within his empire, noting that he “and his lieutenants have raised hackles [from former top editors] for their involvement in the company’s news operations.”
Apparently, hacking isn’t even a tool confined to News Corp.’s practices across the pond. While sources have reportedly confirmed that the FBI is currently looking into allegations that the news giant hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, news reports also indicate that Murdoch’s News America shelled out nearly thirty million dollars in a U.S. settlement after it was caught hacking the competition.
As Murdoch dances the “I’m sorry” two-step in Britain, it is his stateside media properties brainlessly waltzing to his defense.
When employees at News Corp.’s marquee U.S. outlet Fox News have seen fit to discuss the scandal at all — far less frequently than CNN or MSNBC if you can believe it — we’ve wound up with the likes of the morning show monsters at Fox & Friends essentially telling viewers “move on, nothing to see here.” If NBC is the “peacock network,” Fox News must be angling for the “ostrich with its head in the sand” moniker.
In print, News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal embarrassed itself as well with a widely panned unsigned editorial that sought to blame the competitors of its parent company for the hacking brouhaha, imploring readers to “see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics.”
Now where have we heard that talking point before? Right. From Mr. Murdoch himself during his testimony before the British parliament. Well, as any crisis communications specialist would tell you, to mount a successful defense, it is of the utmost importance that everyone sings from the same sheet of music.
It is no wonder that News Corp. shareholders are up in arms and worried. So worried that they have filed suit against the media conglomerate. It’s likely the first of many such suits to come.
Say what you will about the success of Rupert Murdoch. He may be a brilliant businessman but he is a cancer on the institution of journalism and a shadow looming tall over the fight to expose truth.
Only Murdoch’s resignation can save News Corp.’s once mediocre reputation.
Copyright © 2011 KarlFrisch.com.
Karl Frisch is a syndicated columnist and Democratic strategist at Bullfight Strategies in Washington, DC. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube or sign-up to receive his columns and updates by email.
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