And where is the corporate outrage? As credentialed observers of American business Nell Minnow of GMI Ratings and Laura Martin of Needham and Co. noted respectively, “Murdoch’s leadership is a big, big mess,” and “if this had happened at a normal company, in theory, the board would have required the CEO to resign.”

Not our Rupert.

Here’s how Murdoch deals with questions from in-house. At the 2009 annual plutocrat party at Sun Valley, Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney asked Murdoch to address the phone-hacking, cop-buying scandals, and got: “I’m not talking about that issue at all today.”

“No worries, Mr. Chairman,” said Varney,”That’s fine with me.”

Rather than romanticizing them as rebels, let’s call them the pirates that they are. Murdoch’s “matey” army, “built,” Folkenflik says, “on personal and family ties [had] a clubbiness or mateship that was almost impossible for outsiders to penetrate.”

Folkenflik prefers a different, more legitimizing reference: “People invariably compared Murdoch to William Randolph Hearst, [but] that seems too limited a comparison. Perhaps he was more like the nation’s oil barons who pockmarked the countryside in drilling, [and] provided millions of Americans with a product they came to view as indispensable.”

Maybe you can see where this is heading. Incredibly, depressingly, Folkenflik outdoes even Murdoch’s latest fetid bribery defense, made off-the-record to employees at The Sun: everybody does it. “Payments for news tips from cops,” Murdoch was secretly recorded saying, “that’s been going on for a hundred years. It was the culture of Fleet Street.”

Everyone who reports does it, Murdoch says; and everyone who reads or watches is complicit, Folkenflik volunteers. He ends his book by saying, “Murdoch could not have accumulated his fortunes without our help. We are all, as consumers of media, involved and even responsible for the creation of Murdoch’s World.”

As guilty as the people of Bhopal were for swallowing Union Carbide’s lethal gas. That’s a comparison in which the real-world relationship of corporate pirates and government regulation are revealed. It’s that kind of bite, of passion, of judgment, which David Folkenflik has unfortunately eschewed.
Murdoch’s World is a good book, full of interesting material. But for me, its one failure is a big one: It doesn’t add up.

 

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Dave Marash is an award-winning broadcast journalist who has taught and reported on global issues for much of the past two decades. He now blogs at davemarashsez.blogspot.com/.