Accountability, News Corp. Style

Those with responsibility escape it

Behold, editors and reporters at The Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, Fox News, and, for that matter, the Sunday Tasmanian, and every other News Corp. journalism property around the world: This is what happens when you do what your bosses are paying you to do.

You get thrown overboard, is what happens, while those same news leaders express surprise and regret that you acted according to incentives they created, in a system of their making, in which they themselves took an active part. Just don’t get caught. Then it’s every man and woman for him or herself.

This then is the News Corp. managerial model: Those with responsibility escape accountability. Everybody else is held to account. Makes sense to me.

Sure, we’ve all seen this before in our own work lives. But leave it to News Corp. to do it on an industrial scale. A 168-year-old paper that they turned into Frankenstein? Gone. As for its 200 journalists, they weren’t important enough to be stabbed in the back discreetly.

If you are just arriving at the News of the World story, it is safe to say you haven’t been online lately. Goodness, I’ve never seen Twitter explode like it did yesterday afternoon.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is up to its neck in revelations that NotW staffers and private investigators they hired had hacked into cell phone voicemail accounts of a missing 13-year-old girl (deleting messages and interfering with the police investigation), bereaved relatives of the July 7 bombings, and dead soldiers’ families, paid police for information, and tried to cover up the whole mess by paying off victims and misleading parliament and investigators who were looking into the matter. Unbelievable, but true. This was a news culture gone mad.

But executives at News International, the once all-powerful, now wobbling News Corp. unit that includes NotW, maintained for years that former royals editor Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator for News Corp., who both served short prison sentences in 2007, acted alone and on their own. This was one of the longest running farces in London.

Les Hinton, then NI’s executive chairman, now CEO of my old employer, Dow Jones, another News Corp. unit, unfortunately, started the conga line of denial when he told a Parliamentary committee in 2007 that Goodman acted alone. He accepted the resignation of Andy Coulson, then NotW editor, who later reemerged as Conservative Leader David Cameron’s communications chief. Coulson also said he knew nothing of the hacking.

The same goes, most notoriously, for Rebekah Brooks, former NotW editor, now head of all of NI and a member of the Murdochs’ inner circle. It goes without saying that Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, also denied any knowledge of the perverse news culture they themselves created and oversaw.

Brooks issued a brazen statement of denial that literally no one believes:

I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.

In effort to head of the scandal, like a trapped wolf chewing off its own leg, News Corp. up and shuttered the 168-year-old paper, just like that, tossing 200 NotW journalists into the street.

James Murdoch, in an Orwellian statement closing the paper (wonderfully fisked by the Guardian), blaming bad apples, and elsewhere expressed confidence in Brooks, and, unbelievably, put her in charge of getting to the bottom of activities she had been responsible for.

Meanwhile, Andy Coulson was arrested this morning on charges that he did, in fact, know something about it.

Everyone can see through this. News Corp.’s leaders are circling the wagons, even sacrificing a whole newspaper to protect themselves.

Emily Bell, who directs the Tow Center here and is a former Guardian hand, put it just right yesterday on Twitter:

Unbelievable about #notw and what it says about the urgency for personal survival at the top of News Corp and within govt

The Independent is leading its morning paper with the banner headline: “Newspaper ‘Sacrificed to Save One Woman.’ “

Ex-employees are tweeting their disgust like mad, and it’s a joke all over the Internet. Says one wag:

Greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his paper for his woman

Rival papers are having a field day. Even Murdoch’s Times of London is getting in on it.

I said a long time ago that News Corp. was no home for The Wall Street Journal, the word’s leading watchdog of markets, the economy, and corporate behavior.

But for now, remember the lesson of NotW: accountability stops at the newsroom door.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman. Tags: , , , ,