The Murdoch Pushback: Attacking the Press

Pathetic attempts to play down the scandal fall flat before the facts

There have been a number of efforts lately—obnoxious efforts—to say News Corporation’s hacking scandal is some kind of “piling on” by opponents with a “commercial or political agenda.” The implication, not least from Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page and his “Fox & Friends” show, being that the level of coverage is unfair, somehow, that the story isn’t that big a deal, or that the scandal hasn’t touched Rupert Murdoch as a CEO or News Corp. as a whole—confined as it was to ”the tabloid excesses of one newspaper.”

Perhaps then it would be a good exercise to run through all the wrongdoing—including rampant, institutionalized criminal activity—that is already in the public record as having been committed in the hacking scandal.

For starters, executives, editors, and reporters at News Corp.’s UK unit have: bribed the police; illegally hacked thousands of people’s phones, including a 13-year-old then-missing murder victim’s; tampered with evidence while the victim was still missing. They interfered with a second murder investigation; misled police and Parliament, repeatedly, when questioned about these activities; knowingly employed an ax-murder suspect who had been convicted and imprisoned for planting cocaine on an innocent woman in a divorce case; paid millions of dollars to victims explicitly in exchange for their silence; paid large sums to former employees after they had been convicted of crimes committed at the behest of News Corporation employees; continued to pay for convicted former employees’ high-powered lawyers.

It has further been revealed that a senior News International executive deleted millions of emails in an “apparent attempt to obstruct Scotland Yard’s inquiry”; hid the contents of a top journalist’s desk after he was arrested; stuffed documents into trash bags and took them away as detectives came into the office to investigate; put the scandal’s lead police investigator, whose inquiry was a bad joke, on the News Corp. payroll with a plum columnist job.

Here’s some of what we know of corrupt activities undertaken by government institutions at News Corp.’s behest or which, at a minimum benefited, News Corp.

The police: stuffed thousands of pages of convicted hacker Glenn Mulcaire’s notes in plastic bags, leaving them unexamined (or at least uncataloged) for years; did so while insisting publicly, and before Parliament, that the scandal was limited to two people and, crucially, that a full investigation had been performed; hired Neil Wallis, who was News of the World’s deputy editor while the crimes were committed, to advise the police on how to handle their own PR problems stemming from the hacking scandal; Wallis ferried information back to News Corp.; the police notified just a handful of people that their phones might have been hacked despite having evidence that in fact thousands had been; concealed their payments to Wallis for a year. Meanwhile, top police officials dined repeatedly with News International executives during the investigation.

Political elites: Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron hired the News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who oversaw a newsroom in which criminal activity was commonplace, to be a top aide, despite warnings that Coulson was personally implicated in the scandal; Labour leader Ed Miliband hired a Murdoch journalist to be top flack, and he promptly told the party to tiptoe around the scandal; regulators came very close to approving a massive TV deal for News Corp. that would have furthered its stranglehold on Britain’s private media, all while the scandal was continuing to worsen.


Now that we have all that background, enter The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which this week has gone into full-on Murdoch mode, defending its parent company from the ”commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics.” It has unleashed no fewer than seven defensive editorials and columns this week, reports Bloomberg News, and it’s only Wednesday.

Even that page can’t find a way to defend its parent company’s actions (though it does feebly try to defend now-resigned Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton’s honor), so it tries to shift the focus to the motives of the press interest, which appears to include every media outlet in the entire world. When the facts are against you, resort to the ad hominem attack, and a weak one at that. That’s pathetic. Or as Jack Shafer put it:

Not one of the seven defensive editorials and opinion pieces published this week about the scandal in the Murdoch’s U.S. flagship, the Wall Street Journal, has any teeth. It’s hard to inspire terror in your enemies when all you can do is gum them.

Look, any outlet not covering this major story aggressively is doing so for commercial reasons, like, say, Murdoch ownership, or for ideological ones. The Journal:

They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.

Well, sorry, but the company itself has long done more to tarnish itself than any competitor has. This scandal takes it to a new level. The Journal’s idea that reporting and investigating industrial-scale criminality and its cover-up means the coverage is ideologically or commercially motivated tells us quite a bit about the intellectual bankruptcy of the page itself. Even if you concede the malign motives, and I don’t, it just doesn’t matter. The facts do. Motives don’t make The Wall Street Journal editorial page untrustworthy. Its long record of nonsense does that.

This story is news. Big, big news—something that any journalist not blinded by ”commercial and ideological motives“ understands. And the broader story is what it says about the culture of your owner, the News Corporation, and its enormous power across the globe, but particularly in the U.K., where its capture and corruption of core institutions is being exposed for all to see.

Any intellectually honest defense of Murdoch must take into account the full extent of the corruption thus far uncovered at the highest reaches of his News Corp.’s U.K. unit, the one overseen by his son James. But it also has to account for the culture of News Corp. itself and Murdoch himself, who, to list just a very few of his sins, long kowtowed to the Communists in China; lied repeatedly about editorial independence at his newspaper purchases, including the Chicago Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times of London; and created Fox News, a political organization masquerading as a news network.

More directly relevant to the current scandal, look at News Corp.’s News America unit, which David Carr had an excellent column about on Monday. It paid a tiny company called Floorgraphics a settlement of thirty times the firm’s annual sales after Floorgraphics accused News America of hacking into its computers and sabotaging its business. It paid out $125 million to Insignia Systems “to settle allegations of anticompetitive behavior and violations of antitrust laws.” And here’s the big one: A half a billion dollar settlement with Valassis Communications, after that company won a big verdict in an anti-competitive lawsuit against News. Read Carr on what happened next:

Clearly, given the size of the payouts, along with the evidence and testimony in the lawsuits, the News Corporation must have known it had another rogue on its hands, one who needed to be dealt with. After all, Mr. Carlucci, who became chairman and chief executive of News America in 1997, had overseen a division that had drawn the scrutiny of government investigators and set off lawsuits that chipped away at the bottom line.

And while Mr. Murdoch might reasonably maintain that he did not have knowledge of the culture of permission created by Mr. Hinton and Ms. Brooks, by now he has 655 million reasons to know that Mr. Carlucci colored outside the lines.

So what became of him? Mr. Carlucci, as it happens, became the publisher of The New York Post in 2005 and continues to serve as head of News America, which doesn’t exactly square with Mr. Murdoch’s recently stated desire to “absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public.”

In other words, it sure seems that there just might be a wee cultural problem throughout News Corp., one that comes from the top. And all these thing above are things we know happened at News Corp. Expect much more enlightening information in the coming months and years as the rats flee the ship.

Sinking even lower than the Journal’s editorial—and, we learn, it’s possible—is one in The New York Observer, owned by Murdoch pal Jared Kushner, who, along with his wife Ivanka Trump, like to sail on “world-class visionary” Rupe’s yacht with the media titan, as well as Billy Joel and Sergey Brin:

The scandal at the News of the World has touched off nothing less than a media crusade against Mr. Murdoch, with the publisher’s oh-so-innocent enemies assuming the moral high ground as they attack not just the tactics of rogue journalists, not just the culture of British tabloid journalism, but the very character of Rupert Murdoch.

Please, spare us. While it’s clear that many things were amiss at the News of the World, and while many questions remain to be asked of the relationship between British reporters (including those who don’t work for Mr. Murdoch) and Scotland Yard, it is simply wrong to assail Mr. Murdoch simply because of his politics. Yes, he was a part of London’s tainted tabloid culture, but that does not make him a symbol of that culture…

That reason is Rupert Murdoch, who came to New York in the 1970s and singlehanded revitalized the city’s newspaper landscape.

He has done this city a service. It is important to remember that as his critics seek to portray him as the media’s world king of darkness.

How do you go from, “many things were amiss” to “it’s wrong to assail Murdoch’s politics”? That’s the best you got?

Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote a column defending Murdoch and News Corp. via the playground logic of “everybody was doing it”, the impression he got writing a profile of him more than two decades ago, the idea that people are envious of his success, and his admiration for Murdoch’s union-busting prowess. Yeah, go read it yourself.

And The Washington Times runs a column defending Rupert Murdoch on the basis that he likes newspapers and that “Legal issues aside, his news pages have spawned content for digital consumers.”

Well, gee whiz. We’d really better leave those legal issues aside, then!

But the Journal edit page and Kushner’s Observer take the cake.

Rem Rieder, the editor of the American Journalism Review, ripped the WSJ’s Monday edit, calling it a “truly shameful editorial.” That it is. And he’s right here too:

This is a very significant story, as the rapidly mounting casualty list in Britain makes clear. To do anything but to cover it as aggressively as possible would be a disgrace.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Further Reading:

The Murdochs and the MPs. Survival, but no one is taking their answers at face value.

NOTW and the FCPA. Experts and pundits weigh in on a US prosecution of News Corp.

Murdoch’s Journal, Joe Nocera, and Fox-ification. The paper has slipped, but don’t give up on it yet

The News Corp. Scandal is a Triumph for Investigative Reporting. Expensive, time-consuming, risky, stressful—and indispensable

The Real Rupert Murdoch Exposed.

Chaos at Dow Jones is the Bancrofts’ Legacy.

The Mirror’s Dodgy “9/11 Hacking” Story. A piece that triggers an FBI probe reports no actual hacking and its information is third-hand.

Bad Parent. Reading The Wall Street Journal’s hamstrung coverage of its owner, News Corp.

Accountability, News Corp. Style. Those with responsibility escape it.

Also Exposed by The Guardian: Murdoch’s Grip on U.K.’s Elites. And it isn’t pretty.

News Corp. and Murdoch Swamped By Hacking Scandal News. Revelations come fast and furious in the twenty-four hours after a Guardian bombshell

Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal Gets Much Worse. The Guardian shows News Corporation at an all-time low (and that’s saying something).

The News Corp. Coverup. Memory-impaired execs, payments to key figures, and Keystone Kops

Anybody There? Why the UK’s phone-hacking scandal met media silence

A Times Must-Read on the News Corp. Hacking Scandal.

Journalism Scandal at News Corp
. A peek into Murdoch’s news culture.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,