Being a lifetime newspaperman, and being in England recently, I was enthralled by the continuing saga of the Murdoch hacking scandal. The story just won’t quit, and could end up with far larger repercussions than you might think. Mainly, it’s a case of misplaced ethics.
The story unfolded differently each day in a downward spiral for the Murdoch forces. And big attempts at quelling the story, such as shutting down the 168 year old News of the World, brought nothing but continued agony for Murdoch.
We purchased and have saved the final edition of News of the World. It had former front pages with key stories from its past. Just reading these front pages tells a lot. The pre-Murdoch pages are filled with British history, presenting a sober, careful report of activities. But ever since Murdoch purchased the newspaper, the front pages show a sordid side of life, appealing to the lower common denominator. It shows the Murdoch ownership in a manner that perhaps the editors of this newspaper did not realize it would.
Give the British parliamentary system credit. Members of Parliament speedily moved the developments, first led by the Labor (and out of power) side. But rather quickly, cries for the Murdochs to “come clean” came from even the Conservatives, wanting to get to the core of the mystery. No one party wanted to be the one left out of seeking to uncover the overall truth. That may be because over the years, the Murdoch press has “bullied” these elected officials.
With people on all sides calling for the Murdochs to testify, at first the Murdochs said they would. Then they reversed themselves, only that same day to be hit by an immediate official summons from Parliament. And shortly they were before a committee of the Parliament, not good even at answering questions.
Sometimes the answers the Murdochs gave were difficult to believe. For instance, Rupert Murdoch’s son, at one time said he was not involved, as the chief executive of the newspaper, with a payout of 750,000 pounds sterling ($1.2 million) to settle a case. Now in all reason, no matter how rich you are, can you imagine the top executive of such a company did not know more about the story other than a payout this large was made? Come, now!
Through this all, a distinguishing style of the Murdoch operations is that they often transfer executives around their global empire. For instance, when the news executive post in England was open last week, summoned was the replacement, the head of their television operation from Italy. And the recently resigned-under-fire publisher of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal was once their key news operation executive in London.
The point: these executives are bound to bring with them the core strategies of the company, which in Murdoch’s case, seems to be to get the story at all cost and don’t ask how you got it. That is the worry that is hounding not only The Wall Street Journal, but the Fox television network. What tidbit of negative elements will fall next?
Murdoch’s far-flung world empire may be more on the line than at first it may seem.
One more element: the British prime minister, David Cameron, seems to be much more closely tied to Murdoch and the developing story. Pressure is mounting. He’s back-pedaling. Will it bring down the current British government? Watch for new developments.