Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
It couldn't have happened to a worse bunch.
With James Murdoch’s resignation as the overseer of the British arm of papa’s media empire, the family’s sleazeball practices have finally hit home.
It all started last year when it was discovered that The News of the World, Rupert’s hitherto money-generating tabloid, had hired a private eye to delve into the voice mail of abducted and murdered thirteen-year-old Milly Dowler. Wiretapping into the private conversations of Gordon Brown and Hugh Grant, the British public was willing to tolerate. But this was too much for even the most jaded. The paper had to be shut down. And Murdoch's bid to lord over Britain’s satellite airwaves had to be called off.
The News of the World shenanigans were only symptomatic of a deeper rot in Murdoch’s fiefdom.
“This is the culture of News Corp,” said media analyst Ryan Chittum. “It’s well known. This is a particularly sick manifestation of it.”
Subsequent revelations in Britain unearthed a mindboggling nexus between Murdoch’s media, politicians and the police. Regular payoffs were being made to British cops in exchange for confidential information, and politicians were kept on Rupert’s side by bullying, cajoling or a combination thereof. A parliamentary inquiry, a media-ethics review and as many as three police investigations are trying to get to the bottom of things. Thirty Murdoch employees have so far been questioned by British law enforcement, which now has to decide whom to charge criminally.
“Mr. Murdoch’s effort to limit the damage comes at a time when the scandal seems more likely to worsen than to relent,” reports the New York Times. “Scotland Yard’s chief investigative officer in the case said Monday that ‘people at a very senior level within’ The Sun had authorized hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to ‘a network of corrupted officials’ in the British police, armed forces, and government.”
The U.S. branch cannot be severed from the mother country, since the sordid transatlantic connections run too deep. Les Hinton, the chief executive of Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, was also allegedly involved in the cover-up of the News of the World scandal, and had to resign last July. And now, heir-apparent James, who presided over a near meltdown of Dad’s holdings in the United Kingdom, is being shunted off across the pond—either as punishment or to get him out of trouble, depending on your interpretation.
The toxic effect of the scandal has also further damaged the reputation of Murdoch’s U.S. holdings, such as the Wall Street Journal. The paper began with a fawning softball interview of Rupert and followed that with a barrage of seven editorials and columns dedicated to defending its ownership.
And, at Fox, the aggressiveness that marks the network’s pursuit of non-scandals has been noticeably lacking in this case. It’s hard not to revel in the discomfort of a channel that more than any other media outlet in recent times has contributed to the misinformation of the American public.
News Corp itself may be in big trouble. The company could be charged in the United States with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which a U.S. company that gives bribes abroad can be prosecuted. The Murdochs are also facing a U.S. shareholder revolt over the way the conglomerate is being run.
Murdoch’s empire is falling apart—and not a moment too soon.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Bahraini People’s Aspirations Still Thwarted 1 Year Later."
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