4 Ways the Murdoch Scandal Points To Rot at the Top
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It started with a phone-hacking scandal at a British tabloid, but the scandal now engulfing Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation empire encompasses several of his newspapers, including the once-venerable U.K. paper, the Sunday Times, and points to malfeasance by Murdoch's top lieutenant, Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International who is now based in New York in his current role as CEO of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal. News International is the News Corp division that comprises all of Murdoch's British papers.
Although yesterday's revelations are rich in new details, those details simply reinforce a narrative that has long defined the company ethos of News Corp, an ethos we describe in four points:
* The targeting of Rupert Murdoch's political enemies
* Lying to public officials in official investigations
* Buying the silence of troublesome employees
* Lack of full disclosure of conflicts of interest
First, a Little Backstory
Sunday the scandal exploded once again as the Guardian -- the liberal U.K. paper that has doggedly reported this scandal as it has unfolded over the course of six years -- reported that Hinton may have lied to the British parliament about the number of people involved in the News of World phone-hacking schemes. (AlterNet's reporting on the scandal has raised questions about Hinton's role.) Then the Guardian revealed that the Sunday Times, another News International paper, targeted former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown using similarly underhanded tactics, such as having a private investigator pose as Brown in a phone call to Brown's bankers in order to obtain confidential information about the politician's personal finances. The targeting of Brown took place while Hinton manned the helm of News International.
While Hinton told parliament in 2007, just months before he was rewarded with his current post in New York, that the News of the World phone-hacking practices were limited to the actions of a single reporter and the hacker he hired, the Guardian today brought to light an internal News International investigation that suggested the practice was widespread at the paper. Hinton was among those to whom the memos detailing the findings were made available at the time of the investigation.
The phone-hacking part of the scandal, you'll recall, was first exposed years ago when it was revealed that News of the World, the British tabloid shuttered yesterday by Murdoch, had hired investigators to hack into the voice mail accounts of celebrities and aides to the royal family in order to glean fodder for the gossipy pieces that sold newspapers. But when, last week, the Guardian revealed that News of the World had used similar practices to feed its sensational coverage of a teenage murder victim -- even erasing the victim's voice-mails in order to make room for any new info that might have poured into her mailbox -- the British public turned on its most-read newspaper. A subsequent revelation that News of the World also hacked the voice-mail accounts of victims of the London subway terrorist bombings in 2007 further disgusted the public.
Then there are pay-offs to British law enforcement for information on people the newspapers were looking to find dirt on, payments that may also have yielded a less-than-thorough investigation of the phone-hacking scandal when it initially broke six years ago.
While the tactics of News International papers exposed by the Guardian may represent the most extreme manifestations of the ethical breaches and general malfeasance of News Corporation outlets, a similar pattern of pay-offs, prevarication and political sliming pervades the whole company, including at some of its big U.S. holdings such as Fox News, HarperCollins and the Wall Street Journal. (Four ways explained on next page.)
1. Targeting Murdoch's political enemies. While many newspaper moguls advance their political point of view on their editorial pages, Murdoch's minions are known to launch jihads against their boss' liberal political opponents. Murdoch is not a newspaperman with a political point of view; he's a right-wing political force who owns a number of very powerful media properties.
On Hinton's watch, the Sunday Times targeted Labour Party official Gordon Brown over the course of 10 years, both during Brown's long tenure as chancellor of the exchequer (the British equivalent of the U.S. treasury secretary) and his shorter stint as prime minister. The Guardian reports that as early as 2000, a "blagger" working on behalf of the Times posed as Brown in calls to the Abbey National Bank in a scam to get information about the chancellor's personal finances.
Also suspect, according to the Guardian, is the manner in which News International papers came to know of the cystic fibrosis diagnosis of one of Brown's children just hours after the Browns received the diagnosis, as well as the paper's reporting years earlier that Brown's daughter was dying of a brain hemorrhage. The Guardian also found that the paper had assistance from a police officer in its targeting of Brown and two Labour Party members of parliament.