Media

Murdoch: Hacking Not My Fault; Everybody Done Me Wrong

Rupert Murdoch's refusal to take responsibility for the phone-hacking scandal now roiling his British newspapers exposes News Corp's culture of blame-laying.

Note to Rupert Murdoch: When you're apologizing to an entire nation for wrongdoing by a company you own, it helps if you take responsibility for the wrongdoing. Otherwise, folks are not so apt to believe you're really sorry.

In a rather grueling day of testimony yesterday before a committee of the U.K. Parliament, Rupert K. Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corporation -- the second-largest media company in the world -- refused to take responsibility for the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed his company, saying that he had been failed "by people I trusted."

Murdoch explained that, well, he was a very, very important guy who couldn't be on top of every little thing that happened at his little newspaper, News of the World -- a 168-year-old publication that, before Murdoch shut it down earlier this month, claimed to be the most widely read English-language newspaper in the world. News of the World, Murdoch told the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, constituted "only 1 percent of our business." He continued, "I have a much bigger ship to run."

One assumes he meant the rest of News Corp., and not his yacht. Yet both the yacht and News of the World are greater than the sum of their parts in Murdoch's accumulation of power: both were the means of subduing and strong-arming a long line of British leaders, dating back to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in ways that allowed for the virtually unfettered expansion of Murdoch's businesses in the United Kingdom. As his power grew, politicians grew more docile even as his publications hacked into the voice-mail accounts of people close to them, and perhaps even politicians themselves.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the former leader of the liberalish Labour Party, alleges that in 2006, when he served as chancellor of the exchequer (the British equivalent of the U.S. treasury secretary), another News Corp. paper, the Sun, published confidential information on the health of his infant son that could only have been gleaned through a hacked voice-mail account.

The information the Sunrevealed, just hours after the Browns learned of it themselves, was that their baby had cystic fibrosis. Before the Sun published the story, Brown said, he received a call from Rebekah Wade Brooks, a close confidant of Rupert Murdoch, giving him advance notice that the paper was running the story. At the time, Brooks was the Sun's editor. She went on to lead News International, the News Corp. division of which the company's British papers are a part.

See No Evil


Brooks, who resigned the company on Friday and was arrested on Sunday, also appeared today before the committee, denying any knowledge of the phone-hacking, despite the fact that the voice-mail account of Milly Dowler, the missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, was hacked during Brooks' tenure as the News of the World's top editor.

But this scandal doesn't begin and end with phone-hacking. Hardly. It's also about the corruption of the police force known as Scotland Yard by News International papers, which apparently paid bribes to police officers for personal information about the targets of their stories. With these practices apparently firmly rooted in both the Murdoch operation and London's Metropolitan Police Authority, both the police and the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron hired former News of the World editors to advise them.

Brooks said she had never paid a policeman, but when pressed by an MP, described how the organizational chart of a newspaper would mean that the making of such a payment "was not my remit."

The day of hearings began with testimony from Sir Paul Stephenson, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and his deputy, John Yates. Both Stephenson and Yates tendered their resignations from their police posts over the last several days, but Stephenson's resignation has not yet taken effect.

In his testimony, Yates discussed his hiring of Neil Wallis, a former News of the World editor, as a public relations consultant to the department during the police investigation of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Wallis, says news reports, conveyed information about the investigation back to his former colleagues at News of the World. According to the BBC, Wallis also "informally" advised Andy Coulson while Coulson was the Conservative Party communications director during the country's last Parliamentary elections, which yielded Cameron his current position as prime minister. Coulsen is also a former News of the World editor who led the paper during the later part of the scandal.

Both Coulson and Wallis have been arrested in the current police investigation of the phone-hacking and bribery scandal.

Cameron is said to be a close friend of both Coulson and Brooks, and was airlifted onto Murdoch's yacht in 2008 in order to discuss measures designed to defund the BBC, which is a publicly funded news and entertainment broadcasting company.

Also testifying today was James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son and News Corporation's deputy chief operating officer and director of its international operations. Throughout his father's testimony, the younger Murdoch sought to interject when Rupert Murdoch faltered in his testimony, much to the consternation of a questioning member of Parliament, who explained that it was important to allow the elder Murdoch to answer the questions put to him on his own, in order to ascertain what the CEO did and did not know about the operations of his own company.

James Murdoch, as the corporate overlord of the News International division, arranged for out-of-court settlements to victims of the phone hacking, with at least one payment amounting to $1 million. His father claimed ignorance of such payments.

It was, without a doubt, a humbling day for the elder Murdoch, who had gone about Britain as Lord of the Universe until the British people turned on him for his paper's cruelty to the parents of a murdered schoolgirl. Until that moment, not a single politician in Britain dared to take him on, and now almost all of them stood arrayed against him. Punctuating that loss of power was the moment when an activist from UK Uncut got close enough to Murdoch to heave a shaving-cream pie that soiled the CEO's jacket. Johnny Marbles, as the activist is known, would have gotten closer had not Murdoch's wife, Wendy Deng, leapt up and smacked the pie-flinger. (Marbles was removed from the hearing room by police and a 10-minute recess called.)

Even so, Murdoch could not find in himself the humility his moment before the cameras demanded. "This is the most humble day of my career," he said. The day was humble, not Murdoch.

When asked by an MP if he ever considered resigning, Murdoch promptly responded, "No." When asked why not, he said that the fault lay with "people I trusted."

"They betrayed the company, and me, and they deserve to pay," Murdoch told the committee. "And I think that, frankly, I’m the best person to clean this up." There's some humility for you.

A Culture of Blame-Laying

Among News Corp.'s American properties, blame-laying on others is just part of a day's work. Just ask the folks at Media Matters, where every verbatim report of the utterances of Bill O'Reilly, a Fox News Channel host, is greeted with a charge of "Smear!"

Les Hinton, the long-time Murdoch lieutenant who most recently served as CEO of the Dow Jones Company and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, is among the losers in this chapter of the Murdoch scandal. Hinton resigned his post on Friday, July 15, when it became apparent that testimony he had tendered the same parliamentary committee in 2007 and 2009 -- back when he served as executive chairman of News International -- had misinformed the committee about the phone-hacking scandal, which Hinton said was limited to the work of a single reporter. (It has since been discovered to have been a widespread and accepted practice throughout the News of the World newsroom, and it was revealed that Hinton had access in 2007 to the results of an internal investigation that concluded as much.)

Hinton's resignation prompted a tantrum of an editorial from the Wall Street Journal, complaining that critics were conflating the ethics and standards of an entire company with those of a bunch of bad apples at News of the World. The editorial board writers also waxed poetic about Hinton, extolling how he had increased circulation at the Wall Street Journal, and enumerating the sins of the paper's previous owners, the Bancroft family.

At AlterNet, we've been connecting the dots between the dilution of journalism ethics at the Wall Street Journal since Hinton's arrival at the paper from News Corp.'s British publishing biz, looking especially at the outside employment activities and lack of full disclosure exercised by one of the paper's editorial board members, Stephen Moore.

"Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur," wrote the WSJ editorial board members. "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."

If you toil under the thumb of a CEO who demands that you carry out his political agenda by any means necessary and then refuses to take responsibility for the actions of all his media properties, we'd say, yeah, that's all of a piece.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan