It will take years, no doubt, to determine whether media mogul Rupert Murdoch falls as dramatically as a one-time aspirant to the throne, Canadian-born Conrad Black. But it seems unlikely that we will return to the cozy and unchallenged seat of power that gave him easy access to others with influence.
To be fair, Murdoch responded to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in about as forceful a manner as one could have imagined, deep-sixing the popular and long-lived publication. I’ve been unable to recall an incident in which a louder mea culpa has been heard.
Also, to be fair, it is necessary to point out that the decisive killing of his flagship British newspaper was probably motivated more by Murdoch’s desire to keep alive his hopes of expanding his other media holdings in Britain than by genuine outrage that News of the World had developed a culture of committing illegal acts in order to get its stories.
Perhaps most concerning is the sphere of influence the newspaper (and, by extension, its owner) had with politicians and police. Big names have already tendered their resignations and it’s likely they form only the tip of the iceberg. The culture of dishonesty and criminality probably runs more deeply than we know at this point.
Interestingly, we do know that those who have lost their jobs to this point haven’t been very helpful with their explanations — none have fessed up to having knowledge about the phone hacking. They have simply admitted to being in positions that made them responsible even for what they didn’t know. It’s a saintly approach to a messy problem, but I can’t say the explanations have had a ring of genuineness to them.
The hacking of telephone conversations seems to have been so commonplace, and done over such a long period of time, that it pushes the bounds of credibility to think that the activities were undertaken in isolation by reporters. But what editor would want to stand before a judge and claim, “I never asked about the sources of information my reporters were using,” or “I was approving expenses but I didn’t know what the money was really being used for”? It will be a Hobson’s choice for these folks when eventually they either have to admit to being complicit in the illegal activities or grossly incompetent. Neither looks very good on a curriculum vitae.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain might have the most to lose in this affair, with his chief spokesman having been forced to resign after he was accused as being complicit in the phone-hacking scandal. Also, he is said to have had a close relationship to another former News of the World editor. Cameron’s professed personal outrage at the scandal (“Is there a happier person in the world than a Brit with a microphone in front of him?” I found myself wondering) seem a little disingenuous given his close ties to Murdoch’s now-defunct paper. And the paper’s associations with police at high levels is disconcerting, too.
Like most mega-wealthy businessmen, Murdoch has a passion for the free market and a distrust of governments that might interfere this ability to use the media he controls to promote his own political views. To this point in his half-century-long career, he has managed to use his empire to promote his agenda (witness the ridiculous Fox news) and maintain both his personal wealth and power. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine that he will end up in jail like his one-time competitor, Conrad Black. A lot more people will have to fall before that could happen. To his likely distress, though, Murdoch can be held accountable in U.S. courts, the very ones that think so poorly of Black.
As one who has no respect for Murdoch’s contributions to media and who prefers his news to be less influenced by the extreme beliefs of the super-rich, it doesn’t bother me a bit that he probably isn’t sleeping too well lately. What goes around comes around.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.