A British government panel investigating the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal has released a report concluding that Rupert Murdoch is "not a fit person" to lead a major company, citing his "willful blindness" to unethical behavior. At Fox News, which is a division of News Corp., this indifference has consistently manifested itself as an absence of journalistic ethics.
Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal has a front-page article today about Parliament's new, damning report alleging that Murdoch is "not fit" to run News Corp. based on the rampant criminality the company has unleashed in Great Britain in recent years. The Journal piece is straightforward and informative and the paper deserves credit for acknowledging its parent company is being rocked by a media scandal that refuses to go away, and one that has destroyed the reputation of its owner.
Unfortunately for the Journal and its reputation, it's too little too late. The truth is the paper remains permanently scarred for the obtuse way it first handled the unfolding scandal last summer, and specifically how the paper initially played dumb about the role that its then-publisher, Les Hinton, had in the saga. (Prior to running the Journal, Hintonserved as chief of News International and oversaw Murdoch's British newspaper empire, including News of The World, where so much hacking occurred.)
Worse, in a clownish and defensive editorial that will likely live in Murdoch infamy, the WSJ last July lashed out at critics who dared question Hinton's increasingly unbelievable denials about his central role in covering up the rampant hacking that took place under his command. The editorial came in response to Hinton's resignation from News Corp.
Keep that editorial in mind while reading this British summary from the just just-released Parliament report on the News Corp. phone hacking and bribery scandal:
Ex-News International chief executive Les Hinton sanctioned a series of "extraordinary" payments to former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman after his phone-hacking conviction in a bid to buy his silence - and then tried to cover-up his involvement in the payments, according to MPs.
According to the report, "Hinton was complicit in the cover-up at News International, which included making misleading statements and giving a misleading picture to this committee." Hinton was also singled out for "selective amnesia" during his "startlingly vague" testimony before members of Parliament in 2009.
Background: When Murdoch purchased the Wall Street Journal in 2007 he immediately selected his loyal aide and longtime confidant Hinton to run the Dow Jones Company and become publisher of the newspaper. Prior to the Journal, Hinton ran the mogul's British newspapers which served as a hacking hot bed.
Additionally, Hinton oversaw News Corp.'s initial internal investigation into the phone hacking scandal which claimed there was no evidence of widespread wrongdoing in the company, and that the hacking had been confined to just one reporter. (The company went to "extraordinary lengths" to uncover any crimes, Hinton boasted at the time.) And that's the feel-good line Hinton told to members of Parliament who pressed him in 2007 and 2009 about the long-simmering controversy.
Instead of a limited operation though, it's now estimated that thousands of phones were hacked by Murdoch's minions. In other words, very little of what Hinton told Parliament turned out to be accurate.
Hinton was forced to resign from Dow Jones and the Journal last summer. But as the new British assessment of the scandal makes clear, he played a pivotal role in the Murdoch saga. By defending its publisher, the Journal's integrity was badly tainted by the hacking debacle.
In the end, the Senate Select Committee investigating the Watergate crimes was never able to compel Richard Nixon to testify before Congress about criminality inside his White House. (Nixon's 1974 resignation made sure that never happened.) But I suspect if Nixon had ever been forced to appear before Congress and had been questioned for hours about the sprawling Watergate controversy and the ensuing cover-up, the sad spectacle would have looked, and sounded, something like Rupert Murdoch's uncomfortable testimony before a Parliament panel last week, in which the media mogul was confronted (yet again) with a litany of phone-hacking and bribery allegations.
The parallels between Murdoch and Nixon are striking. Unfortunately for the media mogul, the similarities are only growing more undeniable as his signature scandal approaches its one-year anniversary of detonating in Great Britain last summer (The sorry tale had been simmering for years, prior to last July.)
Both Nixon and Murdoch developed a culture of corruption. Both practiced partisan hardball but quickly cast themselves as victims when law enforcements started to ask difficult questions. For Murdoch and Nixon, the rules did not apply, as breaking the law became commonplace in the pursuit of the ultimate goal-- serving enemies with payback. And like Nixon, Murdoch's reputation has suffered a fatal blow in the form of a botched cover-up.
All of this has been made plain by a scathing new Parliament report issued today, which condemns the News Corp. CEO for being not only unfit to run an international corporation, but also for having turned "a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. The inquiry found the culture of corruption permeated "from the top" of News Corp.; corruption that "speaks volumes" about the company's "lack of effective corporate governance."
And yes, Parliament's blunt assessment noted how extraordinary it was that a "journalistic enterprise" would be so deeply involved with lawbreaking. It's reminiscent of how Americans were amazed that Nixon's White House at times resembled a (political) crime syndicate.
The findings from the exhaustive Murdoch inquiry shatter the defense of the chairman's partisan defenders who in the past have claimed Murdoch's critics were simply trying to trip up the CEO for political gain. The report also mocks Murdoch's naive, elite media apologists who previously had spent years, if not decades, toasting the media baron while turning a blind eye to the rancid form of "journalism" his properties often produced.
The British parliamentary panel investigating phone hacking by News Corp. concluded in a report released today that Rupert Murdoch is "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company" and that Murdoch "exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications." The New York Times reported:
In a damning report after months of investigation into the hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's newspapers here, a British parliamentary panel concluded on Tuesday that Mr. Murdoch was "not a fit person" to run a huge international company.
The report said Mr. Murdoch exhibited "willful blindness" toward wrongdoing at his organization and said News Corporation, his New York-based global conglomerate, had made "huge failings of corporate governance." The consequences of the panel's findings were not immediately clear.
"On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications," the report said. "This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organization and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International," its British newspaper subsidiary.
"We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company."
During testimony last week, Murdoch admitted a "cover-up" to hide the widespread phone hacking at The News of the World and apologized for the scandal. Bloomberg has reported that there were likely more than 1,000 victims of The News of the World's phone hacking.
Two weeks after getting fired from Fox News for being a "mole" dishing dirt on Rupert Murdoch's news channel, Joe Muto reported that on Wednesday he received an early morning visit from New York County District Attorney officials who arrived with a warrant and left with his phone, laptop and notebooks. They were responding to News Corp.'s allegations that Muto had committed larceny when he shared his inside-Fox News account, complete with in-house video from the channel's servers, with Gawker in a series of controversial posts.
This week's swift law enforcement response to the relatively minor criminal case stands in stark contrast to when competitors to a News Corp. subsidiary, News America, spent years beseeching law enforcement agencies to fully investigate claims that News America employees had illegally hacked into a competitor's secure website and stolen proprietary information in an effort to steal away clients and "destroy" the company, according to one of its owners.
At the time, federal investigators at the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's office, overseen then by Chris Christie, refused to take the Murdoch-related case seriously and no criminal charges were ever filed. That, despite the fact that years later as part of a civil case, a News Corp. attorney admitted in open court that the company's computers had been used to hack into a competitor's website. (News Corp. insisted it couldn't determine who did the hacking; evidence suggests the company didn't dig very deep to find out.)
In the wake of the "mole" story there's certainly a sharp contrast in terms of how quickly the story about Muto's mid-level mischievousness sparked a criminal investigation, as compared to how the much more serious allegations of corporate corruption within the suites of Murdoch's American empire went mostly untouched for years.
During his second day of testimony at a parliamentary hearing on the phone hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch apologized for the scandal, and, according to The New York Times, "coupled his apology with suggestions that there had been what he called a cover-up 'from within The News of the World' to hide the extent of the phone hacking scandal."
From The New York Times:
After a day of testimony at a British judicial inquiry over his ties, friendships and disputes with British politicians, Rupert Murdoch returned to the witness stand on Thursday, saying he apologized for failing to take measures to avert the hacking scandal that has convulsed his media outpost here.
"I also have to say that I failed," Mr. Murdoch told the so-called Leveson inquiry. "I am very sorry about it."
He said that he had not paid adequate attention to the newspaper at the center of the scandal, The News of the World tabloid, which Mr. Murdoch closed in July as the affair widened.
"It was an omission by me," he said, adding that he wished to apologize "to a lot of people, including all the innocent people" at The News of the World, a Sunday tabloid, "who lost their jobs."
Casting himself as a victim, Mr. Murdoch coupled his apology with suggestions that there had been what he called a cover-up "from within The News of the World" to hide the extent of the phone hacking scandal. And, like James Murdoch on Tuesday, he seemed to blame subordinates for not alerting him to the practices being used at the newspaper to secure its scoops.
Bloomberg recently reported that there were likely more than 1,000 victims of the News of the World's phone hacking.
On Wednesday, Murdoch testified that he doesn't "believe in using hacking, in using private detectives or whatever, that's a lazy way of reporters not doing their job. But I think it is fair when people have themselves held up as iconic figures or great actors that they be looked at."
The investigation by the British government into phone hacking by News Corp. prompted an appearance by Rupert Murdoch today at a parliamentary hearing into the matter.
Despite the widespread phone hacking from the Murdoch-owned News of the World, he testified that "I don't believe in using hacking, in using private detectives or whatever, that's a lazy way of reporters not doing their job. But I think it is fair when people have themselves held up as iconic figures or great actors that they be looked at."
Bloomberg recently reported that there were likely over 1,000 victims of the News of the World's phone hacking.
In additional testimony Murdoch sought to downplay his involvement in British politics. From The New York Times:
The government's lead attorney for the inquiry, Robert Jay, pursued a chronological line of questioning beginning with Mr. Murdoch's entry into the British newspaper market in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Much of the questioning centered on meetings with British political leaders and the pledges Mr. Murdoch had made not to influence his newspapers' editorial policies.
He acknowledged meetings, dinners and shared quips with a series of prime ministers, but sought to dismiss suggestions that he wielded any influence.
"I don't know many politicians," he said, on one of many occasions when he denied accusations from Mr. Jay that his newspapers supported politicians whose policies might offer him some commercial benefit. As to suggestions that his power might be more subtle than such obvious exchanges, he responded, "I'm afraid I don't have much subtlety about me."
The emails showed that News Corp. and representatives of the British government were discussing government approval of the media company's purchase of satellite TV network BSkyB.
As part of the ongoing fallout from the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, James Murdoch, who earlier this year resigned as head of Murdoch's UK newspaper empire, today appeared at a judicial inquiry about press culture in the UK.
In keeping with his (and his father's) pattern of denying knowledge of the extent of the hacking at the News of the World tabloid, Murdoch reportedly told the inquiry that News of the World executives kept him in the dark about the scale of the hacking problem.
He has consistently maintained that the paper's management failed to alert him to the scale of the problem.
"Knowing what we know now about the culture at the News of the World in 2006, and from what we know about the alleged widespread nature of these poor practices, then it must have been cavalier about risk and that is a matter of huge regret," James Murdoch told a packed courtroom.
Asked if he read the weekly News of the World, he said "I wouldn't say I read all of it," and asked about its daily sister paper, the Sun, he said he had "tried to familiarize myself with what was in it".
Murdoch was also pressed on a 2008 email chain that mentioned a "nightmare scenario" involving potential legal consequences of phone hacking at News of the World. When these emails first surfaced in December, Murdoch released a statement admitting to both receiving and replying to the email, but also denying having read "the full e-mail chain." According to the BBC, Murdoch repeated this defense today:
In December, another email from 2008 was released indicating Mr Murdoch had been copied into messages referring to the "rife" practice of phone hacking at the News of the World and also citing the "For Neville" email.
Mr Murdoch has said although he was copied into the email, he did not read it fully.
He told the inquiry: "I didn't read the email chain. It was a Saturday, I had just come back from Hong Kong, I was with my children. I responded in minutes."
He said he now accepts that the "For Neville" email was "a thread" that raised the suspicion of wider phone hacking at the News of the World.
"The fact it suggested other people might have been involved in phone hacking - that part of its importance was not imparted to me that day," he said.
News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is scheduled to appear before inquiry on Wednesday and Thursday.
The New York Post, the New York-based daily newspaper run by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has published 21 opinion pieces on the controversial process of natural gas extraction called hydraulic fracturing (or 'fracking') since January 1, 2011.* Many of the op-eds on fracking attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) or "enviro-radicals" for not acting faster to cash in on the economic benefits associated with domestic drilling. In addition, the Post almost always fails to acknowledge the health and environmental risks associated with fracking -- when it does, it immediately dismisses the dangers, despite ample evidence to the contrary. For example:
The fact is, fracking has proved not only to be a fundamentally safe undertaking, it has delivered immense economic benefits to localities across America.
New York is the only state in the nation where it is not allowed -- and that needs to change.
The fear-mongering nihilism that has marked the debate so far needs to end - and, at the very least, it's up to Cuomo to accelerate the current review.
Indeed, not only would New York become a major new source of relatively clean energy - natural gas; the move is also sure to spawn a whole new industry for economically sclerotic Upstate, generating thousands of jobs.
That's what's happened elsewhere in the country where fracking is allowed - including, notably, neighboring Pennsylvania, where tens of thousands of workers have found jobs at companies that employ the process.
Alas, in New York, enviro-radicals got then-Gov. David Paterson to ban the process, pending further study.
They claim that fracking can taint drinking water. Hyperbolic media reports and films like the pseudo-documentary "Gaslands" further fueled public fears.
Yes, there have been fracking accidents -- but no lasting damage, and no harm has been done to water supplies.
Contrary to the Post's assertions, there have been a host of environmental problems associated with fracking. Wyoming is dealing with both groundwater contamination and air pollution, Ohio and Oklahoma have seen earthquakes potentially associated with fracking, and groundwater contamination has affected wells in Pennsylvania and other areas around fracking wells.
The Post also gets its facts wrong when it comes to states that have banned fracking. In Feburary, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie imposed a one-year ban on the practice in New Jersey, stating, "Potential environmental concerns with fracking in our state must be studied and weighed carefully against the potential benefits of increasing access to natural gas in New Jersey."
As Media Matters has previously noted, in their fervor to promote fracking, the Post has even gone so far as to hide the industry funding of fracking studies in their editorials.
* The Media Matters analysis was conducted by doing a Nexis search for the terms "hydraulic fracturing" or "fracking" and analyzing the number of times one or both of those terms was used in an opinion piece published by the Post.
CNN's Howard Kurtz admonished officials at Sky News, a News Corp.-owned British news channel, for "saying they reserve the right to break the law" after it emerged that officials there acknowledged hacking into private emails.
Officials at the News Corp. channel confirmed this week that on at least two occasions, reporters illegally hacked into private email accounts.
Sky News head John Ryley made clear that the hacking was authorized and said that they "stand behind these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest." Kurtz on Sunday called that justification "bloody rubbish."
In an April 6 Huffington Post column, Media Matters executive vice president Ari Rabin-Havt explained how the latest development in the News Corp. hacking scandal further validates concerns that the company suffers from a culture of corruption:
The Sky case is particularly interesting because for the first time, the company has admitted that hacking was not only approved of, but in fact officially sanctioned by the management of the channel. John John Ryley, the head of Sky News, told reporters, "We stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest." Ryley continued: "Material provided by Sky News was used in the successful prosecution, and the police made clear after the trial that this information was pivotal to the case."
Regardless of intentions or the criminal behavior of a target, it is not in the realm of a private entity to determine which laws to follow and which to ignore. It's because of this hubris, which runs up and down the News Corp. ladder, that the company has landed in this place.
A former editor for Rupert Murdoch's shuttered tabloid News of the World is defending the publication's routine use of the fictional byline "Edward Trevor," a practice which is reportedly under investigation by Scotland Yard.
Over the weekend, The Independent reported that "[d]etectives are interested in Trevor because this 'house byline' appeared on work that for various reasons the real author did not want to be associated with." Trevor's byline appears on hundreds of stories published in the infamous British newspaper, which Murdoch closed last year amidst allegations that reporters there engaged in widespread phone hacking and police bribery.
But Stuart White, who served as News of the World's LA-based American Editor from 1994 to 2003 and is now a novelist, tells Media Matters there is nothing unique or nefarious about the use of a "house byline" like Edward Trevor, adding, "the back story to this is that both The Independent and the Guardian are obsessed with ravaging the corpse of the News of the World."
This week's sudden unraveling of Rush Limbaugh's radio standing as the untouchable king of conservative media strangely mirrors deep difficulties recently faced by Rupert Murdoch and Glenn Beck, two other far-right press titans.
Limbaugh supposedly boast 20 millions listeners (in truth, he likely doesn't come close), and is routinely singled out by Republicans themselves as a GOP kingmaker and someone who must not be crossed. As the proprietor of Fox News, and the vanity publisher of the money-losing New York Post, Murdoch is the Godfather of right-wing media in America, stamping his trademark mendacity onto the conservative press. And not that long ago Beck was drawing three million viewers to his Fox News show, which made him the cable channel's most-watched personality and a rising media superstar.
Together, the far-right triumvirate helped define the movement's message on a daily, even hourly, basis. They were also seen as invincible forces.
And now look at them.
In the last year the trio has suffered extraordinary setbacks; setbacks that were entirely their own doing and setbacks that highlight the dangers of not operating under simple guidelines of fairness of common sense. Instead, led by the likes of Limbaugh, Murdoch and Beck, the conservative press has adopted a strange brand of radicalism that embraces falsehoods, smears and even law breaking, all of which places their practice well outside the mainstream culture.
In the last year, that brand of recklessness, built upon a foundation of spite, has produced three very public crises for Limbaugh, Murdoch and Beck. All three players have been badly damaged professionally and all three were led astray by their exaggerated belief that the rules don't apply to them.
From the March 3 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes:
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More than eight months after News Corp.'s long-simmering phone-hacking scandal erupted in Britain last July, and eight months after Rupert Murdoch and his top lieutenants insisted the law-breaking inside his London tabloids had been limited to a rogue element, the scandal yet again this week has accelerated with surprising force.
Two days after Scotland Yard revealed that Murdoch's tabloid The Sun had engaged in a sweeping pattern of illegal activity, and one week after it was alleged that News Corp. had implemented a policy of deleting sensitive emails regarding hacking at News of the World, today Murdoch's son James resigned as chairman of News International, a coveted post that oversees Murdoch's U.K. newspaper empire.
Prior to the hacking humiliation, the 39-year-old Murdoch was seen as the likely heir to his father's global media throne. In making the announcement today, News Corp. made no mention of the hacking investigation, instead noting that Murdoch had resigned his position as part of a previously announced relocation from London to News Corp.'s world headquarters in New York. But it's impossible to view the resignation outside of the scandal that continues to eat away at the Murdoch family reputation.
The pressing problem the Murdochs now face is that the blockbuster story has truly morphed into a hacking and bribery scandal, and James Murdoch is implicated in both.
What's telling is that when Rupert Murdoch's legal troubles mounted last year, he specifically devised a defense that he thought would help inoculate James, according to a recent report in BusinessWeek. That strategy, and the larger News Corp. cover-up, has failed.
Cultivating a culture of corruption can be expensive. Just ask Rupert Murdoch.
His media behemoth News Corp. has spent nearly $900 million dollars in recent years cleaning up legal messes created by the unethical behavior of his employees. And the legal bills, including out of court settlements, show no signs of abating as trans-Atlantic investigations grind on.
By year's end, News Corp. had already spent $200 million on legal costs trying to deal with and contain the phone-hacking scandal that continues to envelop his British newspaper empire. That sum comes in the wake of News Corp. shelling out nearly $700 million to recently settle three different anti-business lawsuits filed against a Murdoch marketing company in the United States.
Speculation mounts that the phone-hacking scandal could prompt the Department of Justice to prosecute News Corp. for bribing foreign officials in order to gain a competitive advantage and the legal costs surrounding that type of probe could also be enormous. One expert tells Media Matters that Murdoch's company could have to spend another $100 million navigating that investigation; more if the inquiry drags on longer than one year.
What's telling is that the massive legal bills all stem from the fact that Murdoch seems to cultivate a corporate culture where executives don't believe that the rule of law applies to them. The News Corp. culture is one where hacking computers, emails and phones, not to mention bribing politicians with favorable news coverage in exchange for votes in parliament, have been seen as a way of doing business.
In other words, Rupert Murdoch has created a ethical cesspool and now his company has had to spend what's approaching ten figures trying to clean it up. The legal tab though, is still open.