Like a boomerang from his Australian youth, the phone hacking and bribery scandal that Rupert Murdoch's been trying to outrun for two years keeps coming back to him.
The recent revelation that Murdoch was caught on tape privately acknowledging he was unsurprised to find his reporters were illegally paying off public officials for news tips and that he had no qualms with the practice, simply stands as the latest proof that Murdoch's career, and certainly his career in Britain, will be forever defined by the wayward lawbreaking that occurred under the Murdoch name at his London tabloids.
The criminal transgressions have never really been in doubt. What the embarrassing tape recording provides however is more evidence that Murdoch is not a man whose word can be trusted, and that he operates in an almost impenetrable sphere of hypocrisy.
It's that duplicity and lack of honor that creates such a strong stench of scandal; an odor that continues to follow Murdoch nearly two years to the week after the hacking story finally exploded worldwide in 2011.
Standing in stark contrast to his contrite admission of wrongdoing while testifying before Parliament in 2011 ("This is the most humble day of my life"), the secret recording captured Murdoch in a far more blustery mood, rallying his beleaguered Sun employees -- several key editors and reporters are currently facing charges -- by haranguing "incompetent" law enforcement for wasting its time with the News Corp. investigation.
"It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing," Murdoch told the assembled journalists in March, one of whom hit the record button when the boss started talked. (Murdoch's News Corp. has not questioned the authenticitiy of the tape.) The CEO also bragged that his company had stopped cooperating with law enforcement's investigation of News Corp.; an inquiry he labeled a "disgrace."
The bluster was alternately wrapped in the wallowing sense of victimization and persecution that has come to define Murdoch, as well as doubled as the hallmark for so many of his media proprieties. "I don't know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn't being done across Fleet Street and wasn't the culture," said Murdoch, referring to London's ethically-challenged tabloid industry.
Fox News is campaigning for New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as mayor of New York City, praising the potential Republican candidate and urging New Yorkers to "beg" Kelly to run.
Fox's push for Kelly as a mayoral candidate started with a May 20 interview with Kelly on Fox & Friends. During that interview, co-host Brian Kilmeade inquired whether or not Kelly was going to run for mayor, asking the Commissioner when he would make the decision. Kelly replied with laughter.
Days after the interview, News Corp CEO and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch praised Kelly on Twitter. In one May 25 tweet, Murdoch claimed that Kelly was the "[o]nly hope of averting disaster for NY":
In another May 25 tweet, Murdoch praised Kelly as modest:
Following these tweets, during the May 29 Fox & Friends Kilmeade once again praised Kelly and claimed that New Yorkers should "come together and beg" Kelly to run. Kilmeade concluded that Kelly "has to run."
All of this praise comes amid speculation that Kelly is considering a campaign. A May 28 NBC New York affiliate blog post claimed that Kelly had not ruled out running, saying that "when pressed on whether he was ruling [a run for mayor] out, Kelly would only say: 'no plans.'" The blog post also noted that there had been rumors swirling about a Kelly candidacy since the last mayoral race.
Prefacing his comments by insisting he knows "how foreign affairs work," Glenn Beck on April 18 announced that his website, The Blaze, was breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing: A Saudi national student on a student visa and was "absolutely involved" in the Patriot's Day blast was being deported by the U.S. government for security reasons.
Beck went further, claiming the student, or "dirt bag," as the host described him, was "possibly the ringleader" in the bombing that killed three people and injured more than one hundred, and the government was deliberately covering it up.
Beck urged listeners to spread the breaking news via Twitter and Facebook because, he warned, the mainstream media would ignore the revelation. But the right-wing media would pick up the slack. Fox News' Sean Hannity helped launch the story on April 17 and continued to fan it yesterday, claiming the student had previously "been involved with a terrorist or terror activity," while a swarm of right-wing sites pushed the paranoid tale.
By making his wild allegations, Beck was asking listeners to ignore the fact that law enforcement officials had previously, and repeatedly, denied earlier right-wing media claims that the Saudi student had been taken into "custody," or was in any way responsible for the blast.
Indeed, officials at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security both soundly denied the story, explaining that there were two different Saudi nationals: one recovering in a Boston hospital who had witnessed and been injured in the explosions but was not a suspect, and another in ICE custody who was unrelated to the bombing investigation. Beck responded by calling for President Obama to be impeached for what he considered the sprawling government cover-up that now surrounded the student, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
So yeah, it was that kind of week for the right-wing media. It was a debacle.
In the same week that Pulitzer prizes were announced honoring the finest in American journalism, many in the far-right media worked to set news standards in mindless, awful behavior in the wake of the Boston attack.
Faced with covering the most important American terror news story in a decade, too many players opted to just make stuff up. Prompting witch hunts, they cast innocents as would-be killers and then couldn't be bothered with apologies.
Right before noon on April 16, the New York Post quietly surrendered and conceded its big scoop from the previous day, that 12 people had been killed by the Patriot's Day terrorist attack in Boston, could no longer be sustained.
The concession didn't come in the form of a correction or a clarification. (Rupert Murdoch's money-losing daily rarely bothers with such newsroom niceties). It simply appeared in a news story posted on the daily's website at 11:55 a.m., where any reference to 12 Boston victims was quietly dropped [emphasis added]:
The twin blasts killed at least three people and injured 176 -- including 17 in critical condition, authorities said today.
Four hours later, the Post reaffirmed that it had flushed its big scoop down the memory hole [emphasis added]:
A 29-year-old restaurant manager from suburban Boston and an 8-year-old boy from the city's Dorchester neighborhood were identified today as two of the three people killed in the Boston Marathon bombings.
But that wasn't all.
Right around 3 p.m. on April 16, the Post quietly conceded its other big scoop from the day before was wrong; its claim that a Saudi national student had been taken "into custody" by police, was tagged a "suspect". ("Suspect" was later amended to a "potential suspect.) That second embarrassing concession was announced on the daily's twitter feed:
Investigators rule out Saudi national as a suspect in Boston bombing after searching his apartment nyp.st/Zougoy-- New York Post (@nypost) April 16, 2013
It's not the most pressing question to ponder in the wake of the carnage that exploded in Boston, as authorities search for those responsible. But in terms of journalism and ethics and common sense, the Post's performance does make you wonder how a news organization, and even one owned by Rupert Murdoch, manages to get a story that wrong?
I understand it's the notoriously deceitful New York Post we're talking about. It's one thing to make stuff up about Democrats on behalf of the RNC while the Post proudly plays its role as cog in the Republican Noise Machine. But to completely botch, and so publicly, botch one of the biggest crime story in years?
If there's anything the Post, as a proud big-city tabloid, is supposed to be good at, it's big crime stories; working cop sources as well as sources buried deep inside the FBI and the federal government. The Post is supposed to be wired all across law enforcement, even if the breaking story unfolds in Boston.
So this debacle is bad; really bad. Even for the New York Post.
On the heels of its latest quarterly report showing a doubling profits, News Corp. is still reeling from the fallout from the phone hacking scandal as six former News of the World journalists were arrested on February 13 for allegedly intercepting voice mails. Two of those arrested are still employed at News Corp.
According to a February 13 Bloomberg article:
News Corp.'s phone-hacking scandal is widening after London police arrested six more former journalists at its now-defunct News of the World tabloid and uncovered a new conspiracy to intercept voice mail.
Three men and three women suspected of hacking phone messages in 2005 and 2006 were arrested today and some homes are being searched, the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement. Two of the people arrested currently work at News Corp.'s other U.K. tabloid, the Sun, Britain's best-selling daily title.
News Corp. has settled about 200 civil phone-hacking lawsuits. It faces as many as 100 more as police continue to notify victims, lawyers said at a London court hearing last week.
At least 55 journalists have been arrested in the last two years in connection with the phone hacking investigation.
These arrests, the latest in a long string of arrests and charges for News Corp. employees, are a reminder that the media conglomerate is far from free of its ethical challenges. According to Bloomberg, lawyer Mark Lewis said, "It comes as no surprise that the lines of investigation are widening ... There is a lot further to go, and ultimately this is a problem that will continue to have reverberations at the top of News Corp."
The ongoing investigation hasn't stopped CEO Rupert Murdoch from exploring new business ventures or racking up billions in profits. News Corp. reported net profits of $2.4 billion in the last three months of 2012, mostly related to gains from cable TV and new channel acquisitions, effectively doubling its profits from the same period in 2011.
News Corp. has paid more than $340 million in costs related to the phone hacking scandal.
Last year, News Corp. announced plans to split the company into separate publishing and entertainment divisions. On a quarterly earnings call February 6, News Corp. executives said the planned separation was on track "to be completed in approximately one year from the date of announcement."
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial defending the latest report by StudentsFirst, an education reform group run by former Washington, D.C., schools superintendent Michelle Rhee, and failed to disclose the education interests of its parent company, News Corp., and its reported financial link to the advocacy organization.
In an editorial titled, "Where Failure Is a Virtue," the Journal is critical of Richard Zeiger, California's chief deputy superintendent, for making light of his state's "F" grade on the StudentsFirst report and calling it a "badge of honor." StudentsFirst ranked and graded each state's education policy on categories such as "value effective teachers" and "empower parents with information." California was one of 11 states to receive an "F." From the editorial:
Mr. Zeiger claimed to be elated by the failure. He called StudentsFirst "an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing," adding to the New York Times that "I would have been surprised if we had got anything else."
Mr. Zeiger is a factotum of the teachers unions that dominate California politics, so he naturally dislikes StudentsFirst because it advocates evaluating teachers based in part on student performance on standardized tests. Ms. Rhee and her reform group also want teacher evaluations to be made available to parents, among other policies to improve accountability. Unions don't like accountability.
In coming to Rhee's defense, the Journal failed to disclose links between News Corp. and the education reform industry. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who has expanded his media empire to include a digital education company, has reportedly donated to StudentsFirst. According to journalist Steve Brill's book Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools, Rhee "had gathered more than $100 million in donations or pledges from heavy hitters such as ... Rupert Murdoch." Fox News' Neil Cavuto has similarly reported that Murdoch is a StudentsFirst donor. Murdoch has also publicly supported Rhee in her advocacy efforts, reportedly calling her "a bona fide reformer."
In a New York magazine post, Gabriel Sherman pointed out that while Fox News resisted calls to discuss gun policy in the wake of the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox's parent company, News Corp., was expressing support for more restrictive gun laws. Sherman noted that the difference between Fox's pro-gun history and Murdoch's call for action on gun control "highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and [Fox News CEO Roger] Ailes":
Certainly Fox's decision to avoid widespread policy talk could be seen as an editorial impulse to keep the focus trained on the tragedy's human dimension. But Fox's coverage also highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. Gun culture is alive and well at Fox News. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity are reportedly licensed to carry concealed handguns in New York City. Fox personality Eric Bolling is a vocal Second Amendment proponent on air. "Not only do they carry guns, they don't allow an honest debate on TV," a Fox News insider said. In the past, when Ailes has clashed with Murdoch on politics, Fox News's outsize profits have helped Ailes prevail. Earlier this fall, Ailes signed a new four-year contract, and he retains complete editorial control over the network.
A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment on Ailes's Second Amendment views.
While Ailes's network said it wasn't the right time to talk about legislation, Murdoch had no hesitation. Within hours of the attack, he took to Twitter to call for an automatic-weapons ban. "Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy," he wrote, referring to Australia's move to ban assault weapons in 1996 after a man used two semiautomatic rifles to kill 35 people and wound 21. That massacre came six weeks after the horrific mass school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, in which sixteen children and one adult were murdered. (Despite Murdoch's plea, automatic weapons are already illegal in the United States; Adam Lanza used semiautomatics.)
Sherman further reported that the lack of gun policy coverage on Fox stemmed from an order from David Clark, executive vice president of Fox's weekend coverage, who reportedly instructed producers to avoid the subject. According to Sherman's sources within Fox, the decision not to address gun policy "created a rift inside the network."
Fox has a history of top-down orders to affect how news is reported on the network. Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon has attempted to slant Fox's coverage on everything from climate change to health care reform and influenced Fox's coverage of President Obama's 2009 Cairo speech on America's relationship to the Muslim world.
Two recent gun tragedies produced instant reaction within the world of Fox News. The fact that they were diametrically opposed suggests an internal conflict may be looming. Either that, or Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch has no idea what's being broadcast on his all-news channel in America.
In the wake of the Newtown, CT school massacre, the News Corp. chairman used his Twitter account to belittle politicians for their inaction on the issue of gun control and demanded to know when they will "find [the] courage to ban automatic weapons."
On Saturday, Murdoch took a swipe at the president: "Nice words from POTUS on shooting tragedy, but how about some bold leadership action?"
The irony here is that if Murdoch didn't own Fox News, Fox News hosts would denounce him for trying to "politicize" the Newtown shooting. That's what Murdoch's team did two weeks ago after NBC sportscaster Bob Costas spoke for 60 seconds during the halftime of an NFL game and addressed America's "gun culture" in the wake of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killing his girlfriend and then driving to the local football stadium and shooting himself in front of his coach.
The morning after his comments, Fox targeted Costas for a full-on barrage of criticism, denouncing him for having the audacity to broach the topic of gun violence. Costas was "kind of a coward" in the way he made his comments, which were possibly fueled by his own "political ambitions," according to Fox.
The message from Fox to Costas was unmistakable: Sit down and shut up about guns. But now, as Newtown prepares to bury 26 victims, Murdoch's lashing out at "politicians" and the "POTUS" for failing to lead on gun reform?
By going on Twitter and demanding Obama take action while Murdoch's highest profile property in the United States actively tries to silence debate about gun reform, the media baron either revealed himself to be a hypocrite of historic proportions, or clueless about Fox News' content. It's content that seems specifically designed to interfere with any attempt to have a rational conversation about guns. (Just ask Costas.)
Note to Murdoch: By all measures, your cable channel operates as an appendage to the National Rifle Association. Fox News has done more in the last four years to embrace and echo the NRA's paranoid, anti-Obama gun fantasies than any other national media outlet in America, such as Bill O'Reilly calling gun control advocates "totalitarians," Glenn Beck warning about a looming "ban on guns," and Dick Morris feeding right-wing fears about "back-door gun control" in America.
Here's a test of leadership for Rupert Murdoch: If you're truly concerned about gun violence in your adopted home country, then you should demand Fox News stop demonizing gun reform and stop championing fanatical, pro-gun paranoia.
If Murdoch wants to lead on the topic of gun reform, he has the media tools to do so. The question is, does he really care about America's crisis at hand?
Fox News is deep in an ethics quagmire following a Washington Post report that the network's CEO Roger Ailes used Fox News analyst K.T. McFarland to try to recruit Gen. David Petraeus to run for the president as a Republican. While Ailes and McFarland made their secret overtures, McFarland appeared on Fox's airwaves to praise Petraeus as "one of the greatest generals in American history."
According to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, Ailes had McFarland advise Petraeus that he "should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director" and instead hold out for the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and to resign and run for president if he was not offered that post. In audio of the meeting obtained by Woodward, Petraeus also said to McFarland that he had been advised that Ailes might resign as Fox News chief and act as a Petraeus aide should the general run for president. He also said that Ailes might bankroll the campaign, although he added that maybe it was News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch who had made that offer.
Woodward also reported that Ailes has acknowledged that he did ask McFarland to make the pitch: "It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have." Ailes also called McFarland "way out of line" in some of her comments.
This would be an ethical problem by itself: Ailes -- the chief of a supposedly objective news network -- was advising an active general who was commanding U.S. troops in the middle of a war to make demands of the president, and if those demands were not met, to run for president with Ailes acting as his aide.
But the ethics problem is much worse than that. McFarland appeared on Fox's airwaves soon after meeting with Petraeus to praise him as "one of the greatest generals in American history" who will save us from defeat in Afghanistan. While McFarland was putting Petraeus on at least the same level as Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Dwight Eisenhower, she provided no disclosure of her and Ailes' advice that Petraeus should consider running for president.
From the April 21, 2011, edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
McFARLAND: When I was there two years ago, Jenna, I looked around and I concluded this is hopeless. Now with General Petraeus, who is one of the greatest generals in American history, he has gone in and he has devised a plan that will work. And the question is not, will it work, but the question is, should we be doing this? Is this an objective, is this a mission that we want? And as you have pointed out, it's expensive. And are we at this point -- you know, where is America's priorities?
JENNA LEE (co-host): Are we in this kind of stalemate [in Afghanistan] like it seems some are describing in Libya -- of course we're not there with combat troops -- but where no side is really gaining any ground and nothing really changes?
McFARLAND: Well the plan that -- the Petraeus plan is to really spend this summer -- they've diminished and decimated the middle ranks of Al Qaeda at the same time they've built up the middle ranks, the mid-level management of the Afghans. So the plan is to continue to make inroads into the Al Qaeda -- not the Al Qaeda so much as the Taliban, and then have slowly but surely the Afghans take over. And it will take a number of years to do that.
McFARLAND: We're doing the military part right, but it's a three-legged stool. And the other parts of the stool, the other legs, are the Afghan government and the Pakistani government, which has safe havens for the Taliban.
During the Happening Now segment, Fox even aired a photo of McFarland's meeting with Petraeus without disclosing what they discussed about Petraeus' future:
From the December 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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As News Corp. seeks to move on from the phone hacking scandal that rocked the company last year, two former editors of Rupert Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World have been charged with bribery.
Former tabloid editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have been accused by British prosecutors of conspiring to pay public officials in exchange for information, according to the Associated Press. Those charges stem from the wide-ranging hacking scandal that has brought down company executives, journalists, and politicians and resulted in a British parliamentary panel declaring Murdoch "not a fit person" to run a major media group, and come as News Corp. attempts to shed the scandal and make new acquisitions.
The British criminal investigation began following the revelation that journalists and editors at the British tabloid, The News of the World, had hacked into phones to uncover information in order to report stories. Now, Brooks is being charged with conspiring to pay a Ministry of Defense employee for a series of stories for Murdoch's The Sun tabloid, and Coulson is accused of conspiring to pay officials for access to a royal phone directory. Brooks and Coulson, who have been brought up on other charges associated with the scandal, have repeatedly denied any criminality.
Brooks served as an editor of The News of the World, The Sun, and most recently as the CEO of News International, until she resigned in July 2011. She was arrested two days after her resignation. Coulson was an editor at The News of the World until 2007, when he left to become a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron. He resigned that position in 2011 amid the hacking scandal.
In July 2011, The News of the World shut down.
These latest charges of bribery come on the heels of several indications that News Corp. is attempting to move past the scandal; indeed, The New York Times reported November 19 that the company "is starting to look like its old self again" and is looking to make acquisitions after having "been on its heels for more than a year because of the phone hacking scandal in Britain."
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch rebuffed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's attempt not to politicize the response to Hurricane Sandy.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie praised President Obama's response to the storm. Murdoch responded by tweeting that Christie "while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney or take blame for next four dire years." The Murdoch-owned New York Post went further, demanding that Christie say that Obama's response to Sandy "would have been more than matched by Mitt Romney had he been president." The Post said that if Christie did not follow this advice, "the Republican Party will never forgive him."
Now, The New York Times has reported that Murdoch's tweet prompted Christie to call Murdoch on November 3 to personally explain that "amid the devastation, New Jersey needed friends no matter their political party." But Murdoch rebuffed Christie's explanation for why he had praised Obama and, according to the Times, bluntly told Christie that he "risked looking like a spoiler unless he publicly reaffirmed his support for Romney." Following the call, Christie reiterated his support for Romney the following day.
From the New York Times:
On Nov. 3, Mr. Christie called Rupert Murdoch, the influential News Corporation chief and would-be kingmaker, who had warned in a biting post on Twitter that the governor might be responsible for Mr. Obama's re-election.
Mr. Christie told Mr. Murdoch that amid the devastation, New Jersey needed friends, no matter their political party, according to people briefed on the discussion. But Mr. Murdoch was blunt: Mr. Christie risked looking like a spoiler unless he publicly affirmed his support for Mitt Romney, something the governor did the next day.
Despite Christie's re-endorsement of Romney, personalities at Fox News -- which Murdoch owns -- and other right-wing media figures lashed out at Christie following Obama's reelection.
From the November 18 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch criticized the "Jewish owned press" for its coverage of the conflict in Gaza in a November 17 tweet:
The Anti-Defamation League writes of the "anti-Semitic lie" that "Jews control the banks, the media, and the government":
This myth originates with The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a proven forgery. The forgery continues to promote the stereotype that Jews own the banks and control the media. The reality is, in societies, like the United States, individuals who identify as Jews have succeeded. But in almost every other country where Jews have lived, they have been a small minority and experienced centuries of persecution.
The Daily Beast's Peter Beinert writes that Murdoch's comment is offensive to journalists as well as to Jewish people and suggests that Murdoch believes reporters for his publications should conform their reporting to his political views:
It's offensive to journalists because it implies that institutions of the "press" should reflect the ideological biases of their owners. Reading Murdoch's tweet, it would be logical to conclude that he believes that any newspaper he owns should reflect his right-wing views, even in its news coverage. The FCC might want to consider that when evaluating Murdoch's reported bid to buy the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.