Current and former staffers at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are expressing concern at reports Friday that News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch might be interested in buying the papers from Tribune Company, with one veteran Times newsman calling the notion "horrifying beyond belief."
While many told Media Matters they are worried about Murdoch's potential ownership due to concerns over his ethical history and conservative ideology, others are so desperate to give their bankrupt papers financial stability that they are reluctantly willing to give him a chance.
"I have heard people express concerns of various kinds," said one current Los Angeles Times' journalist and former newsroom editor who requested anonymity. "He invests in the properties, he has not downsized the [Wall Street] Journal. The one concern, fear of the unknown, is, well, the L.A. Times still has a substantial foreign staff, a substantial national staff and a substantial Washington bureau. What happens to those?"
One fear is that the takeover could spark an exodus of staff, which occurred at The Wall Street Journal after Murdoch purchased parent company Dow Jones in late 2007. Dozens of the paper's best journalists left, citing a perceived change in the paper's focus and at times an increased push for more business-friendly stories.
Several current and former Tribune Company staffers recalled what happened when Murdoch bought the rival Chicago Sun-Times in 1984, later selling it in 1986. The sale sparked the departure of many Sun-Times staffers, including the legendary columnist Mike Royko, who vowed not to work for Murdoch and left for the Tribune.
"If you look at the history of what he did across the street at the Sun-Times, that is a shot that the paper never fully recovered from," said a current Tribune staffer who sought anonymity. "The sentiment of people is 'we want to keep doing the work we do,' owners do what they want to do with the paper."
Speculation about a Murdoch purchase of the Times, Tribune, or perhaps other Tribune Company properties began last week with an October 19 Los Angeles Times report that he was interested. It cited "two ranking News Corp. executives and others familiar with the situation," indicated talks were in the "early stages," and stated a takeover could occur by the end of 2012.
News Corp. has denied the report, but the Los Angeles Times stands by its story.
A News Corp. purchase of the Times and the Tribune would give Murdoch control of four of the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation and, as the Times notes, "strong footholds in the nation's three largest media markets."
The possible purchase by Murdoch comes at a time when Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and 10 other daily newspapers, as well as 23 television stations and other media properties, is emerging from a bruising four-year bankruptcy battle that has already cut its revenues and staff.
The financial problems stem from the 2007 purchase of Tribune Company by real estate magnate Sam Zell, who paid for the takeover through a leveraged buyout that created $13 million in debt. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later, a move that remains unresolved as creditors battle over a resolution plan in court.
The thought that Murdoch could take over some or all of the company's properties drew concern among current and former staffers.
PBS' Frontline recently aired a documentary titled "Climate of Doubt," examining how conservative groups, frequently funded by the fossil fuel industry, have pushed Republicans to reject the scientific consensus on manmade global warming. Here, Media Matters looks back at how Fox News has contributed to that "Climate of Doubt," often teaming up with industry to misrepresent science and attack all efforts to address this threat.
Rupert Murdoch veered off script this week with some tweets that ran completely counter to the Fox News spin this campaign season. In fact, they undercut the entire political premise at Fox, which is to attack Democrats without question, and to force Republican politicians to champion a truly right-wing agenda. Is there a rift brewing?
It's true Murdoch has a history of taking stances on issues such as global warming and immigration that are diametrically opposed to the propaganda programming Fox airs. So perhaps this is another example of that.
And some observers might say Murdoch's candid comments suggest competing voices are welcome within News Corp. I think that's unlikely though, at least within Roger Ailes' Fox world where you're either on the team or off. Remember that in 2008, angry that Murdoch might use his New York Post to endorse Obama after Fox had tagged him a terrorist sympathizer, Ailes reportedly "threw a fit" and threatened to quit. (Murdoch's Post endorsed McCain instead.)
Did Murdoch's curious tweets cause similar consternation?
Note this one:
Election: To win Romney must open big tent to sympathetic families.Stop fearing far right which has nowhere else to go. Otherwise no hope-- Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) September 11, 2012
Murdoch stresses Romney has "no hope" of winning in November if he keeps kowtowing (my word) to the "far right." Instead, he has to embrace the "big tent."
Where to begin in describing the lack of self-awareness in that statement? Or is it just shocking hypocrisy in play?
Murdoch owns Fox News, the epicenter of the "far right" in America, and Fox News has been relentlessly urging Republican candidates to wage right-wing battles against Obama. But seven weeks before Election Day, Murdoch now thinks Romney should stop trying to impress the "far right"? He should stop trying to appeal to the Fox News audience?
Have we ever seen two aligned camps within the conservative movement view the same event so differently? The far-right press is convinced the selection of Paul Ryan as VP is the boost Mitt Romney desperately needs, while GOP operatives, who try to win campaigns for a living, fret Ryan just doomed any chance Romney had of capturing the White House and will hurt Republican candidates nationwide.
Fox News got the vice presidential pick it wanted; the one Rupert Murdoch all but demanded Romney make. But the cheers of exultation that were heard within the right-wing media in the wake of the Ryan pick, as pundits toasted him as a true movement believer, have been met with equally emotional groans from Republican operatives who see Ryan as an unnecessary electoral anchor around the neck of GOP candidates who must now talk about Ryan's unpopular budget blue print, including his plans to radically alter Medicare.
The internal strife over Ryan is telling not only because it highlights a conservative movement that, three months before Election Day, still hasn't coalesced. But it also spotlights the fact that Romney's presidential campaign is the first one on record being run by the media, instead of political pros. No longer content to cheer on Republicans, the right-wing media complex now sees itself first and foremost as the power behind the party and has decided it's running the GOP's crusade to oust Obama, complete with opposition research and on-air fundraising.
And now VP picks.
In other words, Republican strategists are watching Fox News steer its first-ever national campaign, complete with its Paul Ryan cheering section, and the strategists aren't sure it's working.
Today, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch will be joining New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to host pro-immigration forums for the purpose of getting "beyond politics and antiquated notions about immigration." Perhaps he should start with the anti-immigrant attitudes that pervade the channel his company operates, Fox News.
Politico reports that Murdoch stated in a press release promoting the forums:
"America is a great nation built on the hard work and ingenuity of immigrants, and our economic prosperity will depend upon our ability to unleash innovation and compete in the global marketplace," said Rupert Murdoch. "Unfortunately, Washington has failed to enact immigration policies that acknowledge the role of immigrants in our economic successes, or consistently support the employment needs of America's businesses. We have to get beyond politics and antiquated notions about immigration if we are serious about attracting and retaining the best talent in America."
If Murdoch really wants to "get beyond politics and antiquated notions" on immigration, he should start with a network his company owns, Fox News. Fox is a hotbed of anti-immigrant rhetoric, and it serves as a friendly platform for extremist anti-immigration groups. The vast majority of guests who speak about immigration on Fox are anti-immigrant.
Fox is an unabashed promoter of the kind of "politics and antiquated notions about immigration" Murdoch claims to oppose.
Of course, fixing a cable news channel doesn't offer quite the glamor or promotional pop as taking part in a forum to fret about attitudes that Murdoch's own employees are being paid to stir up.
Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Fox News' parent company News Corp., plans to join New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg today for a forum on immigration policy. Despite Fox News' history of demonizing immigrants and their constant use of anti-immigrant rhetoric, Murdoch plans to highlight the role of immigrants in American economic successes.
Media critic Howard Kurtz wrote in the Daily Beast today that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch gave vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan "a strong nudge" onto the Republican ticket.
Kurtz explained that Murdoch "used a combination of private persuasion, newspaper crusading, and Twitter talk to urge Mitt Romney's campaign to shake things up. And soon after Romney unveiled his running mate on Saturday morning, Murdoch posted a 140-character message of approval."
From Kurtz's Daily Beast piece headlined "Rupert Murdoch Gets His Man As Mitt Romney Picks Paul Ryan":
It would be too much to say that Rupert Murdoch pushed Paul Ryan onto the Republican presidential ticket. But he certainly gave the conservative congressman a strong nudge.
The media mogul used a combination of private persuasion, newspaper crusading, and Twitter talk to urge Mitt Romney's campaign to shake things up. And soon after Romney unveiled his running mate on Saturday morning, Murdoch posted a 140-character message of approval:
"Thank God! Now we might have a real election on the great issues of the day. Paul Ryan almost perfect choice."
The enthusiastic tone was a marked contrast from last month, when Murdoch huddled privately with the GOP nominee and seemed to come away distinctly unimpressed.
"Met Romney last week," he tweeted. "Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from his team and hires some real pros. Doubtful."
Romney declined to fire anyone, and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal continued to ding him in editorials. On Thursday, the editorial page dropped the subtlety and practically demanded: Why not Paul Ryan?
Days after former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks and other journalists connected to News Corp were formally charged in relation to the phone hacking case, more journalists were arrested regarding allegations that a News Corp newspaper used stolen phones.
From Bloomberg News:
A second journalist at News Corp. (NWSA)'s Sun tabloid was arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods as part of a police probe into allegations that the newspaper used data from mobile phones that were ripped off.
Police arrested a 37-year-old journalist today, the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement. That follows the arrest of a 51-year-old man yesterday. Both men worked at the Sun, according to an official at News Corp.'s U.K. unit, who asked not to be identified, citing company policy.
The alleged thefts are the latest accusation against News Corp.'s U.K. publishing business, News International, whose reporters and editors have been accused of hacking into mobile- phone voice mails and e-mails, bribing public officials and disrupting police investigations. Sue Akers, the MPS deputy assistant commissioner, said last week that officers had discovered that News International journalists had information that appeared to be from stolen phones.
About 60 people have been arrested since the police investigations began last year. Eight former News Corp. journalists were charged last week with conspiring to intercept voice mail, including former News International Chief Executive Officer Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, an ex-lead tabloid editor who later became an adviser to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.
From Bloomberg News:
News Corp. (NWSA)'s British publishing unit asked a judge to keep secret a series of new claims being made by victims of phone hacking at its News of the World tabloid in preparation for a group trial scheduled for February.
The details of the allegations, which could be used to seek punitive damages, should be kept from the public unless they are approved at a Sept. 7 hearing and added to the victims' so- called generic claims, Judge Geoffrey Vos said today in London.
The claims outline "generalized activities which we think are unsustainable" if challenged, Michael Silverleaf, the lawyer for the News International unit, said at the hearing. "They may change the approach we are taking" to the case.
News Corp., the New York-based company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, is trying to move on from the scandal after the civil case and a parallel criminal probe that began last year revealed a cover up and led to the closure of the tabloid and the arrests of more than 60 people, including another journalist today.
From the July 24 edition of Current's Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer:
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A July 24 Reuters article reported that Rebekah Brooks, a former executive in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., will be charged with "phone-hacking offenses" along with former News of the World editor Andy Coulson.
Brooks was the former CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper division, News International, the group in charge of News of the World when the newspaper became the center of a scandal involving phone hacking.
From Reuters, via Huffington Post:
Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief and Rupert Murdoch's former UK newspaper boss are to be charged with phone-hacking offences in the most significant development in a scandal that has rocked Britain's establishment.
Prosecutors said on Tuesday Andy Coulson, who was Cameron's communications chief from 2007 until January 2011, and Rebekah Brooks, who was courted by a succession of prime ministers including Cameron in her role as Murdoch's UK newspaper chief, would be charged with offences linked to the hacking.
The alleged offences were committed when both were editor of the News of the World newspaper, the Sunday tabloid which Murdoch was forced to close last July amid public revulsion at the phone-hacking revelations.
Six other senior former News of the World journalists and staff are also to be charged. The maximum sentence for the phone-hacking charges is two years in prison and/or a fine.
Last week, Rupert Murdoch resigned from a number of British newspaper boards that oversee The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times. Today, the senior police officer overseeing the investigation told the Leveson committee that the investigation spawned by phone hacking at News of the World is now investigating information obtained from stolen cellphones and significant payoffs to public officials.
From The New York Times:
The phone hacking investigation of Rupert Murdoch's tabloid newspapers in Britain has broadened to include allegations that information was obtained from stolen cellphones, significant payoffs were made to public officials, and "medical, banking and other personal records" were illegally accessed, the senior police officer in charge of the operations told a judicial inquiry Monday.
The officer, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers of Scotland Yard, gave the most detailed assessment yet of the three investigations prompted by allegations in 2009 that The News of the World tabloid had illegally intercepted voice mail messages on an industrial scale.
The newspaper was closed last summer under the weight of public outrage. But detectives now suspect a swath of related illegal activities, Ms. Akers told the panel headed by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson.
The police are aware of information that Mr. Murdoch's papers obtained from two stolen cellphones, she said. One was in Manchester, in northern England, and the other in southwest London. She said that it seemed that one of thee phones had "been examined with a view to breaking its security code," in order to gain access to its contents. The authorities are trying to establish whether the thefts were isolated incidents, or "the tip of the iceberg," she said.
Allegations like these are why Murdoch faces a shareholder revolt over the "lax ethical culture and lack of effective board oversight" at News Corp.
This afternoon on Twitter, News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch offered his take on the controversy his network willed into existence regarding comments Obama made about small businesses. Murdoch endorsed the distorted take on the president's July 13 remarks, writing: "Yesterday Obama went off script, showed real self ie government omnipotent, individuals secondary. Must be big damage," thus getting wrong both what Obama said and when he said it.
On July 13, the president made the determinedly unremarkable observation that success in business derives from "individual initiative" as well as a community supported by public works: schools, roads, bridges, fire stations, telelcommunications infrastructure, and so forth. Led by Fox News, the conservative press (and eventually the Romney campaign) have distorted Obama's remarks, claiming that he said success in business comes solely from the government.
Murdoch's been a busy tweeter of late: he endorsed Romney and prayed that he will "save us from socialism, etc," offered encouragement to the GOP nominee, and trolled the entire liberal blogosphere. This endorsement of Fox News' distortion of Obama's remarks shows impressive message discipline throughout the entire News Corp. family, from the top (Murdoch) all the way down to the very, very bottom.
Traditionally, when campaign revolts bubble up they're reported in the media, not initiated there. In the past, it was nervous party elites, major donors, state party chairmen, members of Congress and their top aides who aired complaints, through the media, when they felt their party's candidate was falling down, or that his campaign was in need of a course correction.
This time it's the right-wing media that's taken upon itself to launch a running critique of Romney's campaign:
*Fox's Eric Bolling says Romney should fire his whole staff
*Fox's Brian Kilmeade suggests Romney has to "toughen up"
*Fox's Bill Kristol compares Rommey to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry and says he needs to "get off autopilot."
*Fox owner Rupert Murdoch tweets that Romney needs to shake up his staff
*Murdoch's Wall Street Journal editorial page eviscerates Romney's campaign team as being incompetent
*Fox's Laura Ingraham mocks Romney's jet-skiing ways
Did you spot the trend?
It's amazing how the conservative press feels completely empowered at this point to brazenly dictate how the Republican Party candidate ought to run for the White House. (No matter how kooky the suggestions.)
Sure, pundits in the past have critiqued candidates and complained about shortcomings, but not on the coordinated scale that recently unfolded in conservative circles. And we certainly haven't seen many examples of media critiques in and of themselves being treated as news.
Note that within days of Murdoch dashing off a couple barbed tweets aimed at the Romney campaign, the New York Times treated the taunts as news. By comparison, four years ago did anyone really care what Rupert Murdoch thought of the McCain campaign?
Today though, with Murdoch's Fox-led properties replacing the Republican National Committee as the hub of partisan activity on the right, Murdoch is treated as a king maker in America. (This, while his reputation in Britain lay in tatters.)
And that's why Murdoch's 140-character dispatches are deemed newsworthy. Since Obama's inauguration, the conservative movement in America has become, first and foremost, a media movement. And that's where the Republican Party and its presidential campaign are now taking commands from; the far-right press.
Turns out internal Fox News talking points about what not to discuss on the air might be just as influential as the guidelines that coach hosts on which stories to push each day.
What else could explain the fact that it's been 52 weeks since Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. phone hacking scandal broke big, yet Sean Hannity has never addressed the story on his show, according to a search of Nexis.
And Hannity's primetime partner Bill O'Reilly isn't much better. To date, he's committed just seven minutes to the story. And during his single segment on the story, O'Reilly falsely claimed there hadn't been any "intrusion of this story thus far on News Corp. properties" in the United States. (There had; Les Hinton, CEO of News Corp.'s Dow Jones division, was forced to resign as a result of the widening scandal.)
The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity have aired more than 500 hours of programming in the last year, but set aside just a few minutes for the hacking story.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the shocking Guardian scoop about how Murdoch's News of The World tabloid hacked into the voicemails of an abducted schoolgirl who was later found murdered. The ghoulish revelation catapulted the News Corp.'s long-simmering British phone hacking scandal into the news stratosphere and uncorked a twelve-month ride that has been brutal for CEO Murdoch at every turn, as allegations have tumbled out about rampant phone hacking and the paying off of public officials. And there is no end in sight to his woes.
Since that scoop, the hacking story has been arguably the biggest media business news story of the year, as the controversy has completely roiled Rupert Murdoch's company, causing him to close an entire newspaper and jettison top lieutenants (including his own son) who became tainted by the scandal.
Government investigations were launched to determine whether News Corp. employees had hacked phones, computers and emails. In May, a scathing U.K. parliamentary report found Murdoch to be "not a fit person" to run a major media company.
Just last month Murdoch was forced to reorganize his entire News Corp. media empire in an effort to "quarantine" his now-toxic UK newspaper properties, as one Wall Street analyst put it.
Meaning, the scandal continues to reverberate throughout Murdoch's world, and deep into the heart of British politics. To date, it stands as one of the most sweeping and damaging corporate media eruptions in modern times.
In other words, the scandal nicely captures everything that's wrong with the culture of corruption that Murdoch has fermented at his partisan media titles. And so of course that's the reason Hannity and O'Reilly, who promote themselves as tough talkers willing to confront uncomfortable truths, are too terrified to mention the story while the cameras are on even though it's a story that intersects at the usual Fox sweet spot of media and politics.
Unable to mount even a feeble defense on Murdoch's behalf and the rampant lawbreaking that occurred in his name, Hannity and O'Reilly have simply played dumb on an epic scale, turning a blind eye to a story that has ravished their employer and permanently scared his reputation.
We usually think of Fox as a propaganda outlet because of the false stories and smears it relentlessly pushes. But as Murdoch discovered during his most difficult year, with Hannity and O'Reilly, sometimes propagandists prove their worth by not covering stories that embarrass the boss.