National Commentary

Murdoch’s Undoing

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch suffered what he called the most humble day of his life when he appeared before a British Parliamentary Committee and the world, when the unethical invasions of privacy of public officials by his staff were made public.

The staff had been hacking into the private telephones of well-known politicians of Great Britain. Murdoch’s vast media holdings of newspapers and broadcast outlets in Great Britain, Australian and the United States, have known no bounds in wire tapping and allegedly bribing government officials.

The head of Scotland Yard resigned in disgrace. Additionally, 10 former staffers and executives are under arrest in Britain, accused of hacking the phones of citizens. It appeared that no public officials were immune from the scandalous intrusions of Murdoch’s reporters.

To Murdoch, the end justified the means. He denied personal involvement amongst all of the revelations of unethical activity by his organizations. The blame fell on his staff, even though Murdoch was well known to be a controlling owner of his media operations. One of the leading members of his staff, Rebecca Brooks, became the fall guy, although Murdoch publicly displayed his admiration for her.

Nearly everyone associated with Murdoch, as high as British Prime Minister David Cameron, seems to be affected by the scandal.

Several of those who took the fall, especially Murdoch’s journalists, have lost their jobs. It’s been open season on Murdoch staffers who have been accused of plagiarism and slandering their targets.

Murdoch apparently has tried to forestall the spread of his tarnished name and the scandal to his U.S. media holdings. He also has shut down his popular weekly newspaper, News of the World, and given up on his bid for British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite broadcasting company. Of course, it is impossible for Murdoch to protect his properties in America, like Fox Broadcasting Company, from being tainted somewhat by this scandal.

The name Murdoch is indelible in its connection to the radical right in the United States.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli leaders and American supporters of Israel are worried that a diminished Murdoch presence “may mute the strongly pro-Israel voice of many of the publications he owns.” Murdoch’s publications and media “have proven to be fairer on the issue of Israel than the rest of the media,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “I hope that won’t be impacted,” he added. Jewish leaders said Murdoch’s view of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors “seem both knowledgeable, and sensitive to the Jewish state’s self-perception as beleaguered and isolated.”

Murdoch’s media stable includes the Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, and The Australian, as well as tabloids including The Sun in Britain, and the New York Post.

There is no question Murdoch’s powerful intrusion in American journalism has been popular and profitable. American journalists have been taught that truth is the holy grail of their profession, but phone tapping some of the world’s highest dignitaries is not the way the game is played. Such unethical methods lead to a question of creditability of Murdoch’s publications and broadcast holdings.

Murdoch’s media empire had been freely expanding in the U.S., but it is now doubtful that he will be able to maintain the reputation he has created in the profession.
Murdoch’s rivals broke the scandal in London. Something happened to Murdoch in the late years of his life. His freewheeling tactics and approach to journalism caught up with him. He is paying a price at the expense of his international reputation. Even worse, he has hurt the profession of journalism and its credibility in the public eye.

It is doubtful Murdoch will ever be the same, and his reporters will have to scramble to reassert the high standards of their profession. It is a sorry fate for a media mogul who thought anything goes, but he is paying the price to recoup his once ever-growing audience.