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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Murdoch: Journalism as Vengence

According to Reuters, “News Corp, whose global media interests stretch from movies to newspapers that can make or break political careers, has endured an onslaught of negative press since a phone-hacking scandal at its News of the World tabloid” in 2011. One danger in this mix of private power even over government officials and being publicly criticized is that Rupert Murdoch could use his power in vengeance to retaliate. The public does not often suspect that such a high-profile and financially successful person could act so irresponsibility, but we ought not take what we are shown at face value. There is, after all, a public relations industry.

                                         Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp.                                    

As reported by a few government officials and press outfits in the E.U., the News of the World tabloid’s managers had been paying off state police in Britain in order to hack the phones of government officials and celebrities, those managers reacted by retaliating by hiring at least one private detective to follow Tom Watson, a member of the British House of Commons, and Mark Lewis, a lawyer. A biographer who had been in regular contact with Rupert Murdoch over months told Frontline (PBS) that Murdoch had a habit of remarking that he had pictures of this person or another—meaning that if people did not measure up, Murdoch would destroy them publically. His newspapers, which were not that profitable anyway, were for such influence over government officials or otherwise retaliating against "enemies."

After “the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Financial Review newspaper . . .  said [in March 2012] that News Corp's pay-TV smartcard security unit, NDS, had promoted piracy attacks on rivals,” Murdoch tweeted: "Seems every competitor and enemy piling on with lies and libels. So bad, easy to hit back hard, which preparing.” This reply is telling, for it makes Murdoch’s overriding instinct to exact vengeance transparent. Even referring to critics as enemies is excessive, given the possibility that Murdoch’s company had at the very least broken the law in Europe by paying off a police department and hacking into private voicemail accounts.

To claim that someone is an enemy simply for uncovering or reporting illegal or unethical activities merely points back to the source as sordid and perhaps even pathological in nature. "Enemies many different agendas, but worst old toffs and right wingers who still want last century's status quo with their monopolies," he tweeted. “Toff” itself might be a relic of a prior century; I have never heard of the word. Moreover, Murdoch’s squalid approach to business might hopefully be one day relegated to an earlier age, if there is such a thing as progress in terms of business ethics.

The lesson for us goes beyond one newspaper man, whether it be Hearst in the twentieth century or Murdoch in the twenty-first (at least physically). Might it be that we, the general public, assume too much regarding the maturity of people of position, even if the status has come in part from having built up a company from the ground up? Might it be that we ascribe too much to status itself—that we are in a status society wherein position counts for more than is entitled? Consider, for example, the childish mentality and behavior of Richard Fuld, the CEO who brought Lehman Brothers down in 2008 by piling on real estate debt to excess in an effort to catch up to JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

If with great power comes great responsibility—a phrase uttered by Cliff Robertson in the film, Spiderman—then what do we do when childish, vengeful people are ensconced in positions of power? Considering the damage such people can wreck out of a sense of being personally wronged, society itself has the right to step in and rid the offenders of such power. I am not suggesting a personality test that they must pass every few years like renewing a driver’s license. Rather, once scandal has broken out in a major company, a government’s justice department should be able to have a presence in the company, keeping the CEO on a firm leash.

Unfortunately, where a society (and government) finds it to be in its interest to allow private power to be amassed to such an extent that the government itself can no longer act as a corrective on a company’s CEO, then the society really is at the mercy of a spoiled child. At the very least, we ought to recognize a CEO such as Fuld or Murdoch as such. If we then look the other way, we have only ourselves to blame for whatever havoc they wreck.

Georgina Prodhan, “Rupert Murdoch Fights Back Against‘Lies and Libels,’ Declares War,” The Huffington Post, March 29, 2012.