JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 15, 2011
[Guest post by Alex Klein]
"In Interview, Murdoch Defends News Corp." proclaims a much-buzzed headline on the Murdoch and News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal. It's a stretch of a title. The 700-word piece is less "interview" than stenography, a generous opportunity for the mogul to swagger, project confidence, and bend the truth. There are a lot of so-sad-it's-funny quotes, but the best by far is Murdoch's promise to institute a "protocol for behavior" at all of his newspapers. This meaningless pledge falls right in line with a great deal of bad News of the World commentary that misconstrues the paper's sins as journalistic overreach or inappropriateness. Stealing, bribing, and hacking aren't a 'best practices' issue, like misattributing a quote or wearing hawaiian shirts to work: they're illegal. Beyond breaking stuffy American ethics protocol, News International broke real British law. So unless the first bullet-point in News International's new "protocol for behavior" is "Don't commit crimes. Also don't cover up crimes by committing more crimes," I'm not quite sure what he and the Journal are playing at. The dishonest two-step from illegality to immorality is even reflected in the Journal's own reporting, which frames the issue as one of "dubious reporting tactics." And as Media Matters has pointed out, it took the paper a whole week — and a couple of buried NOTW stories — before it reported that its own publisher and Murdoch friend Les Hinton has a starring role in the scandal.
A few other knee-slappers from the interview bear mentioning. Murdoch tells the Journal that his company has handled the scandal "extremely well in every way possible" barring a few "minor mistakes." I'm sure this includes the paper's hacking of the people who were investigating them for hacking. And News Corp's brave decision to "unreservedly" apologize in April for a decade's worth of hacking and then proceed to keep doing it.
The Journal also gave Murdoch a chance to depict himself as the fearless, meticulous, responsive leader he is: "When I hear something going wrong," he said, "I insist on it being put right." Not to judge an older gentleman's hearing, but surely the chairman must have "heard something going wrong" in 2003, when Rebekah Brooks told a parliamentary commission that her paper regularly paid off police. Or in 2005, when the police launched their first inquiry. Or in January of 2006, when a high-ranking News International editor was convicted and jailed and Andy Coulson resigned. Or in February of 2010, when the House of Commons said it was "inconceivable" that News International bosses didn't know about hacking. Or in January of this year, when the police opened up another investigation, or in February, when two more reporters were thrown in jail, or, or, or... Mr. Murdoch must be missing his ear trumpet.
And finally, as if giving a tip of the hat to all that is most chummily craven and politically incestuous about this mess, Murdoch told the Journal that Gordon Brown shouldn't be making such a big deal about getting hacked because "the Browns were always friends of ours."
Now, none of these Murdoch quotes match my all time favorite, which is "You f-ckwit! You bastard! Get this f-cking newspaper out!" But earlier this year, Murdoch said the country "had lost its sense of humor." It's good to see that with the help of the Journal, the mogul is proving himself wrong.