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The Missing Word: News “Corp” vs It’s Critics

Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial has the title “News and its Critics”—obviously, it’s missing a word. The piece’s real title should be “News Corp and its Critics,” or even better, “News Corp vs. its Critics.” It’s a piece by News Corp, for News Corp. The problem is, the ugly 1044-word attack on the company’s “competitor-critics” alternates between catty defensiveness, a drunk beat poet, and utter incomprehensibility. One can only stand in awe of a conglomerate that would mass print an “aw-shucks” apology across one country while sending the Journal to do its dirty work in another. Some of the editorial’s phrases are almost self-parodying:

The overnight turn toward righteous independence recalls an eternal truth: Never trust a politician.

The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.

Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur.

But, beyond redolence, imprimaturs, chainsaws, and Schadenfreude, the editorial’s argument—insofar as one is discernible—is so dishonest that it has the opposite of its intended effect. You come out of the piece trusting News Corp and the Journal far less than you might have before.

The first “point”:

Phone-hacking is illegal, and it is up to British authorities to enforce their laws. If Scotland Yard failed to do so adequately when the hacking was first uncovered several years ago, then that is more troubling than the hacking itself.

Of course, when “the hacking was first uncovered several years ago,” News Corp did a more than adequate job of bribing British authorities to keep them at bay. As David Carr pointed out yesterday, the company’s fondness of drowning legal problems in hush money has been pervasive, far from the domain of a single tabloid. “We didn’t get caught” is about as bad an excuse as they come, especially with the tactful omission of “…because we bribed the police.”

The second point is a dicey defense of resigned Journal publisher Les Hinton, which fails to mention the reason for his resignation: ostensibly, the two times he stood before the Houses of Parliament and said that only one News International journalist had ever hacked a phone.

The piece then moves inexplicably into self-defense mode, claiming that, well, even if News Corp is a bit unsavory, the company has improved the Wall Street Journal. Of course, a revitalized Journal must be of great consolation to hacking victims, who must also “shudder to think what the Journal would look like” under the dreary Bancrofts. And so we breeze right along to find the paper arguing for the legality of paying sources for information. But “the Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information.” So who does? Other News Corp outlets?

Again, we move on too fast to find out, and close with the same shoddy reasoning that Murdoch himself has already aired out in the Journal’s pages. Namely, that News of the World’s behavior constituted nothing more than journalistic overreach, and that cracking down on News Corp means inhibiting freedom of the press:

Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

News Corp outlets broke the law. And yet, the word “crime” is not mentioned once in the editorial. The Journal goes for a brazen euphemism, instead claiming that the tabloid’s “excesses” do not damage the reputation of its sister outlets:

The News of the World’s offense—fatal, as it turned out—was to violate the trust of its readers by not coming about its news honestly. We realize how precious that reader trust is, and our obligation is to re-earn it every day.

The News of the World’s “offense” was to commit crimes, then lie and bribe to cover them up. “Trust” is a convenient, slippery term for the Journal to use. But surely, a paper of such clout must realize that its readers know the difference between breaking trust and breaking the law. At any rate, it’s likely that News Corp is soon to find out for itself.

By: Alex Klein, Guest Columnist, The New Republic, July 18, 2011

July 19, 2011 Posted by | Corporations, Journalists, Media, Press, Public | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Indifference To Human Dignity”: Finally, Rupert Murdoch Gets His Due

So here’s the synopsis of my forthcoming exposé emulating Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop.” I conceived it during an email exchange with a French friend who’s an expert on the British satirist.

The working title is “Scantily Clad.”

A tabloid newspaper hires buxom ladies to “have it off,” as the Brits say, with politicians, celebrities, members of the royal family and the Manchester United Football Club. Once done, the editors hire a hitman to kill them off, and a psychic to help Scotland Yard find the bodies — preferably naked in luxury hotel suites or stately country homes with riding stables and formal gardens.

Is there a serial killer among the aristocrats? Millions of yobbos (working-class folks) demand to know. Enter an intrepid French politician with a hyphenated name to expose the plot by exposing himself to a buxom hotel maid dispatched by the Daily Wank to seduce him…

OK, that’s enough. Even if I could write fiction, I couldn’t write British fiction. Besides, satire depends upon comic exaggeration, while the deepening scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News International corporation has far surpassed my puerile imaginings.

After all, prostitutes get bumped off every day in this fallen world. For a newspaper to exploit the families of kidnapped 13-year-old girls, the victims of terrorist attacks, and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, implies an indifference to human dignity that can only be described as depraved. All that and more was apparently done by Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.

News International shuttered the weekly tabloid in a transparent attempt to pretend that executives have been shocked by the transgressions of overzealous staffers.

Meanwhile, the Sun, Murdoch’s other London tabloid, obtained the medical records of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 4-month-old son. Brown said that he and his wife were “in tears” on learning that their infant’s cystic fibrosis would decorate the newspaper’s front page.

Brown has accused another Murdoch newspaper, the allegedly respectable Sunday Times, of hiring “known criminals” to rummage through his bank accounts, legal records and tax returns.

“If I,” Brown has said, “with all the protection and all the defenses and all the security that a chancellor of the Exchequer or a prime minister, am so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, to unlawful tactics, methods that have been used in the way we have found, what about the ordinary citizen?”

So that’s lesson one. Privacy in the digital age no longer exists. The more fortunate or, in the case of victims of terrorism or tragedy, the more unfortunate you are, the more your intimate sins and sorrows will be merchandised as infotainment for the rabble.

Perhaps British audiences titillated to hear of Prince Charles’ wish to become a tampon shouldn’t be so horrified to see innocent crime victims treated as rudely as philandering aristocrats.

After all, Murdoch’s minions may have rationalized, what does it matter why somebody’s famous? Fame has no rights.

Even more than his fiercely competitive business practices, it’s Murdoch’s unsparingly cynical view of human nature that’s made him the most powerful media mogul in the world. Mass audiences respond to voyeurism: sex, violence, personal tragedy, and racial and political melodrama. And in Great Britain particularly, people yearn to see the mighty humiliated.

Nevertheless, the British are horrified. They’re outraged about journalists bribing cops, about interfering in murder investigations, about identity theft, and about hacking thousands of cellphones, even as News International executives assured Parliament that a handful of rogue employees were involved. (News flash: Newspaper staffers can’t authorize six-figure payoffs.)

Murdoch’s coziness with Tory and Labour politicians alike has become a problem for him and them. See, something else people love is the vicarious pleasure of watching a coverup come undone. News International big shots are face cards, too. Prominent careers will be ruined; powerful people are going to prison.

Meanwhile, notice how studiously everybody in the United States is concentrating on the purely British aspects of the scandal? Murdoch’s ruthless; he gets even. Besides, a person could end up working for him.

However, cracks have developed in the transatlantic wall. Already, a former New York cop has said News of the World offered him cash to hack the cells of the 9/11 dead. Les Hinton, the longtime aide that Murdoch placed in charge of the Wall Street Journal, is among those who gave now-inoperative testimony to Parliament in 2007. One bad apple, he said.

Even Roger Cohen, for my money the New York Times’ best columnist, defends Murdoch’s “visionary, risk-taking determination” even as he deplores the influence of his biggest moneymaker, Fox News. “[With] its shrill right-wing demagoguery masquerading as news,” he writes, “[Fox has] made a significant contribution to the polarization of American politics, the erosion of reasoned debate, the debunking of reason itself, and the ensuing Washington paralysis.”

Apart from having the moral imagination of a water moccasin, in other words, Rupert Murdoch’s just a terrific guy.

By: Gene Lyons, Columnist, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, published in Salon, July 13, 2011

July 15, 2011 Posted by | Corporations, Journalists, Media, Politics, Press, Public, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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