Rupert Murdoch in Survival Mode
A damning report from Parliament and Rupert
Murdoch's revealing response to it
By Ryan Chittum
May 1, 2012 07:01 PM
When a committee of Parliament condemned Rupert Murdoch
today Tuesday as "not a fit person to exercise the
stewardship of a major international company," it was a
statement as obvious as it was astonishing.
Astonishing because, even though Murdoch's aura of
invincibility has been heavily damaged by the hacking
scandal, this is the British Parliament saying that a
man who "along with Margaret Thatcher arguably the most
important public figure in Britain since Churchill," in
the words of The Guardian's Martin Kettle, should be
forced out of his company. It took the murder of a 13
year old girl ten years ago and his newspaper's abuse of
her privacy and the law to get to this point.
Murdoch, a foreigner who controlled some forty percent
of the UK's newspaper circulation, was this close to
snagging full control of the country's biggest private
TV provider last July, and extending his domination of
the country's public life. While it's far from likely,
it's now possible at least to imagine Murdoch's exit
from the UK.
Or perhaps even from News Corp. itself. One of the most
interesting aspects of the select committee's report is
how it finds Rupert Murdoch's conduct to be, at best,
"wilful blindness"--a phrase that looks like a message
to US prosecutors. Willful blindness is a U.S. legal
term for what you might calls implausible deniability,
like when a CEO or, say, a mafia boss has underlings do
all the dirty work to keep his own hands clean.
You can operate like that and still have plausible
deniability, of course. It becomes implausible when it
was clear long ago that there were serious problems that
Murdoch, if he had wanted to, would have cleaned up.
Instead, Murdoch cultivated a culture of obfuscation and
coverup-one that hubristically, but not unrealistically,
assumed that his power would be enough to ride out the
The scary thing is how close their bet on coverup came
to winning. News Corp.'s extensive corruption of the
British police system would have buried the scandal but
for the heroic work of a small handful of folks like The
Guardian's Nick Davies, MP Tom Watson, and victims'
attorney Mark Lewis.
Despite all that has changed in the balance of power
post-Milly Dowler, Murdoch's reaction to the select
committee's report shows how much the tone at the top
hasn't changed. News Corp.'s strategy is still
containment, the Nixonian limited hangout.
The most important line in Murdoch's letter to News
Corp. employees is about his Management Standards
Committee's internal investigation of The Sun and The
Times of London, which he says "found no evidence of
illegal conduct other than a single incident reported
months ago, which led to the discipline of the relevant
employee." Murdoch's myriad integrity panels and
internal investigations have about as much credibility
as the "independent" editorial integrity panels he sets
up to give the owners of serious papers like The Times
and The Wall Street Journal cover to sell out to someone
Murdoch knows the only way he won't survive is if
problems at non-News of the World papers and News Corp.
companies prove that the mothership's culture is the the
problem. This ludicrous statement about one crime shows
him still trying to put a firewall around the
It's not going to work. The committee, which includes
Tom Watson, is playing chess here, anticipating that
line: "Throughout this affair, senior News of the World
and News International executives have tried to have it
both ways. They have been quick to point to
`investigations' which supposedly cleared the newspaper
of wider wrongdoing, but have also distanced themselves
from the detail when it suited them."
Worse for Murdoch, the Metropolitan Police, News Corp.'s
one-time partners-in-crime (literally), have already
arrested ten Sun editors and reporters for "a culture at
The Sun of illegal payments."
Murdoch himself effectively admitted two months ago that
The Sun did indeed have a culture of bribery. Today, he
would have us believe that this was a culture of one.
Nobody's buying it, and it doesn't help News Corp. to
attack some of the report's conclusions as "unjustified
and highly partisan" (the tripartisan vote for the
report was 7-3). If the culture of any company is set
from the top, as they almost all are, it's News
Corporation's. As I wrote last summer, "its entire
reason for being is to reflect, imitate, and amplify
Murdoch himself." Harold Evans put it better three
decades ago when he called Murdoch a Sun King, someone
who rules a company "where policy derives from how the
leader is perceived by others rather than by
instructions or traditions."
The glib denials that have served him so well for so
many years aren't working anymore-not with all we now
know. This is someone who testified last week that "I've
never asked a prime minister for anything." This is
someone who puts forward the idea that his company's own
internal investigation is legit and pretends that he
doesn't have a well documented history of manipulating
these puppet panels.
The denials and obfuscations would be pathological if
they weren't so transparently the result of conscious
decisions. Rupert Murdoch is in survivor mode, and with
defenses like these, he's in more trouble than we
thought. And more is yet to come.
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