Submitted By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Britain’s largest weekly tabloid, News of the World, closes today, but not from lack of advertisers or readers. Instead, the Rupert Murdoch led tabloid succumbed to its own excesses amid shocking allegations of interceptions of cellphone voice mails of the families of a murdered 13-year-old girl, servicemen and women slain in Afghanistan, and victims of the 2005 London terrorist bombings. Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who worked for News of the World, is accused of the electronic hacking.
One of the victims, Graham Foulkes, whose son, David, died in the 2005 London attack, said “Janet and I were obviously having very intimate personal phone calls with friends and family. To think that when you’re at the lowest time in life that somebody, for the sake of a cheap story, is maybe listening to you, it’s just beyond words.”
The outrage from the British public has been complete and has political overtones. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has been almost alone in not calling for the paper’s editor, Rebekah Brooks, to resign. Murdoch’s News International syndicate was a tireless and enthusiastic supporter of Cameron in last year’s British parliamentary elections. The cozy relationship between Brooks and the PM resulted in Cameron spending the Christmas holiday with Brooks and her family.
Criticism for the PM’s reluctance is growing and Cameron has moved to call for a complete investigation. Cameron is also dealing with the fact that his Director of Communications, Andy Coulson, is a former editor of NOW. Coulson resigned in January citing another scandal as a “distraction,” but the British public is all too aware that Coulson, while editor, was accused of paying police tens of thousands of pounds from NOW funds.
James Murdoch, son of the undisputed guru of sensationalist journalism, said the scandal will result in punishments for the newspaper’s culpable employees. “Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.” He pledged that “those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences.” NOW has published for 168 years and is wildly profitable. The closing has real effects on the Murdoch Empire and is the most serious challenge to the what some regard as the voice of conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Murdoch’s Fox News is a vocal backer of conservative candidates in the U.S. as well, and has faced its own share of criticism in that enterprise.
As for Murdoch, Sr., he seems to realize the gravamen of the situation deciding to fly to London and axe the paper in an attempt to stem the wave of criticism. The mogul may be the victim of his own doing as well. Many newspaper scandals in the past have been ameliorated by the presence of strong and independent boards of directors who act immediately to discharge the offending editors and restore the paper’s image. Not so with Murdoch’s companies, whose boards show a disturbing lack of resistance to Murdoch’s will. Simon Duke, a financial writer for the UK’s “This is Your Money” website puts it this way, “All too often, Murdoch Sr has been able to bend the board to his will with embarrassing ease. The directors all appear to rub along very smoothly; so much so that the 80-year-old has been able to rail-road through a series of deals that, to the outside world, look a lot like pandering to the whim of the chief executive.”
Is this a “Rosebud” moment for the all-powerful tabloid mogul? Only time will tell, but what is beyond doubt is that the drive for sensationalism has shaken to the foundation the once unassailable House of Murdoch.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger