July 16, 2011
The Murdoch dominos start falling
The loyalists surrounding Rupert Murdoch are getting picked off one by one. Rebekah Brooks, head of his British operations News International, has resigned. It was thought that she and Murdoch sacrificed 168-year old The News of the World, the paper at the center of the scandal, to save her own skin, shutting down the profitable paper and throwing all its employees out of work in the hope that it would quell the scandal. That did not work.
The biggest casualty so far is Les Hinton, Murdoch's long time right hand man who has worked for him for 52 years and who has also resigned as Chief Executive Officer of News Corp's Dow Jones, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal. Hinton and Brooks say they were ignorant of the illegal activities that were going on all around them but that is not credible and both of them are so close to the Murdoch father and son team that it is hard to believe that the latter two did not know too. Murdoch can probably buy the silence of these loyalists until such time as they are staring serious prison time in the face.
Hinton, seen as Murdoch's consiglieri, seems the most vulnerable since he seems to have lied to a British parliamentary inquiry, claiming that a thorough internal investigation into the hacking scandal that he ran while head of News International showed that the phone hacking was done by a single reporter gone rogue, an assertion now seen as laughably false. The departure of Hinton and Brooks now puts son James Murdoch in the crosshairs. Brooks and the two Murdochs are due to testify on Tuesday where I expect them to make groveling apologies along with stout denials that they were aware of what was going on. This is of course highly implausible, given that they all seem to be control freaks working closely.
Jonathan Freedland describes in detail the power that Murdoch exercised over the British political structure. Its extent shocked even someone as cynical as me who has long been aware of the collusion of government, media, and business. It seemed like Murdoch has almost all of the big players (David Cameron, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown) in his pocket, obsequiously toadying to him even as his papers occasionally revealed unpleasant things about them.
What may be the final straw is that the corruption extended well into the police, which tends to bother people more than political corruption. As Freedland writes:
What has shocked more deeply is the extent to which the police force and News International had become intertwined: the wining and dining, the top brass of both organisations apparently separated by a revolving door: ex-cop Andy Hayman moving to NI, ex-editor Neil Wallis moving to Scotland Yard. No wonder the Met was so lethargic in investigating hacking: why look too deeply into the affairs of people who represent either a meal ticket or a future paycheck?
The bribing of police to get information seems to be well established but now The Guardian newspaper (and its reporter Nick Davies), which has been terrier-like in its dogged coverage of the story and breaking scoop after scoop, has revealed that the Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson tried to get the paper to back off on the Murdoch story by saying that it had information that its coverage was "exaggerated and incorrect", while at the same time not informing them that they had hired a senior The News of the World executive Neil Wallis as an advisor. Wallis has also now been arrested. My hope is that the Stephenson also gets fired (and investigated and even arrested) and a new untainted person brought in who will try and repair the image of the police by doing a full investigation.
Now that Murdoch seems weakened, those who formerly were cowed by him are now speaking out more openly, especially in parliament, and The Independent gives a preview of what to expect at the inquiry on Tuesday.
Murdoch has gone into full damage control mode, apologizing to everyone he can get to, including the family of Milly Dowler, and inserting a big apology advertisement in all the British newspapers today, blaming it all on a single newspaper when the corruption seems to have spread to others within the Murdoch empire with actor Jude Law suing The Sun for hacking his phone. But people who condone the tapping of the phone mails of dead schoolchildren are not the kind of people who feel shame and remorse, and this merely seems like the latest attempt to stem the furor.
The pernicious influence of Murdoch on the media and political landscape is captured by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in a parody of It's a Wonderful Life. (Thanks to reader Norm.)
It should be noted that the Fry and Laurie comedy show ran around 1990. Things have got much worse since then.