John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Poor Rupert Murdoch, king of a media empire, must really have his undies in a bunch these days.

Not only has he been forced to shut down the biggest newspaper in Britain, but his long-time protege has quit on him.

Rebekah Brooks, who was executive editor of Murdoch’s gargantuan News Corp.’s British publishing division, resigned shortly after the news broke that the newspaper mentioned above, the News of the World, had been hacking into the cell phones and emails of an unknown number of muckety-mucks, high-rollers, low-rollers and just about anyone who might be a source for the tabloid-style reporting the paper had been famous for since the 1840s.

As I said, poor Rupert. And poor James Murdoch, prince of the empire.

The piratical behavior of the Murdoch clan on the stage of international journalism has long been a source of shame and rage for those of us who believe newspapers have a sacred mission to bring information to people that they need, rather than peddle scandal, innuendo and overblown celebrity gossip.

And now, Murdoch’s shenanigans have brought down a paper that has been around for a century and a half.

Poor Rupert, indeed.

It should be noted that this is not the first time the paper has been tainted by a phone-hacking scandal. In 2006, the man who was the “Royal editor” for the paper, Clive Goodman, was arrested and later sent to prison for hacking into the phone answering machines of the royal family and others.

It now appears as though the practice continued at the paper, in spite of the fact that people were going to jail for it.

One has to wonder how high the decision-making trail goes here. All the way to the Murdochs, father and son? How else to explain that people would put their lives and careers in jeopardy just to scrape up a little dirt to serve up to the depraved and hungry eyes of a scandal-inured reading public?

It’s all fairly hilarious, of course. Rupert Murdoch has for several decades built up his international news machine, gobbling up old and trusted newspaper companies such as the Times of London and the Wall Street Journal, not to mention less worthy publications such as the News of the World and the New York Post. His antics have been viewed as a kind of “Sherman’s March to the Sea” in terms of his effect on the industry as a whole.

It is almost a truism among industry watchers that Murdoch cares nothing for the loftier ideal of journalism, but is a rapacious seeker of wealth and fame with little concern for anything beyond his own standing in the world.

Probably comes as a result of a spoiled childhood, his having been the son of a wealthy Australian media mogul. The story is that when daddy died, young Rupert took what had been a regional operation based in Melbourne and began a ruthless climb to the top of the corporate ladder of the communications industry.

He’s one of those guys who seems to revel in the fact that he is so hated, probably writing off his detractors as a bunch of jealous wannabes who only wish they could be just like him.

I wonder what he thought when another media magnate, Tina Brown of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, recently compared him to Lord Voldemort, the arch villain of the Harry Potter stories. More than likely, he took it as a compliment.

Or when Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter whose work on the Watergate scandal in the 1970s helped to topple then-President Richard Nixon, referred to the hacking and bribery scandal as Murdoch’s Watergate.

Again, he most likely considered it something to be proud of.

But now that the scandal has forced the Murdochs to withdraw their bid for the British Sky Broadcasting television giant, it could be that Rupert and James are realizing that their arrogance has a price.

There have been reports that the Murdochs are contemplating a move to sever all of News Corp.’s newspaper holdings from the parent company, forming a new management entity.

Presumably, this would free up the parent company to gobble up ever greater shares of other media companies around the world.

Which, of course, would be just another nail in the coffin of independent, scrupulous news gathering at a time when the world needs honest journalism more than ever.


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