Distressed by his sinking fortunes, Rupert Murdoch finally spoke out today to defend himself, his progeny and his company – just as the FBI confirmed its agents are probing whether Murdoch’s minions illegally invaded the privacy of 9/11 victims and their families. Talking to the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corporation, the old buccaneer’s outburst was predictably aggressive.
He insisted that his son James “acted as fast as he could, the moment he could” in dealing with the phone-hacking scandal that led to the shutdown of Murdoch’s huge tabloid, the News of the World. He claimed too that he had acted swiftly and properly himself, noting, “when I hear something going wrong, I insist on it being put right.” He and his son, along with other News Corp employees, will appear voluntarily to answer questions in Parliament, he vowed, saying, “We think it’s important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public….I felt that it’s best just to be as transparent as possible.” And he promised to set up an independent committee, to be chaired by a “distinguished non-employee,” to investigate possible corporate wrongdoing and to establish a “protocol of behavior” for the company’s journalists.
Yet only the willfully naïve can listen to his denials of wrongdoing or his promises of reform with any degree of credence. We have heard all this many times before.
It is long past time for the dubious policies and practices of the Murdoch organization to come under official scrutiny, as they now will by the FBI, Scotland Yard, the British Parliament — and perhaps, as urged by members of both parties, by the United States Congress as well. Perhaps that horde of investigators will be able to determine the truth behind the worst charges, which range from the bribery of police officers to abuses against innocent terror victims to compromising the security of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his family. While those probes must proceed under the presumption of innocence, the rest of us may consider Murdoch’s past performance, which is informative if not edifying.
As any longtime observer knows, he is never at a loss for alibis, excuses and professions of innocence, all of which deserve to be received with the same degree of sympathy as they would in the local police station-house if uttered by a repeat offender. And as any longtime observer also knows, he is always prepared to offer what are laughingly known among News Corp. insiders as “the necessary promises” to mend his ways, whenever he must do so to serve his imperial ambitions.
Such promises date back to the earliest years of his empire’s expansion from Australia and the United Kingdom to the United States. Back in 1980, for instance, Murdoch was caught in a blatant exchange of media favoritism for government favors, when the New York Post published a page-one endorsement of then-President Jimmy Carter against Senator Edward Kennedy, who had mounted an insurgent primary candidacy. That endorsement came three days after Murdoch met with Carter in the White House — and was followed almost immediately by a $300 million loan from the Export Import Bank, a federal entity, to an Australian airline owned by Murdoch.
It was a coincidence, nothing more, insisted Murdoch when he appeared before a Congressional investigating committee – and he promised never to do it again, lest his actions be “misconstrued.” Of course he went on to do the same thing many times, including his company’s disturbing publication and fawning promotion of a ridiculous biography of the late Chinese dictator Deng Xiaoping, penned by Deng’s daughter for a handsome sum. It was just a coincidence that Murdoch was then seeking permission from the Chinese government to establish highly lucrative television franchises in the People’s Republic.
A Murdoch employee once explained, in an unwittingly candid moment on videotape, that his master’s way of doing business can be “a little bit like the Mafia.” While that employee was terminated with extreme prejudice after his remarks were made public, what he said rings truer than ever today. The same fate that eventually brought down the Mafia – a long series of criminal and Congressional investigations and indictments – may await the man who, until so recently, ruled over news and politics like the boss of all bosses.