McAdams On: News Corp.
July 22, 2011
DISMAYVILLE: The indignant schadenfreude over News Corp.
would be amusing were it not so sad. It has been the single most ruthless media
company of our time for years, not just since Tuesday. That’s also why it’s one
of the largest and most powerful media companies in the world. Rupert Murdoch
may lack scruples, but he knows how to move the chess pieces. Much of the
fallout from Tuesday’s Parliamentary hearing will be posturing. Now’s the time
to get on the “down with News Corp.” bandwagon. U.S. lawmakers are obliged to
emit certain grumbles of condemnation to mollify media anti-consolidation
forces. But it will be strutting and fretting, soon enough heard no more.
Nearly everyone is complicit in the News Corp. burlesque, from stockholders to
politicians to those of us who read the newspapers or watch Fox channels on TV.
Shareholders don’t ask “how,” they just expect returns. News Corp. is a vehicle
for politicians, and vice versa. We content consumers are conspicuous for
seeking that which confirms, rather than challenges, our fixed beliefs. Rupert
Murdoch has been a master at catering to this American mindset, which in turn
rendered him the most politically influential media mogul of the modern age.
One example I recall is when lawmakers were fighting about media ownership
limits six years ago. Regulators had lifted the national audience reach cap for
TV station groups from 35 to 45 percent. Anti-consolidationists took up
pitchforks and torches, and Congress rolled it back to 35 percent, or tried to.
Rupert’s TV stations reached 39 percent of U.S. households at the time. After
Murdoch was quoted in one of his own newspapers saying he was sure Congress
would do the right thing, a handful lawmakers met the night before Christmas
adjournment and raised the cap to 39 percent. The power of the media, indeed.
No one said a word, then, and neither the half of News Corp.’s doings will be
unearthed in this wave of perfunctory investigations. The company’s influence
reaches much further than Scotland Yard, and to profess shock or deem that
statement conspiratorial is a bit naive. Influence is how business and politics
work. There’s nothing new about it.
I don’t condone the phone-hacking or any of the other more nefarious methods
employed by News Corp., but the company is far from alone in its methods. What
is most disappointing is the disingenuousness--of singling it out, of vilifying
the old man, of running for cover after drinking his champagne on his yacht, of
claiming cluelessness in the face of obviousness. That includes the master
When asked if he was responsible for the conduct at the companies he owns, his
answer was “no.” He blamed the people he employed. That’s understandable to
some degree. News Corp. employs something like 53,000 people. He can’t know what
they’re all doing; that’s logical. However, he is the head, the general, the
leader. That’s what you do. You fall on your sword, at least figuratively. You
stand up and say, “Yes, this was my responsibility. I failed to create a
corporate culture in which this type of behavior and conduct was absolutely
forbidden at every level. So yes, I was and am responsible.”
And the rest of us, Mr. Murdoch, are just as responsible for supporting,
condoning or just turning a blind eye to that culture. I don’t expect any number
of hearings or investigations will change it.
~ Deborah D. McAdams
Afterthought from a friend with whom I agree wholeheartedly: "News Corp. also owns several well-run TV stations, no worse than most and far better than many. I worked briefly for one, and having covered local TV for a while, I'd say Fox was certainly one of the better station groups in terms of the way it treated employees and its news product. News Corp. is more than just tabloids and screaming heads on Fox News. An overwhelming number of the 53,000 people mentioned in your column do not deserve to be tarnished with a broad brush."