Murdoch’s Unraveling Empire: The Need for Civic Engagement

rebekah brooks

Rebekah Brooks

The only thing more remarkable than the news of the Rupert Murdoch hacking-bribery scandal itself is the rate of its unraveling – and Murdoch’s unraveling.  For this international kingmaker and media mogul – who built an empire on yellow journalism and destroying the lives of others – it seems rather fitting that his fall from grace would take place under such sensationalism and salaciousness.

Allegations that the now-defunct News of the World, Murdoch’s largest tabloid, maintained a massive phone hacking operation targeting 4,000 people – including politicians, celebrities and murder victims – has led to 10 arrests in the UK.  One of those arrested was Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s deputy at News International until she recently resigned.  And the top two officials at Scotland Yard quit their posts amid allegations that the corporation bribed the police.

And now Rupert, his son James, and the ousted Brooks come before the British Parliament, humbled and hat in hand, to apologize and express their shock that this sort of wrongdoing even took place.

U.S. lawmakers have hinted that the phone hacking scandal is about to spill over into the States, as the FBI announced an investigation into alleged hacking of 9-11 victims and their families.  Meanwhile, Murdoch’s News Corp. has lost billions in just days, and rightly so, as he was forced to drop his bid to buy British company BSkyB.  The deal would have garnered him 40 percent of the UK broadcasting market.  And oddly, in a case of peculiar timing, the whistleblower, a News of the World reporter, mysteriously died.  And certainly there’s more to come.  After all, it is already known that Murdoch has paid about $655 million to erase charges of corporate espionage in the U.S.

Given the questionable ways in which the billionaire has conducted business over the years, the revelations should not come as a complete surprise.  As he destroyed unions, competitors and political enemies, Rupert Murdoch was allowed to make his own set of the shady rules while everyone watched.  And some were paid to look the other way.  When one person is allowed to amass such power and influence, graft and corruption are often a part of the process.  In Britain, the Murdoch family purportedly used criminals to do dirty jobs.  And like any proper organized crime boss, he owned politicians, carrying them in his pocket “like so many nickels and dimes.”

wendi deng rupert murdoch

Rupert Murdoch, Wendi Deng

In America, Murdoch’s New York Post and Fox News, masquerading as champions of working-class populism, offend our sensibilities as they endorse the most regressive rightwing policies.  The Post’s cartoon depiction of President Obama as an ape shot to death by two white police officers reflects a long history of racially offensive images and words promulgated by that newspaper.

Moreover, Murdoch’s “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel has operated as a media arm of the Republican Party, and an official network of the Tea Party movement.  Fox News has carved out its niche by offering race-baiting as standard fare, and offering a soapbox to personalities with ties to hate groups, including Glenn Beck.  Despite this, lawmakers have willingly appeared on the network.  And one must wonder if Murdoch bought his U.S. citizenship, which he needed as a prerequisite for owning American television stations.

With the mogul’s downfall and removal from the company he built now a plausible scenario, Rupert Murdoch provides a cautionary tale.  Journalism at its best acts as a disinfectant.  But through the use of race baiting and outright lying in the reporting of the so-called “news,” Murdoch has polluted the public discourse and has helped to defile and degrade our politics.  And while journalists at their best are supposed to act as a check on official power, News Corp. has reveled in its ability to accumulate power by any means and serve the interests of the greedy, a media version of the Koch brothers.  No scruples, no code of ethics, no social responsibility, just cozying up to the powerful and providing them cover.  Last year, News Corp. contributed $1 million each to the Republican Governors Association and the Chamber of Commerce on the grounds that it was “in the interest of the country and of all the shareholders … that there be a fair amount of change in Washington.” cont’d on page 2


  1. says

    A hidden danger in the Rupert Murdoch scandals that are unfolding in Britain and in the United States is that authoritarians will be able to dupe well meaning politicians into legislating by panic. Additionally, politicians who simply want to see their name in print and their face on television will exploit the scandal to legislate in an over-reaching manner to ban practices that are both legitimate and necessary for journalists and private investigators under certain circumstances.

    Suppose you were a journalist or a private investigator in Nazi Germany. Would you break the law to expose mass murder? Of course, if you had any sense of decency and enough courage. That would be morally justified.

    On the other hand, do you hack into a dead girl’s voicemail or email just to get lurid information in order to sell newspapers?

    There are already plenty of laws on the books to prevent and punish those kinds of transgression, so beware of any legislation that might have implications and chilling effects on legitimate journalism and investigations. To see more of the intricacies involved in this debate, see:

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