Rupert Murdoch is a capitalist. Many think he is a journalist who became a capitalist. He spent the last three decades building a powerful media empire in the image of yellow tabloid journalist William Randolph Hearst, without feeling the need to build gaudy castles or squire starlets. His control of point-of-view broadcast news electrons is awesome. Many, if not most, consider him the Dark Side Emperor of the News.
Nobody dares cross him. He’s like Tony Soprano. Cross him, you ‘sleep wid da fishes.’ He has a formulaic system. Murdoch hires brilliant minds like Roger Ailes to run pieces of the empire (FOX News), pays them obscenely for results and keeps pushing boundaries until they no longer exist. Murdoch is feared more than respected and…never underestimate the power of fear in media, business or politics.
He has powerful friends and even more powerful enemies. Schadenfreude was a word created for the moment the arrow hit his Achilles heel. News of the World was a symptom, a tumor. Murdoch thought he could excise it and offer his Sun on Sunday in its place. Such a bold move would make it all go away, putting money in his pocket, and was planned for weeks. Since Murdoch knows where the bodies were buried, his political pals would protect his back.
But even he became too toxic and now, like Napoleon, he is trying to fight a battle on multiple fronts. This brouhaha could be his Waterloo. Greed, arrogance, and omnipotent vanity are the disease. Brutal business strength is his greatest asset and his Achilles Heel. One perfect shot and everything falls down.
ABC News speculated his entire empire is at risk. Steve Brill, founder of CourtTV suggested the FCC would challenge all of his licences. Nick Clegg of the Britain’s Liberal Democrats suggested he should do the honorable thing and walk away from the BSkyB deal (and $10 billion of control). And Carl Bernstein called this Murdoch’s Watergate.
It’s much simpler than even that. Murdoch got used to power, always winning and getting the money-making formula just right. He, like Richard Nixon, had more than enough hubris to spare and tried to make it seem he had plausible deniability as he sat, isolated, atop the empire. Shattering underlings’ careers was for pure sport, nothing could ever touch him.
In this case it should cost him the BSkyB control when Britain’s Parliament votes on Wednesday. Will it is the question? And if there was an opportunity for the British Government to partially atone for letting the bankers walk free the last two years whilst raiding the Treasury, there is one person under whose watch this all occurred who should be dragged before the bar as responsible.
No, Rupert is too old — he’d be dead before the stress of a trial got to him. It’s James Murdoch of whim I speak. He is the heir apparent to the entire roaches’ nest. He had direct control of all UK papers. He should be tried for criminal negligence in allowing a culture like that to grow, fester and become the symbol of their “fair and balanced” news reporting.
The public wants a high-profile scalp, not for the hacking crimes, which were indeed heinous, but to send a message to corporations: you cannot run your businesses irresponsibly, crush people’s lives with impunity or buy your way out of every jam. Sometimes the piper does need to be paid.
So we will watch the drama unfold this week in Westminster and around the world. Maybe, just maybe, the death of News of the World, could become the death of the evil death star called News International and the rebirth of honest and real investigative journalism.
Then the heroes will be the persistent Guardian reporter Nick Davies practicing good old-fashioned shoe leather and guilty of doing real reporting. Wouldn’t we all love for him to become the symbol of real journalism as opposed to blow-dried news actresses, muck-raking scam tipsters or let’s get one blowhard from each side and let them fight it out hucksterism that passes for journalism today?
We can only hope.