By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The ongoing collapse of Murdoch’s media empire

Rupert Murdoch

Like media obsessives everywhere, I’ve been watching with gleeful fascination as Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire collapses around him. I wish nothing but ill for the “rotten old bastard,” and I certainly don’t expect that the electrifying news of the moment — that he has withdrawn his bid for BSkyB — will be the end of it.

The next step is for the Murdoch media scandal to get untracked in the United States. There’s certainly plenty for us to sink our teeth into. Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton is a Murdoch intimate who is up to his neck in the British phone-hacking scandal. Even better, the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are mandated by law to investigate Murdoch’s News Corp. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because of allegations that Murdoch’s British operations paid bribes to police officers. (I can’t believe I’m linking to Eliot Spitzer.)

Even a few days ago, some critics doubted Murdoch would fall because of all the powerful friends he had made. It’s clear now — it should have been then — that he has no friends. He had allies he cultivated, and he was able to do so because they feared him. Now the fear is gone. Instructive is this New York Times story on how quickly British prime minister David Cameron is moving away from him. Far more entertaining is this Simon Jenkins commentary in the Guardian, which I guess is sort of a defense of Murdoch. Roasted genitals figure prominently.

Kudos to the Guardian (for whom I am a contributing writer), which has led the way on breaking the Murdoch story. You can follow its coverage here.

Also worth bookmarking is Greg Mitchell’s “Murdoch Watch” blog at the Nation. Mitchell is nothing if not comprehensive, as he has proved by blogging WikiLeaks developments over the past seven months. The WikiLeaks story may have allegations of sex, but for my money the Murdoch story is a lot sexier.

Photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and republished here under a Creative Commons licnese. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Mike Benedict

    Worst thing Jimmy Carter ever did was giving Murdoch the time of day. To acknowledge him is to legitimize him.

  2. L.K. Collins

    Your post, Dan, has all the qualities of a yappy chihuahua barking at the wheels of a 150-car freight train.

  3. Sean Griffin

    So what does that make you, L.K.?

  4. Laurence Glavin

    There’s always been some confusion betweent Fox’s cable networks, FNC and FBN on the one hand, and the Fox Broadcast Stations and their sister networks, Fox and MyTV. It appears that no matter how much trouble the Murdoch Empire gets into in the UK and the US, the cable operations should be able to continue. However, its owned-and-operated stations, the backbone of the Fox Broadcast Network and MyTV, could come under FCC scrutiny if News Corp should be conceived as an enterprise that doesn’t meet a certain agency-determined degree of ethics. This happened with General Tire/RKO General, which is how David Mugar would up with channel 7 in Boston. To get an idea how much the loss of these broadcast licenses would damage News Corp, here’s a list of the TV stations it owns in many of the country’s largest markets(including Boston’s WFXT):

  5. L.K. Collins

    One who calls it for what it is, Mr, Griffin.

  6. Mal Johnson

    Seems to me Murdoch operated in Boston for a while. Has anyone looked into what the Herald was up to in those years? Has anyone asked Mr. Purcell what he thinks of all this?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mal: Not to be overly literal, but Murdoch sold the Herald in 1994, well before cellphones came into truly widespread use.

  7. Mal Johnson

    Are journalistic ethics confined to hacking cell phones e.g. paying off police?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mal: Well, as I said, not to be overly literal. Though Murdoch’s heyday with the Herald was in the 1980s, and that was a long time ago.

  8. Mike Benedict

    @Sean: I’d say it makes L.K. someone who is highly obsessive over small dogs.

  9. L.K. Collins

    And Mikey is just obsessive. But hey…that’s why we like him so much.

  10. Aaron Read

    “Collapse of the Murdoch Media Empire”? I think you’re letting schadenfreude get in the way of journalistic objectivity, Dan. I’m no fan of Murdoch, but methinks NewsCorp’s total domination of the political media landscape in the US will continue just fine, thank you.

    When someone says that Fox News Channel must be shut down and ended – THEN I’ll agree that Murdoch’s Media Empire is collapsing…and not a minute before.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: It’s Watergate, and it’s two weeks in. Though I wouldn’t say FNC has to be taken off the air before we can say Murdoch’s empire has collapsed. That’s like saying Watergate was no big deal because Nixon wasn’t sent to prison.

  11. Mike Benedict

    Speaking of dogs, like a little Yorkie yipping at my heels, L.K. can always be counted on to show plenty of bravado (but little common sense).


  12. L.K. Collins

    You know, Mikie, a doctor can help you would your obsessive compulsive disorder.

  13. L.K. Collins

    Correction: with….

  14. Aaron Read

    @Dan: I’m inclined to defer to your judgment on this; you’ve seen more and have a lot more experience on the topic. But FWIW, the Watergate comparison feels like a real stretch to me.

    To be sure, Murdoch has enemies…very serious enemies. But most of them in the media biz (at least here in the USA) are none too thrilled with the idea of politicians starting to think they can stand up to media moguls. I think they’ll hang together before they hang separately.

    Actually, I think Watergate was wildly overblown precisely because Nixon didn’t go to prison. It was, and remains, one of the most naked examples of how the powerful ultimately watch out for each other and are accountable to no one. And before anyone says Nixon destroyed America’s faith in the power of government to do good, give me a break. It was already dead long before Nixon…he was just the final nail in that coffin.

    And unless FNC is forced off the air, it will remain the fantastically corrosive power that it is today. It’s an all-or-nothing world.

    Frankly, even a drastic act like stripping Murdoch of his dual-citizenship, and thus forcing him to divest his media holdings in the USA, would not be sufficient. He’d just find a proxy to do his bidding from the shadows and it’d be business as usual.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: The Watergate comparison is the Phoenix’s, and my endorsement of it is slightly facetious. Nevertheless, I do think this is likely to keep unraveling until it’s all over for Murdoch.

  15. Rachel Alembakis

    @Dan- I’ve been wondering what “all over” actually looks like. The break-up of News Corp? Rupert and his children resigning from the company? What is the end game?

    FWIW, I should point out that there will most likely be investigations here in Australia as well:

    “THE fallout from the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal in Britain could reach Australia, where there is a growing push from politicians for an independent inquiry into the media.

    The government is considering backing a Greens move for a Senate or independent inquiry that would include media ownership laws, newspaper self-regulation, journalist ethics and opinion masquerading as news.”

    Mind you, I’m not too pleased at the tone of the investigation and calls from former PM Paul Keating to set up a government media regulator.

    Note as well that there could be negative impact on the Australian arm of the business, which is bidding to win overseas broadcasting rights for the locally generated content from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Special Broadcast Service. Some are asking if there should be a “fit and proper” test to participate in the tender…

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rachel: Good question. To me, “all over” could mean anything from a near-total loss of influence (that much seems pretty much guaranteed at this point) all the way to Rupe’s closest associates and family members — and maybe even Murdoch himself — facing prison.

  16. LFNeilson

    Murdoch will have the same end-game as all living beings, only with a bizarre twist as he moves down the home stretch. News Corp will probably survive, but this episode has given his life story a tawdry tabloid touch. And it’s placed him under the magnifying glass. It’s not over yet.

  17. Mike Benedict

    I’m with Dan on this. In times of crisis, you need allies. Murdoch’s entire career has consisted of 1) buying influence or 2) bullying it out of people. Look around: who is rising to his defense? Meanwhile, all those whom he ran roughshod over spy an opportunity for revenge. And unfortunately for Mr. Fox News, many of those people are in positions to do something about it.

    He is done.

  18. Rick Peterson

    Whole lotta “there but for the grace of God go I” going on, IMHO, over there and back here. Prison for Rupert or his family? Really? Were his tactics in Britain that unique? (Glass houses and all that.) As long as he owns the #1 circulation paper in the USA, will “a near total loss of influence” really be “guaranteed”? It might make sense for all to take a deep breath, put down the tar and feathers and consider the sources of some wishful thinking taking place here. Bootstrapping the actions of some Fleet St. dirtbags into a stigmatized Wall St. Journal is like saying that Jayson Blair “brought down” the NY Times. To those bozos who believe it, there was nothing “up” in the first place.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rick: Your comment is definitely a keeper. Check back in a month.

  19. Tim Nelson

    Will you also take glee in all the job losses Dan if Murdoch goes down and if you want the government to take out media companies why not go after the Times and Post for being Bush’s cheerleaders that brought two wars and continue with Obama that has us in one more ( yes eventually we will be in Libya )

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tim: Why would any of Murdoch’s media properties cease to exist if the Rupe goes down? Yes, he shut News of the World, but the reasons were mysterious, and he’ll soon replace it with a new Sunday Sun. The most likely scenario for getting rid of Murdoch is a shareholders’ revolt.

  20. Reggie Giguere

    Though I find this entire debacle very disturbing, what I find MOST concerning is the continued decline of the integrity of the news media, in general.

    Not too many moons ago, the public could rely on them to-in the words of Edward R. Murrow-“educate & inform”; to REPORT the news. Although there has always existed this “love/hate relationship” between the public & the media, during especially turbulent times citizens trusted that the media would “get to the bottom of it” and give the public the FACTS. (To borrow from you, Mr. Kennedy, Watergate comes to mind). They would educate & inform us and allowed us to make up our own minds.

    Today, I find very little of that. Instead, too many news media outlets find it necessary (?) to share with their opinions on the issues of the day. And they do so very loudly & very forcefully. As if they don’t want the pubic to think for themselves. What is sadder still is the public is fast becoming a nation of sheep by allowing the media to do their thinking for them! I, for one am sick & tired of it.

    Case in point: The Casey Anthony trial. I’m willing to wager what little I have that, even those who WATCHED the trial on TV, based their guilty verdict on the, again, forceful & loud, summations of Nancy Grace &/or Dr. Drew and NOT just the testimony & evidence presented to the jury and how it was presented.

    I really wish the news media would get back to simply reporting the news, encourage the public to think for themselves and not BECOME the news. THAT I would be willing to pay for: even on-line!!

  21. Mike Benedict

    @Dan: “The most likely scenario for getting rid of Murdoch is a shareholders’ revolt.”

    Disagree. Murdoch controls 40% of the voting shares, and currently has the support the second-largest shareholder as well. I think it will be legal pressure that topples him.

  22. Rick Peterson

    Interesting how everyone was (appropriately)worried about the safety of the current POTUS after his inauguration. I anxiously await their response to the nutcase who tried to go after Murdoch this morning during testimony before parliament. I sure hope blind hatred isn’t OK if practiced by the “right people”.

  23. Mike Benedict

    @Rick: There’s nothing unusual in England about the pie-throwing.

    Actually, there’s nothing unusual in the UK about throwing anything one might find in their refrigerator:

    That’s what happens when you ban guns. It’s actually kind of nice.

  24. Mike Rice

    How does someone gain access to a Parliamentary hearing with a shaving cream pie? “What’s in the bag?” “Nothin’.”

  25. Rick Peterson

    @Mike: I guess if you presume that the inability to have a civil interrogation by a legislative body is the price one pays for avoiding gun violence, I would agree. The British zeitgeist is obviously very different from ours, including making iconic media moguls into the people some love to hate, much like some of them detest their anachronistic monarchy.
    Case in point:
    Last night one of the PBS stations I get had a rebroadcast of “MI-5”, one of my favorites. The episode dealt with an older, multi-national, right-wing newspaper mogul with a penchant for younger women. (Gee, wonder who that might have been?) The man’s evil plan to usurp the British political system is thwarted by spies who bug him as he did others and who use any means possible to destroy his economic and political power (including false accusations of rape), forcing him to relocate to America. TV Guide indicated that this show was first aired in 2004. Some folks have apparently been gunning for this guy for years. Fair enough. If he’s stupid enough to not manage effectively, allowing indefensible methods by his employees, throw the book at him. But to conflate that into American investigations of American employees who would never DREAM of such activities is just wrong. These are real people with real media jobs who don’t deserve to be collateral damage in the Culture Wars. I find it ironic that some of those calling for Murdoch’s head are the first to accuse others of “McCarthyism”.

    • Dan Kennedy

      “I find it ironic that some of those calling for Murdoch’s head are the first to accuse others of ‘McCarthyism’.”

      @Rick: Got any examples, with links? Hell, got one example?

  26. Rick Peterson

    @DK: Gotta get some work done but I suspect it would be interesting to discover what “Lou Grant”, (Ed Asner) would have to say about all this. As an ACLU and SAG activist, he is, one presumes, not a big Murdoch fan.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rick: Ah, so no examples. Got it.

  27. Mike Benedict

    @Rick: Careful who you agree with. LK might start stalking you, too.

  28. Rick Peterson

    BTW, (before I resume my pathetic life),

    “Glenn Beck vs. Van Jones: McCarthyism Enters the 21st Century”

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