Watchdog Blog

Barry Sussman: If News Corp Is Clean, Wouldn’t Murdoch’s Lawyers Say So?

Posted at 5:44 pm, August 16th, 2011
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Rupert Murdoch is back under attack in London. The New York Times reports charges that bugging of telephones was widely discussed at the News of the World, despite years of denials by chief editors and owners. Also, officials at a law firm said it has not given the News of the World “a clean bill of health” as the Murdochs have claimed.

Things may have been quiet on the Murdoch front the last few weeks, but the mogul obviously is not home free. Nowhere near it.

Of interest to Americans are three other Murdoch stories, one by Frank Rich in New York Magazine; one by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone, and one by John Dean in the Guardian. The first two show Murdoch comfortable with corruption, criminality, and sleaze. And Dean makes the point that if there’s no criminal behavior by individuals or the corporation, Murdoch’s lawyers would have no reason to remain silent, as “such a statement would largely end the story.”

Frank Rich (who reveals that as a young man he worked for Murdoch at the New York Post), neatly gets to the basics:

The wholesale buying of elected officials is such a staple at Fox News we don’t think twice about it anymore. While it has long been routine for retired politicians, former officials, and semi-retired campaign operatives to join the ranks of American print and television journalism—whether on ABC (George Stephanopoulos), CNN (Donna Brazile, William Bennett), or MSNBC (Chris Matthews), or in the Times (from William Safire to Peter Orszag)—only at Fox were four active potential presidential candidates literally on the payroll (Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich, Santorum) for chits that can be cashed in should any of them end up in or near the White House. (And you can bet if any of them do, Murdoch will not be entering through the back door.) Karl Rove, who has held sinecures at both Fox and The Wall Street Journal since leaving the Bush administration, is hardly comparable to, say, James Carville and Mary Matalin bloviating on NBC’s Meet the Press once their respective campaign duties for Clinton and Bush the First were over. Unlike them, Rove remained a major political player after his White House tenure, presiding over political fund-raising organizations that assembled $71 million in 2010, including $25 million spent on some 30,000 ads attacking Democratic candidates and supporting Republican ones. (He’ll be even more active in 2012.) John Kasich, elected governor of Ohio last year, is a former Fox News host who made 42 Fox appearances as he contemplated running and another sixteen appearances as an active candidate, thereby making him, as Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone put it, “the first candidate of the Fox News Party.” Fox routinely publicized tea-party rallies at its inception even as News Corp. donated $1.26 million to the Republican Governors Association. This isn’t mere partisanship—which MSNBC also practices—but tantamount to a GOP–Fox News merger.

Rich cites the observation of former Bush speechwriter David Frum: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

Writes Dickinson, a Rolling Stone political correspondent and blogger:

The corruption exposed at the News of the World is not the work of a “rogue” element within News Corp. — it’s a reflection of the lawless culture that defines the company. As CEO, Murdoch not only tolerates employees and executives who push the boundaries of legality and good taste, he celebrates them — at least until the cops show up. “There’s a broader culture within the company,” Col Allan, editor of Murdoch’s New York Post, crowed in 2007. “We like being pirates.” Whatever veneer of integrity News Corp. may have accrued after its purchase of The Wall Street Journal the very same year masks an ingrained corporate ethos that believes integrity is for suckers. The attitude passed down from the top, says one veteran of Murdoch’s tabloids, is aggressive and straightforward: “Anything we do is OK. We’re News Corp. — so fuck you and fuck your mother.”

And later on, Dickinson writes:

Until the News of the World scandal became public, deplorable judgment and even outright criminal behavior have not been firing offenses for Murdoch’s top deputies, either in London or New York. A willingness to push the boundaries of the law and common decency, in fact, is what has made Murdoch a billionaire nearly eight times over. Murdoch himself has bragged of possessing files, replete with photographs detailing the sexual escapades of prominent liberals. You know, for leverage. All of which makes laughable Murdoch’s claim before Parliament that ‘I’m the best person to clean this up.’

John Dean, noting his personal experience with coverups, focuses on the array of lawyers now assisting Murdoch, with Joel Klein, a recent hire who Dean calls “an ideal fixer,” prominent among them. “Klein was too new to News Corp to be implicated in anything improper, plus he has impeccable legal credentials (Harvard Law, US supreme court law clerk, and a successful law practice). Klein had served as deputy White House counsel during Bill Clinton’s Whitewater scandal, and as the assistant attorney general for antitrust. Known for his ego, persistence and integrity, Klein was placed in charge by Murdoch.”

Dean writes that if the lawyers “could state that no person remaining in the News Corp organization, or the corporation itself, was involved in any criminal misconduct, there would be no reason for them to remain silent. Such a statement would largely end the story. The fact that the lawyers have absolved no one suggests to me that they have discovered potentially serious problems. Only Murdoch is suggesting the scandal will remain in the UK, and he is not the most reliable source.”

Time will tell.

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