America’s corporate news media love highlighting David-besting-Goliath stories…except apparently, when the fallen Goliath is major media mogul Rupert Murdoch – the billionaire owner of America’s caustic FOX News and other entities.
Arguably the biggest Goliath slaying story in the world during the past two years involved the unraveling of Murdoch’s news empire in England, where he exerted extraordinary influence over top British governmental officials from police to Parliament and even into that nation’s Prime Minister’s Office.
But disturbing documentation of wrongdoing by Murdoch minions, such as illegal hacking into telephones, arrests of top Murdoch executives and a scathing report from Parliament, elicited little sustained interest from America’s mainstream media into what is known variously as the ‘Murdoch Scandal’ and ‘England’s Watergate.”
This lack of ‘news’ coverage interest existed despite the fact that Murdoch’s News Corp is also a huge enterprise in the US where Murdoch’s FOX News routinely injects its highly partisan self in politics and public policy.
Even when one of the journalists who exposed America’s 1970s-era Watergate Scandal – Bob Woodward – broke a story in early December 2012 about a scheme by Murdoch to insert himself into the US presidency, America’s news media continued focusing on celebrity fluff and the looming ‘Fiscal Cliff.’
Woodward exposed a covert effort by Murdoch and his FOX News head, Roger Ailes, to recruit General David Petraeus as a 2012 presidential candidate, complete with pledges from Murdoch/Ailes to bankroll a Petraeus campaign personally run by Ailes, with FOX News providing avid on-air support fof this candidacy.
Petraeus declined the candidacy offer according to that Woodward report, which was curiously placed by Washington Post editors in its Style section, not on that newspaper’s front page — despite the fact that it was a huge story, and Woodward is the paper’s star reporter and holds the title of associate editor, with the job of overseeing its investigative reporting. (The Style section is where the Post has traditionally buried some of its most important but politically delicate exposes over the years.)
“The Murdoch story –- his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic –- is one of the most important and far reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30-years,” wrote Woodward’s Watergate reporting partner Carl Bernstein in a December commentary published in London’s Guardian newspaper. Bernstein blasted the U.S. media for ignoring Woodward’s exposé.
Although still reeling from scandals in England, Murdoch continues his wheeler-dealer efforts in the U.S. to win rule changes from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would permit him to expand his News Corp media empire here through increased monopoly ownership.
FCC rules currently bar a corporation from owning newspapers and television stations in the same market, though the agency, which is controlled by the appointees of whatever administration is currently in the White House, routinely grants “exemptions” to political favorites and major political campaign contributors.
Given the criminality explicit in the British Murdoch scandal and 24/7 FOX News savaging of U.S. President Barack Obama, why would the Obama Administration consider relaxing longstanding ownership rules to permit Murdoch to buy the top newspapers in Chicago and Los Angeles as he is attempting to do?
The Guardian’s dogged go-it-alone coverage of phone hacking and other misdeeds within Murdoch’s English media empire led to that scandal’s unraveling, inclusive of Murdoch’s July 2011 closure of his beloved News of the World newspaper (then England’s largest newspaper).
The May 2012 report from a British Parliament investigative committee declared Murdoch “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international corporation.”
That report blasted the Australian Media baron (he later acquired US citizenship so he could get around the rule barring foreign ownership of TV stations in the US) for “willful blindness” to the misdeeds of his underlings, whom he kept closely under his thumb until he disavowed knowledge of their misdeeds in an effort to evade accountability.
Murdoch persistently denies knowing about the misdeeds of his News of the World newspaper employees.
One of the arrested Murdoch employees, former newspaper executive Andy Coulson, served as the press spokesman for Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron until January 2011, when he resigned due to mounting pressure from the evolving phone hacking scandal. Police arrested Coulson in July 2011.
Cameron hired Coulson in 2007 after Coulson left Murdoch’s News of the World under a cloud of impropriety from an earlier phone hacking debacle. Coulson nonetheless reportedly secured Murdoch’s personal backing for Cameron’s successful bid for the PM position – the British equivalent of the U.S. presidency.
A key player in this epic mangling of Goliath Murdoch is a classic David figure – British lawyer Mark Lewis – whose representation of clients victimized by phone hacking and other illegal conduct within Murdoch’s English empire contributed to erection of scandal-tracking scaffolding that eventually reached Murdoch’s corporate suite.
Lewis’ clients included the family of Milly Dowler, a teen murder victim.
Revelations that News of the World’s scandal-mongering reporters had hacked into the voicemail of the then missing Dowler – deleting voicemails so as to continue giving Dowler’s distraught parents the false impression that she was still alive – galvanized public opinion against that newspaper and eventually against Murdoch himself.
“Only twice in the past 70-years have political parties in Britain had a consensus: World War II and Milly Dowler,” asserted Lewis during a panel discussion on the Murdoch scandal last spring at the Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium held at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
That Symposium featured a screening of the insightful “Frontline” documentary “Murdoch’s Scandal.” Lowell Bergman, the lead correspondent for that documentary, is an investigative reporting professor at Berkeley’s J-School.
The director/producer of that “Scandal” documentary, Neil Docherty, said, “The thing that surprised me the most in doing this story is the amount of control Murdoch and his News Corporation had over police and politicians.”
Docherty added, “One police official who said there was nothing to investigate regarding phone hacking was later forced to resign. Then he became a columnist for a Murdoch newspaper.”
That collusion between Murdoch employees and top officials of London’s Metropolitan Police represents one of the seamier undersides of this serial misconduct, said lawyer Mark Lewis during a TCBH! interview.
“Murdoch bought police with wine and football [soccer in England] tickets,” said Lewis. “The big issue is that corruption in the Met came from top to bottom not bottom to top. Police corruption is a huge problem in England.”
The cozy relationship between Murdoch’s media empire and the Metropolitan Police dates from a major mid-1980s labor dispute between newspaper unions and Murdoch, where strikers contend police brutalized them.
Collusive behaviors, according to a special union report published in the fall of 2011, included News of the World reporters setting up people to commit crimes and then police “would arrive to nab the culprits, usually on a Saturday afternoon, giving the paper its Sunday scoop and the police their arrest.”
John Pilger, a journalist who, like Murdoch, hails from Australia, contends phone hacking and influence peddling are not Murdoch’s most atrocious misdeeds.
“The most enduring and insidious Murdoch campaign has been against the Aboriginal people,” Pilger wrote a few years ago. FOX News in America is often criticized for racist content/commentary against blacks and Hispanics.
Thinking that the British Murdoch scandal in particular or big media ownership in general is no big deal as long as the media provides weather, traffic, some headline news and/or favored shows ignores the reality that what people hear and see in the media all too often becomes what they believe.
The FOX News Channel – the preeminent purveyor of malicious right-wing partisanship (a/k/a propaganda) and utter misinformation in America – is a prime example.
A survey released in November 2012 by researchers at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University documented that people who only watch FOX News are less informed about facts than all other news consumers — and that’s starting from a pretty low bar. The findings of this survey mirror previous findings about ill-informed FOX News viewers.
If there is any consolation to the timid treatment of Murdoch’s misdeeds by U.S. mainstream media it is that they are following in the footsteps of British media.
“The press in England was afraid of the phone hacking scandal because they were scared of Murdoch’s power to attack them,” said lawyer Mark Lewis, who was himself the target of threats and dirty-tricks by Murdoch corporate operatives.
“Murdoch’s attacks on politicians through his newspapers pushed whole areas of policy off of public discussions.”