Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rupert Murdoch's Diseased Ethics

At noon on July 14, 2011, about 100 people gathered on the west side of 5th Avenue at 64th Street, directly across from Rupert Murdoch’s apartment building. They were demonstrating against the constant race-baiting of Fox News as well as the growing evidence of illegal wire-tapping solely for the purpose of news scoops. 

The demonstration was organized by ColorOfChange.org, an African American civil rights organization. Color of Change also had over 112,000 petitions calling on Fox News to fire Eric Bolling for his racial stereotyping, such as when he accused President Obama of “chugging forties” in Ireland and inviting “hoodlums to the hizzouse.” Remember, under Bush, how Fox News would call him “Commander in Chief” in an almost sacrosanct manner? Doesn’t Obama deserve the same? What became of Fox’s deep respect for the office of the President of the United States? 

Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s executive director told the demonstrators that Americans were tired of being divided by race and that “We are standing up to say that we will no longer allow our communities to be attacked by a man more interested in profits than American values.”  When he and the group attempted to deliver the petitions to the Murdoch address, the doorman, predictably, claimed the building “was not accepting packages” and refused to take them. 

The Petitions at the door

In the following days, as we know all too well, the lid blew off the top of the long-simmering News of the World wiretapping scandal in Britain, and the world has been introduced to a rogues’ gallery of criminal misbehavior and unethical practices by Murdoch’s underlings. Here are some of the players: 

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch: chairman and controlling shareholder of News Corporation, one of the world’s largest media conglomerates;  he is the 117th wealthiest person in the world; called to testify before Parliament last week.

James Murdoch: Rupert’s son, who is in charge of News Corporation’s European operations; called to testify before Parliament last week.

Andy Coulson
Andy Coulson: former editor of News of the World; then he became Prime Minister James Cameron’s director of communications; left post in January because of phone-hacking affair; arrested in July.

Rebekah Brooks: former editor of News of the World and chief executive of News International; resigned on July 15, 2011, arrested two days later in connection with phone hacking and corruption, released and also testified before Parliament.

Clive Goodman
Clive Goodman: royal correspondent for News of the World; arrested for intercepting royal household phone messages; served a four-month jail term in 2007; rearrested in July 2011 with new hacking revelations.

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Glen Mulcaire: News of the World investigator; pleaded guilty to phone hacking in 2007, and jailed; News of the World had been paying his legal fees until the day after the Murdochs’ recent testimony before Parliament.

Sir Paul Stephenson - Ceremony Marks The 25th Anniversary Of The Death Of PC Yvonne Fletcher
Sir Paul Stephenson: Once Scotland Yard’s deputy commissioner and now its chief, the most senior police officer in the UK; he had approved almost $40,000 in payments in 2009-10 to the second ranking editor at News of the World, who was acting as his personal media consultant; he has announced his resignation because of his connections with the Murdochs.

Dick Fedorcio, the Metropolitan police director of public affairs
Dick Fedorcio: Metropolitan Police communications director, who played a role in the hiring of Neil Wallis; during the phone hacking probe, he dined regularly with News of the World executives.

John Yates Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates announces that he is to step down following criticism of his handling of a review of the initial phone hacking investigation and failure to recognise the potential threat to the force's reputation on July 18, 2011 in London, England. Yates is the latest resignation following the current phone hacking scandal surrounding News International that has escalated with the resignation yesterday of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and the arrest of former News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks.
John Yates: Former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, resigned Monday, July 18 over criticism of his investigation of the phone hacking scandal.

David Cameron: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom/leader of the Conservative Party; in trouble for his cozy friendships with Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, and for the hiring of Coulson.

FILE- In this Dec. 3, 2008 file photo, Les Hinton, Chief Executive Officer of Dow Jones & Co. is seen at the Dow Jones New York offices. Dow Jones confirms on Friday, July 15, 2011, that Hinton will r
Les Hinton: former editor of News of the World, then executive chairman of News International; one of Murdoch’s closest deputies; came to America as chief executive of Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, from which he just resigned

Joel Klein New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein attends the 7th Annual Common Sense Media Awards honoring Bill Clinton at Gotham Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.
Joel I. Klein: Former New York City Schools chancellor; now a senior News Corp executive and close confidante to Murdoch, often referred to as Murdoch’s consigliere

These merely scratch the surface of  this  rogue's gallery, and now that the Murdoch empire can no longer rely on buying special treatment and intimidating its way out of investigations, more emerge every day. The myriad unethical activities that he and his organizations condoned and partook in finally tilted the scales against him because one, specific phone hacking incident was just too egregious--that perpetrated on 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who had been abducted and murdered in 2002. 

For at least two decades, Murdoch and his media empire have played kingmaker in British politics. As was written in the New York Times on July 16, “Mr. Murdoch has been a figure of towering political importance, credited by many British politicians with the power to make and unmake governments as well as influence government policies that affect the fortunes of his newspaper and television interests.” For example, he dumped the Conservatives to support Labour in 1997, and Labour stayed in power under Blair until Murdoch decided to support the Conservatives and Cameron in 2010. This is not what news organizations are meant to do. 

And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is simply a British issue. Murdoch’s talons are deep into America’s flesh (as well as that of Asian countries). He shuttles his senior executives and editors across the Atlantic, and their questionable ethics accompany them. There’s a promiscuity in all this.  Whatever Murdoch touches gets affected by his diseased sense of ethics, no matter which continent we examine. 

Here in America, he wrested control of Dow Jones and Company (and with that, The Wall Street Journal) from the Bancroft family with one of his favorite tactics--divide and conquer.  He then installed two of his closest deputies, Robert Thomson and Les Hinton. In the process, as Joe Nocera has written, The Wall Street Journal became “Fox-ified” with shorter articles, less depth and more politically propagandistic towards the right.  Thus, the “disease” has already infected and weakened one of our once-great newspapers. 

In another instance, Murdoch has somehow managed to cut a special deal with Apple and won a recurring subscription on its iPad for his news app, The Daily, designed solely for iPads and other tablet computers. In so doing, he is cornering the market in a new form on online media based on paid content. This will make him even richer and able to buy greater power and influence. 

More brazenly, ever since the election of President Obama, Fox News has forcefully promoted conservative candidates and the Tea Party movement. Murdoch’s News Corporation has entered into partisan politics as no organization like it has ever before.  In 2010, it gave $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of electing Republicans; its News America division gave better than $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. For an organization ostensibly dedicated to providing news, this is hardly “fair and balanced!” The “fourth estate,” by tradition and definition, is meant to be independent of government. 

In the past decade, Murdoch’s News Corporation has paved a money trail deep into Congress and the federal agencies that oversee his industry. Since 2001, his company has spent over $42 million in lobbying lawmakers and regulators. Through intimidation, bribery, illegal phone hacking and other unethical practices, Rupert Murdoch has built a powerful media empire that is intent upon influencing elections and changing laws that interfere with its growth. Is this really what we want for America?

David Brooks and Dr. Strangelove

Every so often, maybe 30% of the time, the usually astute David Brooks lets his Republican heart take control of his column, and his analytic rigor goes south. “Congress In the Lead” (New York Times, July 26, 2011) represents one of these lapses.

David Brooks Meet The Press

Let me first state that there are a few places in this Op-Ed piece where Brooks gets it right. One is connecting Obama’s Friday appearance before the public with “bringing Congress together.” But since Boehner had, once more, walked out on discussions, the onus should be placed on him and Republicans' continued recalcitrance, not on the President’s Friday appearance, which is what Brooks does.

Then Brooks states that “the White House negotiating process was inadequate:” no argument here. Obama tends to make concessions before ever starting the actual negotiations; that's not merely inadequate, it's naive and counterproductive. So he and I can agree on this, but for rather different reasons, I suspect.

I also would agree with Brooks’ observation that “Obama won’t get his centrist election boost.” Again, we concur for different reasons. As I see it, Obama may not get a centrist boost because he already has positioned himself far right of center. Many centrists may well be praying for a viable third party candidate, and so deny him of that boost.

But then, we come to David Brooks’ dark, Republican heart, taking over the discourse much like the way Dr. Strangelove’s arm would uncontrollably give him away by snapping into a Nazi salute in Kubrick’s film.

For example, Brooks, referring to Obama’s Friday appearance, states that “the president lost his cool.”  Most of America is anxiously waiting for Obama to lose his cool; alas, that seems not to be in his nature.  If it were, Congressional Republicans by now (or maybe even a year ago) might have been chastised into some form of sane behavior, and we wouldn’t be at today’s impasse.

Second, he implies the breakdown in talks is partly due to Obama and Boehner not writing down and releasing their “negotiating positions.”  Is he joking?  Given the Tea Party “tail” wagging the Republican “dog,” had Obama written down anything (and one aspect would certainly have had to be at least some consideration of tax/revenue issues) Boehner would never had stepped through the portal to begin negotiations.

Thirdly, Brooks blames the President for projecting “‘I’m the only mature person in Washington’ condescension that drives everybody else crazy.” You know something, David? Obama may well be the only mature person in Washington, at least among anyone who is being given any public coverage at the moment.  

Furthermore, when people feel condescended to, it often is because they are behaving immaturely and they are aware of this. Therefore, they--and I include you in this--are the ones projecting. Obama is merely being Obama;  remember “no-drama-Obama?”  Republican Congress is simply scrambling to find the high ground that they frittered away two years ago.

Finally, Brooks conveniently leaves out a crucial issue that must be addressed (and he is far from alone in this omission). That issue is jobs--the need for some sort of jobs program--which is much more important than the debt ceiling issue.

But all Brooks can talk about is “the country’s awful debt problems.” If you want to talk debt, David, please be honest enough to remind your readers that President Clinton left our country with a $5-trillion surplus, which was quickly squandered by President Bush (maybe the worst president our country has ever had).

Please, also, remind your readers that Republicans in Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling seven (7) times under president Bush. Armed with these facts, your readers might really begin to question your wording--“the country’s awful debt problem”--and the tacit implication that this is a problem caused by Obama and Democrats.

And finally, near the end of his article, Brooks refers to “the next debt ceiling fight,” which suggests that he has embraced the new “Boehner” plan (which leaves open such insanity to our immediate future) over the “Reed” plan (which actually gives the Republicans more than they ever could have dreamed of a year ago but also resolves the debt ceiling issue once-and-for-all).

I find it hard to believe that someone of Brooks’ intellect can actually embrace the possibility of retaining this “blackmail” card of another debt-ceiling fight that the Republicans have already played with such insidious irresponsibility.  But then, one never knows when that black heart of his will take over from his otherwise powerful mind.