NewsCorp Strikes Back

WSJ has a blistering editorial seeking to put the NewsCorp hacking scandal in perspective.

Sandwiched in between paragraphs about its own high standards for journalistic integrity, WSJ has a blistering editorial (“News and Its Critics: A tabloid’s excesses don’t tarnish thousands of other journalists“) seeking to put the NewsCorp hacking scandal in perspective.

It is also worth noting the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a single media company, when British tabloids have been known for decades for buying scoops and digging up dirt on the famous. Fleet Street in general has long had a well-earned global reputation for the blind-quote, single-sourced story that may or may not be true. The understandable outrage in this case stems from the hacking of a noncelebrity, the murder victim Milly Dowler.

The British politicians now bemoaning media influence over politics are also the same statesmen who have long coveted media support. The idea that the BBC and the Guardian newspaper aren’t attempting to influence public affairs, and don’t skew their coverage to do so, can’t stand a day’s scrutiny. The overnight turn toward righteous independence recalls an eternal truth: Never trust a politician.

[…]

We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.

The prize for righteous hindsight goes to the online publication ProPublica for recording the well-fed regrets of the Bancroft family that sold Dow Jones to News Corp. at a 67% market premium in 2007. The Bancrofts were admirable owners in many ways, but at the end of their ownership their appetite for dividends meant that little cash remained to invest in journalism. We shudder to think what the Journal would look like today without the sale to News Corp.

In braying for politicians to take down Mr. Murdoch and News Corp., our media colleagues might also stop to ask about possible precedents. The political mob has been quick to call for a criminal probe into whether News Corp. executives violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with payments to British security or government officials in return for information used in news stories. Attorney General Eric Holder quickly obliged last week, without so much as a fare-thee-well to the First Amendment.

The foreign-bribery law has historically been enforced against companies attempting to obtain or retain government business. But U.S. officials have been attempting to extend their enforcement to include any payments that have nothing to do with foreign government procurement. This includes a case against a company that paid Haitian customs officials to let its goods pass through its notoriously inefficient docks, and the drug company Schering-Plough for contributions to a charitable foundation in Poland.

Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information, but the practice is common elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.

The last time the liberal press demanded a media prosecutor, it was to probe the late conservative columnist Robert Novak in pursuit of White House aide Scooter Libby. But the effort soon engulfed a reporter for the New York Times, which had led the posse to hang Novak and his sources. Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

The reminder that journalism is a business and that Murdoch and company have been profitable and invested money into reporting when too many competitors have not is useful.

The general point about not using this scandal to excuse government bullying news organizations is also well taken. But I’m dubious of cries of “1st Amendment” in the context of a bribery scandal. The freedom from abridgment of the press has never extended into allowing media outlets to commit crimes.

I am, however, nervous about the calls I’ve hard over the weekend for the use of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and, particularly, FCC morals clauses to be used as hammers against Murdoch and Fox News. These tools are easily abused.

 

 

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I am still forming my opinion of this situation (and, indeed, as my post a few minutes ago notes, still trying to get a handle on this story). However, I have a hard time taking advice on the matter from an editorial page overseen by News Corp.

    I do think that there is a threat of this becoming an ideological issue on this side of the Atlantic, given the contempt in which Fox News is held by many Democrats. Of course, stuff like the clip that Doug posted yesterday won’t help generate much sympathy.

    At a minimum, there is a difference between being a gossip rag and hacking into phones to get stories, so I find this (from the editorial) to be an irrelevant dodge:

    It is also worth noting the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a single media company, when British tabloids have been known for decades for buying scoops and digging up dirt on the famous

    Also, I am not sure why News Corps profitability is relevant.

  2. I think the real story here isn’t just the hacking, but also the incestuous relationship between the British press and the police and political worlds. When you read that police were selling the contact information for the Royal Family to NOTW reporters, that’s a pretty good indication of how far the rot has gone there.

    I’ve seen some speculation that News Corp. may send up selling off its British newspaper holdings if this continues because, as we can see here in the US, the scandal in Britain is starting to damage its brand elsewhere in the world

  3. Edvard M says:

    This is all Very Serious and the WSJ would like you to know there’s more than just invasion of privacy, bribery, and corruption involved. This affair could “perhaps injure press freedom in general.” We are all Rupert Murdoch now.

  4. MBunge says:

    I’m “Casablanca shocked” to find the WSJ sticking up for Murdoch.

    Mike

  5. ponce says:

    No, if the fall of the house of Murdoch is a tragedy, it’s the feel-good tragedy of the century. -James Wolcott

    If the Wall Street Journal hasn’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to worry about, right?

  6. hey norm says:

    I spent 15 very successful years in Broadcast Journalism before changing careers…and I have to tell you that I have a hard time getting worked up over this.
    A couple of European Tabloids going under is the least of journalisms problems. Seriously – we are concerned with them hacking into a girls phone? Evil yes – but earth shattering?
    We ought to be far more concerned that the so-called “serious” press doesn’t do their job. If they did we never would have invaded Iraq. There would be no discussion about the science of climate change – we would be having a discussion about how to act. There would be no talk of Creationism being taught in science class – it would be relugated to Sunday School where it belongs. There would never have been talk of Death Panels – the folks who made that up would have been smacked down before the words finished coming out of their mouths. And we would have long ago heard the end of fantasies about tax cuts and de-regulation being the path to the promised land of job creation – facts and history and sound theories would dominate economic discusions. Yet all of these things are treated as though they are a legitimate “other side of the story” when in fact they are fiction and deserve no credibility from the press – and thus the public – whatsoever.
    But stenography serves the powerful well…just look at Judith Miller…so nothing will change. No point getting worked up about a couple tabloids.

  7. @hey norm: I would agree, if the issue was just a tabloid. But if we are talking about things like attempts at hacking into the medical and financial records of a Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) and/or if we are talking about police looking the other way (or taking bribes or selling information) and/or if we are talking about unhealthy connections between execs at News Corp and members of the Conservative Party and high level officers at Scotland Yard, then maybe there is some there there.

    It appears that we are talking about more than just sleazy behavior by tabloid reporters.

  8. hey norm says:

    @SLT…
    I may have glossed over some details, which you rightfully point out…but really? Judith Miller transcribed what Cheney and Libby told her and then printed it in the NYTimes – the paper of record. Then Cheney turned around on Meet the Press and pointed to her article as justification for invading Iraq. The end result of the Bush administrations propaganda campaign and the massive failure of the press to do their job was that 4000 troops died and we spent upwards of $2T. Was there any uproar to match what we are seeing over this latest episode? Absolutely not. A couple “we could have done better” editorials…then nothing.
    My point is that what is going on in Europe is just another ugly symptom showing up in a disease-riddled patient.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    The general point about not using this scandal to excuse government bullying news organizations is also well taken. But I’m dubious of cries of “1st Amendment” in the context of a bribery scandal. The freedom from abridgment of the press has never extended into allowing media outlets to commit crimes.

    Yes, there’s a huge difference between the typical sleazy tabloid press and 4000 counts of hacking into people’s cellphones not to mention all the bribery that’s coming out. Its the difference between a school yard bully who takes you lunch money and la cosa nostra.

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts what we’ve learned so far about Newscorp’s illegal activities is only the tip of a very large iceburg. The mindset which justifies doing almost anything to gain advantage isn’t something which develops overnight. This was Rupert Murdoch’s attitude since before he began creating a media “empire”, and one thing we know for sure is that in any hierarchy attitude flows from the top down.

    I expect this story won’t be going away for a while; an investigative theatre will run for a few months to show our good politicians really do care about justice. A handful of sacraficial lambs will face prison time, and then we’ll be forced to listen to the “look forward not backward” spiel from those same politicians who’ve decided that for the good of their respective countries everyone else involved must receive retroactive immunity.

    We should keep in mind, that the utmost effort will be expended in maintaining business as usual. Too many people have become wealthy and powerful from it to allow anything resembling real justice to be meted out.

  11. ponce says:

    Evil yes – but earth shattering?

    I think you’re underestimating the amount of influence Rupert Murdoch has/had over British politics.

    And without the support of the British, many of the stupidest actions of the Bush administration wouldn’t have been possible.

    The British are/were the number one enablers of fringe right American foreign policy.

    Even if this scandal doesn’t topple any of Murdoch’s American propaganda factories, the American fringe right is crippled by this scandal.

  12. Muffler says:

    I find it interesting to note that the reaction by people to the way yet another News Corp property opinions about the very scandal that affects them. After allowing Murdoch a softball interview last week and Fox telling everyone to move along is it any wonder why people find this so offensive. It WSJ should at this time try not to say anything as no one cares if they are even partially correct. The stank is everywhere with the News Corp brand.

  13. cian says:

    The real problem here is not the hacking, its the cover up. In 2007 NI carried out an in-house investigation which clearly showed serious criminality taking place regularly and over many years within the News Of The World paper. Instead of acting upon this, senior executives of News International (including Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton) went before parliament and lied.

    The lies continued for a further four years and were accepted by a compliant police force and ignored by politicians from both parties. The power of the Murdock name was such that successive prime ministers were happy to do his bidding.

    The idea that the present and growing scandal is simply the age old story of sleazy journalism is to miss what is happening in the UK entirely. The public has woken up to the harm Murdock has done to their democracy. His newspapers brought him great power and he abused it again and again.

    As far as the UK is concerned, the Murdock Empire has collapsed and they have lost that thing they held most dear, power over others.

  14. Wayne says:

    If this wasn’t about Murdoch and Newscorp many of the critics would barely give a shit or may even praise them for trying to get at the truth.

    How many times has the media gain information illegally or inappropriately?

    Just look at movies and T.V. shows. Yes I know they are not real but it does show you the philosophy of those groups. In the movies reporters are constantly stealing information and breaking the law in order to break the story. They are celebrated and upheld as being heroic for doing so.

    Also it cracks me up many of you question the integrity of Fox News comments because they have a loosely financial interest in it. However that philosophy doesn’t carry over when it is their groups in the crosshairs like the Manmade Global Warming crowd that has a big financial interest in what they report.

  15. Ron Beasley says:

    @ponce: I think that Murdoch’s legacy may end up being the Tea Party which may yet destroy the Republican Party which he was trying to help.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    Wayne:

    That’s fiction written by Hollywood writers.

    This is reality.

  17. Robert Bell says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I would say the profitability of News Corp is relevant because it suggests a sustainable business model. For example, suppose some hypothetical superior organization could do a better, more objective, job of reporting, but cannot generate sufficient funds to hire enough reporters, editors, data feeds, technology infrastructure – then they will not be around long enough to matter.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @hey norm:
    Norm, agree 99%. My only quibble is that I think Creationism should be taught in high schools and colleges. It should be taught in a civics or current events class as a prime example of how a few extremists can corrupt the political process and pollute education.

  19. @Robert Bell: But how is any of that relevant to the question of alleged malfeasance?

  20. MBunge says:

    @Robert Bell: “I would say the profitability of News Corp is relevant because it suggests a sustainable business model.”

    The Mafia also has a sustainable business model, as does porn, prositution and a whole host of other things.

    Mike

  21. mattb says:

    For a really quick and insightful exploration of how the British Newsaper/News Ecosystem is different from that of the US, you should read/listen to Clive Crook of the Atlantic and the Financial Times talking about the differences from this weekend’s Morning Edition Saturday:

    http://www.npr.org/2011/07/16/138184602/news-corp-dynasty-crumbles-from-the-top-down

    A key takeaway is in Crook’s final comment:

    [A[ll the [British] parties are just the same. They have to get on with the newspapers. And why is that? I think it’s interesting that they have to because Britain has largely succeeded in getting money out of politics, something many Americans would like to do here. The consequence of doing that is that the newspapers become incredibly important and you have to have them in your pocket if you’re going to do well.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    Maybe the point is that free market and free press don’t work so well together.

    Where do we get our highest quality news? NPR, PBS, the BBC, even Al Jazeera — all government subsidized or non-profit. Where do we get our worst, most distorted news? Fox.

  23. Ernieyeball says:

    @hey norm: Norm Sez: “If they did we never would have invaded Iraq (this would be very hard to prove)…no discussion about the science of climate change (Brave New World)…There would be no talk of Creationism being taught in science class (the Speech Police will arrest you)…never…talk of Death Panels…folks who made that up would have been smacked down (The Thought Police will use their TASERs on you)…we would have long ago heard the end of fantasies about…de-regulation being the path to job creation – facts and history…”
    A fact or two about my history.
    I have worked in the telephone industry since 1973, two years before the Ford Administration thought it would be a good Republican Idea to bust a Trust. Ten years later we get the Modified Final Judgment and more work for me.
    As far as the news media “doing their job” is concerned it looks like you are just as anxious to have control over content as much as anyone else promoting a political agenda.

  24. hey norm says:

    @ Michael Reynolds…

    You forgot the Comedy Channel.

  25. hey norm says:

    @ Ernieeyeball…
    “…it looks like you are just as anxious to have control over content as much as anyone else promoting a political agenda…”
    No. It’s about facts versus fiction. Facts versus fantasy. Facts versus fruitcakes.
    Journalism no longer digs for truth. Fictional Deat Panels recieve credible coverage because journalists are too lazy to do anything but copy down whatever anyone says. Woodward and Bernstein themselves are stenographers today…concerned with access instead of meaning.

  26. mantis says:

    @Wayne:

    Just look at movies and T.V. shows. Yes I know they are not real but it does show you the philosophy of those groups. In the movies reporters are constantly stealing information and breaking the law in order to break the story. They are celebrated and upheld as being heroic for doing so.

    Shorter Wayne: Liberal Hollywood made them do it!

    Also it cracks me up many of you question the integrity of Fox News comments because they have a loosely financial interest in it. However that philosophy doesn’t carry over when it is their groups in the crosshairs like the Manmade Global Warming crowd that has a big financial interest in what they report.

    Hilarious. FOX News only has a “loose financial interest” in their parent company’s existence, yet all other media are totally dependent on umm, well, something. Climate change research grants? Who knows. Wingnuttia is a place where logic goes to die.

  27. Wayne says:

    @mr
    Having problem with reading comprehension? Reread my post.

    Fox gives both side of a story. The LSM typically give one. I guess if all you want is propaganda from your side than yes giving both sides ois worst. If you want the truth though giving both sides is better.

  28. Muffler says:

    @Robert Bell: So in an effort to make the news profitable it is requires braking the law and lying? I say this behavior is the easy path to making the news business profitable and if we didn’t allow it the better alternatives would innovate. How can anyone be so certain that Murdoch’s methods haven’t hurt the actual change needed to keep the news honest, productive to society and profitable.

  29. reid says:

    I’d prefer to hear the facts relating to a story, rather than “both sides”.

  30. ponce says:

    I think that Murdoch’s legacy may end up being the Tea Party which may yet destroy the Republican Party which he was trying to help.

    Murdoch’s influence in America is uncertain.

    Sure, he runs Fox News to milk the rubes, but he’s also responsible for some of the most subversive TV programs of the past 20 years.

  31. Liberty60 says:

    @reid:
    Is the Earth round or flat? Opinions vary!

    We report, you decide!

  32. Wayne says:

    @mantis
    The point is, that is the nature and philosophy of liberals and journalist which are mainly liberal. Even one’s that work for Murdoch tend to be liberal. Ignoring the nature of a business doesn’t make it go away. The media has been caught many times doing unethical stuff. It doesn’t excuse what this newspaper did but does help put it in perspective.

    There are many companies even in the media that have parent companies. What one “child” company does often has little to nothing to do with another child company. Just look at how NBC try to disassociate themselves from MSNBC even though they are much closer associated then Fox News is to the Newspaper in England. Look at some of Ted Turner deals. Sometimes they don’t work out and they end up selling a child comapny. Does that make all his ventures a failure or all child companies are the same? Of course not.

    Now I understand that your mind can’t comprehend such concepts even though they are fairly simple but that is your problem not mine.

  33. Wayne says:

    @ reid
    You don’t think there is almost always more than one perspective to a story?

  34. @michael reynolds:

    Where do we get our highest quality news? NPR, PBS, the BBC, even Al Jazeera — all government subsidized or non-profit.

    As I mentioned in another thread, I think the thing that really distinguishes those organizations is not that they’re public or non-profit; it’s that they get most of their revenue from the viewers rather than the advertisers. For advertiser funded news, the viewer is really the product, not the customer, so all the incentives are to produce the cheapest possible news that will still get people to tune in.

  35. reid says:

    Wayne: Facts are facts, and I don’t want to hear “both sides” (or more) on facts. See Liberty60’s post for a simple example. Unfortunately, facts get filtered through a biased, spin-heavy media these days. Yes, at Fox too. Especially, I’d say….

  36. DMan says:

    @Wayne:

    You don’t think there are always just two perspectives to a story that we must choose between?

  37. anjin-san says:

    That’s fiction

    Well yea, but fiction is where the basis of a conservative’s belief system is typically formed…

  38. anjin-san says:

    Having problem with reading comprehension? Reread my post

    You are doing a lot of typing, but not really saying anything. Focus, Daniel-San!

  39. Wayne says:

    @DMAn
    That is why I said “more than one” instead of “there are two”.

    I like to hear as many as possible but understand there is a time constraint. Wanting to hear just one side is usually desired by people who want to sit in the choir and listen to “their” preacher.

    @reid
    Yes facts are facts but facts are hard to distinguish from opinions of facts if all you hear is one bias representation of them. Yes it would be nice to hear, see, etc facts as they truly exist. However in reality that simply doesn’t exist in the media. If all you listen to is one side representation of facts then all you are receiving is a bias representation of said facts. It is about like listening just to a prosecutor or just the defender. It is hard to make a good judgment of facts when you do that.

  40. Wayne says:

    Sorry anjin-san if my writings are above your comprehension.

  41. narciso says:

    You know that story about Gordon Brown was wrong don’t you, that the Guardian apologized about it, you also know the NY Times times ‘burned’ the interrogator of KSM and Zubeydah, putting his family in danger, as well as the TSP, which helped us get Bin Laden, There is little in this story that is verifiably true,

  42. john personna says:

    LOL, did Wayne really say “LSM?”

    BTW, related and funny

  43. DMan says:

    @DMan:

    More than one perspective is all well and good, but not when it’s manufactured perspectives for the sake of “fairness.” The dualist perspective that there are two sides to every story I find troublesome as well. It gives way to lazy arguments and a team sports mentality.

  44. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:
    Dude, you need to stop trying to comprehend Wayne. He is just so amazingly smart and insightful I doubt you’ll ever grasp his message.

  45. An Interested Party says:

    Sorry anjin-san if my writings are above your comprehension.

    Probably more like below anjin-san’s standards of credibility…

  46. anjin-san says:

    Wayne – Do you seriously think you are talking over anyones head? Stop smoking the tea dude, it is turning your brain into tapioca pudding…

  47. Liberty60 says:

    Here is a good example of “fairness”-
    You believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun?

    HAH, that is merely an LSM liberal spin!
    the truth is, the science is not settled-

    Here is a group of scientists presenting the case that the Sun does in fact revolve around the Earth!

    (I am not shitting you- these people are serious- how long will it be until some Tea Party type like Michelle Bachmann starts barking their coded whistles?)

    We report, you decide!

  48. Ernieyeball says:

    @hey norm: “no discussion, no talk, smack down”
    Silly me how could I have thought you wanted to restrict peoples speech, control their behavior and then physically punish them when they entertain fantasies?
    All you want to do is be the arbiter of facts.
    Forgive my suspicious nature but what are your qualifications to act as an authority on anything?

  49. george says:

    Here is a good example of “fairness”-
    You believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun?

    Oddly enough, this is a pretty decent example of why the “two opinion” approach is almost always wrong – according to our best theory of gravity (General Relativity) there is no inertial reference frame, and so its always just a question of choosing a useful co-ordinate system. Choosing one centered on the earth will make for much more complicated calculations than a choice of one centered at the sun, and both are more complicated than choosing one at the center of mass of the solar system (which is of course very close to the center of mass of the sun) … but in terms of ‘fact’, all are equally valid.

    Most things in science that we’re sure of turn out, on closer inspection, to be much more complicated than we thought, and become more complicated the more we examine them – there are rarely simple solutions. I suspect this is even more true in politics, the difference being that we tend not to look as deeply into politics as we do science, because there’s rarely a reward for finding out that ‘our side’ is also wrong.

  50. Wayne says:

    @micheal Reynolds

    That is from a person who tries to inform me

    “Wayne that’s fiction written by Hollywood” writers “after” I already said that “Yes I know they are not real”. I also explain that I was talking about their philosophy and mentality not their actual writings.

    So yes you ability to comprehend what someone writes is very much in question.

  51. Wayne says:

    One more thing, using the rating system to hide opposing post that kicks your butt doesn’t change the fact that you got your butt kicked.

  52. An Interested Party says:

    One more thing, using the rating system to hide opposing post that kicks your butt doesn’t change the fact that you got your butt kicked.

    You seem to be confused…it’s not about kicking someone’s butt…rather, when we see pathetic attempts to excuse this NewsCorp scandal, or sentences like, “Fox gives both side of a story. The LSM typically give one.” it’s more like just pointing and laughing…

  53. mantis says:

    “Wayne that’s fiction written by Hollywood” writers “after” I already said that “Yes I know they are not real”. I also explain that I was talking about their philosophy and mentality not their actual writings.

    Like I said, Liberal Hollywood made them do it! Rightwing criminals are not-guilty by reason of “liberals are bad!”