Indepedendent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
The late ventriloquist Edgar Bergen once did a routine where he told his dummy Charlie McCarthy that someone noted what he “had done for ventriloquism.” Charlie corrected him: someone had noted what he “had done TO ventriloquism.” And so it is for Australian-born international media titan Rupert Murdoch: he has had an impact on journalism but he has done more to it than for it. And what he has done is not pretty.
Murdoch’s name was synonymous with Fleet Street style sensationalism and political activism long before the present phone hacking scandal in Great Britain, which ironically has spawned a string of Murdoch-style sensationalist news stories every day. The pace of developments is mind blogging. To recap:
News of the World was abruptly closed by Murdoch amid stories the paper hacked phones of kidnap and murder victim Milly Dowling, war veterans, victims of the 7/7 British terrorist attack, the royal family, some 4,000 individuals and even may have sought to get into the phones of 9/11 victims. Other Murdoch papers were reportedly involved. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused a Murdoch paper of hacking into private medical records detailing his son’s cystic fibrosis. Police were paid to get phone numbers of Buckingham Palace staff members.
One arrested sacrificial lamb was former News of the World editor Andy Coulson who left Murdoch’s company in 2007 to become aide to Prime Minister – a symbol of Murdoch’s political importance.
Murdoch now seems to be trying to protect his protégé and News International’s Chief Executive Rebeka Brooks and his son and heir apparent James. Many believe Murdoch’s killing News of the World was a way to offer a batch of journalists and editors up as sacrificial lambs. It was: “Let’s put another News of the World staffer on the barbie,,.”
Now he has consequences. News Corp. shares fell five percent in New York. His cherished bid to take full control BSkyB TV news seems off for now. There are predictions his FCC licenses will be challenged in the U.S.
Shocking? Not really. When it was announced in 1976 that Murdoch bought the venerable New York Post, news stories at the time noted Murdoch’s use of imported tabloid-oriented editors, sensationalistic news values and political bias. Many US media types felt it was the demise of what is now the country’s oldest continuously published newspaper. Today, the Post is a highly readable paper and a style once considered sleazy is now considered feisty mainstream.
What Carl Bernstein calls “Murdoch’s Watergate” is most shocking because it’s hard to believe these were rogue editors and managers. I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor and Chicago Daily News overseas and worked on Knight Ridder and Copley papers. Management at each paper would fire staffers who crossed ethical lines. At the very least Murdoch created a political, managerial and journalistic culture that nurtured an” anything for a story” behavior.
In the classic gangster film “Little Caesar” Edward G. Robinson as the doomed Rico says: “Mother of God: can this be the end of Rico?” This won’t be the end of Murdoch, but his non-stop ascent may have been halted.
In The Wizard of Oz the dog Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal the fearsome Wizard is really an electronic-device manipulating old man. “Just ignore the man behind the curtain,” the old man says.
In this case, we can’t just ignore the manipulative old man behind the curtain because of what this man behind the curtain has done – or has enabled to be done — to the quality and ethics of journalism. He has given a double meaning to the word “journalistic hack.”
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.