The journalistic culture at the News of the World had degenerated to the stage where any mention of “ethics” brought howls of derision. There was a competition among News of the World journos as to whose informant was the most sleazy: it was a macho thing.
Newspaper editors, top police and politicians cozied up to one another for their mutual benefit. British governments have been in thrall to Murdoch for twenty years.
The spectacular collapse of the Murdoch press in the UK, and the allegations surrounding the news organization that have yet to be investigated in the US, renew one’s faith in people power and the possibility of justice. It revives the hackneyed concept of “accountability,” giving it new vigour and meaning. We are seeing accountability on a massive scale, and it is swift and it is spectacular.
What finally brought the Murdochs undone in Britain was the hacking of a murder victim’s phone, so that her distraught and terrified family were given false hope that their lost beloved was still alive when the News of the World journo erased a few messages from Milly’s Dowler’s voicemail. The British public who’d felt little sympathy for celebrities with hacked phones, became more exercised when an allegedly rogue journo hacked the phones of some members of the Royal Family. But when they heard about Milly, and the unforgivable intrusion by Murdoch’s minions on the grieving families of dead soldiers and terrorist victims, they’d had enough.
Rupert Murdoch runs his corporate empire as if he is above the law. He presides over a journalistic culture that encourages utter disdain for any codes of ethics. With the collusion of fawning politicians and police, Murdoch truly was a most arrogant master of the universe. Yet in a matter of days he’s so enraged the gods, a role in this instance played by the public, that his power appears to be dissipating like air out of a punctured balloon, and we see instead a shrivelled man in his late years, a de-fanged and pathetically apologetic shadow of his former self.
There’s an almost delicious justice in the way events have turned out: Murdoch’s sleazy News of the World rag, infamous for its pursuit of human immorality in every conceivable form, real and imagined, is brought down by its own despicably immoral acts. What goes around really does come around.
Whether Rupert knew about specifics or not, and it’s difficult to believe he didn’t know at least some of what was going on, the actions of his employees could only have flourished in a culture that encouraged and rewarded those behaviours.
With everyone who mattered apparently in Murdoch’s pocket, no doubt he felt himself to be above any consideration of consequences that dogs the actions of lesser mortals. But the public that he’s treated with such contempt for so long finally turned on him.
So can we expect any changes in the Australian as a consequence of Mr Murdoch’s fall? John Hartigan was at pains to reassure viewers on the ABC 7.30 Report a few nights ago that what’s happened in the UK could never happen here. He’s probably right, given the difference in our cultures, and our lack of scandal-worthy notables in public life. After all, chair sniffing probably doesn’t count for much in the scheme of things: it’s more sad than anything and there’s no injured party.
The Australian has been running a concentrated campaign against the Labor government for some time now, a campaign Hartigan justified by claiming his newspaper is the only one that criticizes the government, and is therefore doing a public service. Quite how he arrives at that conclusion I don’t know: it seems everywhere you look the press is busily engaged in critiquing the government, though few have the Australian’s single minded dedication to their task.
If Murdoch’s people are hacking phones in Australia they apparently aren’t sharing their ill gotten gains with their readership. Unlike the UK we are a small pond with few big fish. The opportunities for scandal-mongering do not present themselves to the same extent, and neither does it seem to be in our national character to encourage our media to pry into private lives to quite the same degree as do the British and the Americans. I don’t know if this makes us more principled or less curious.
I have to say that outside of Shakespeare, the Murdoch downfall is the most outstanding example of hubris we’ve seen in a very long time. Time to face your nemesis, Rupert.
- Conflicting reports on Murdoch’s future (news.theage.com.au)
- Tall Stories (theage.com.au)
- Murdoch’s The Australian Editorial Paints Scandal As ‘Cliquish Crusade’ Against Press Freedoms (mediaite.com)
- Phone hacking: It’s not just Rupert Murdoch’s credibility that’s at stake at select committee (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jon Friedman’s Media Web: How Murdoch can satisfy Wall Street (marketwatch.com)
- Murdoch Selects His Team Carefully (allthingsd.com)
- MPs to quiz Murdochs over hacking (bbc.co.uk)