Fair and balanced? Hacking scandal rocks Murdoch media empire

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch tried to squelch the hacking scandal engulfing his media empire by closing down his London-based tabloid, News of the World, but the firestorm continues to spread.

It was revealed July 11 that two more Murdoch newspapers engaged in hacking including electronic spying on former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s bank account. The hackers also stole the medical records of Brown’s four-year-old son, a victim of cystic fibrosis. The Murdoch publications also bribed bodyguards assigned to Queen Elizabeth II for information about the monarch, a potential danger to her safety and a clear breach of national security.

Peter Hart, activism director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watchdog group, told the People’s World, “Murdoch may have hoped that he could close down News of the World and make it go away, but the story is getting bigger by the day if not by the hour.”

He cited an article in Newsweek by journalist Carl Bernstein, who exposed Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal in the 1970s. In the article, titled “Murdoch’s Watergate?” Bernstein points out that this scandal now threatens to engulf the Tory regime of David Cameron, whose press secretary, Andy Coulson, previously served as editor of the Murdoch tabloid.

It couldn’t come at a worse time for Cameron, facing a nationwide revolt as 750,000 public workers went on strike last week to protest his austerity policies including savage cuts in pensions and other benefits.

Morning Star, the British left-wing daily, reported that the scandal has rocked the prime minister on his heels. Their story quoted veteran left Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who called Murdoch “a cancer on the body politic”and denounced Cameron as a “smug, arrogant man” with deep crony ties to Rebekah Brooks, current head of Murdoch’s News International, who was editor of News of the World at the time it was involved in the cell phone hacking that has now been exposed.

Cameron, Murdoch and Brooks are part of the so-called “Chipping Norton set” who wine and dine together in Oxfordshire or even at Number 10 Downing Street, official residence of the prime minister, Morning Star reports.

When the scandal broke, Murdoch fired 200 News of the World reporters instantly but is defending Brooks.

Among those hacked by Murdock’s News of the World minions was actor Hugh Grant and Prince William, an heir to the British throne. But even more outrage has greeted the revelation that Murdoch reporters hacked into the cell phone of a 13-year-old murder victim, making deletions and alterations that gave her parents false hope that she was still alive. Also hacked were the private phone calls of relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The behavior was so widespread and shocking that reporters are now keeping this scandal alive,” said Hart. “This isn’t just some rogue correspondent. They are asking the question: Who was in a position of power to approve this hacking? Does it trace back to Murdoch himself?”

The hacking went on for years and involved many news-gatherers. Tens of thousands of dollars was paid to police and others in exchange for lurid and salacious gossip to be used against targeted people, including elected officials.

There is a long history of this brand of sensational, scurrilous media on both sides of the Atlantic, Hart continued, but Murdoch is the “purest expression of this brand of partisan journalism.”

He added, “At least in England, people in the Labour Party are saying we have to be more vigilant in curbing the power of one media owner to control so much of the media.”

Murdoch’s central role in promoting right-wing extremism stretches back to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who owed her hold on power to Murdoch’s vicious incitements against embattled British coal miners as well as locked out union printers who produced his newspapers.

He played a role in the election of Ronald Reagan, cheerleading the “Great Communicator” for his attacks on workers and union rights including the mass firing of PATCO air traffic controllers.

Murdoch, an Australian by birth, began his invasion of the U.S. by buying the New York Post, turning the once respected liberal newspaper into a gossip-mongering rag. Then he bought the Wall Street Journal and moved its editorial page even further to the right, into the ideological center of far-right extremism. His empire generates an estimated $33 billion in profits annually.

Murdoch created Fox News in 1996. It has served as the round-the-clock mouthpiece of right-wing “attack journalism” featuring charlatans like Glenn Beck, who spout a fake brand of “populism” aimed at giving a grassroots veneer to the corporate takeover of all branches of government. Beck spread so many patent falsehoods that he became an embarrassment even for Murdoch, who fired him recently.

Between the Post, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, Bernstein writes, “it’s hard to think of any other individual who has had a greater impact on American political and media culture” than Murdoch. “But now the empire is shaking and there’s no telling when it will stop.”

He continues, “It will remain for British authorities and presumably disgusted and/or legally squeezed News Corp. executives and editors to reveal exactly where the rot came from and whether Rupert Murdoch enabled, approved, or opposed the obvious corruption that infected his underlings.”

Many of those same questions could be asked on this side of the Atlantic.

Photo: Rupert Murdoch, corporate guru, at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in 2009. World Economic Forum CC 2.0



Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler is a national political correspondent for the People's World and member of its editorial collective.

He has been a reporter and editor for the working-class press for 43 years. He lives with his wife Joyce in Baltimore, Md., and in Sequim, Wash.