The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Punch Sulzberger and the trouble with media dynasties

It is easy to imagine the look on the faces of Rupert Murdoch’s children when they read the obituaries of New York Times owner Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, whose father thought him too stupid to run the company. Particularly when they came to the line: “It’s impossible to be an assistant to your father.”

Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, is exiled to Australia after complaining his father wouldn’t let him do his job at News Corp. His daughter Elisabeth’s movie company, Shine, may be owned by News Corp, but she lives in London and keeps her interfering father at arm’s length. And after disappointing his old man by failing to smother the phone-hacking scandal at his British papers, James is scrabbling around at corporate headquarters on Sixth Avenue in New York, trying to make it work at his new job leading the company’s television interests – everything, that is, except his father’s “fair and balanced” baby, Fox News.

It is one of the truisms of business that media companies are traditionally owned by strong-willed, dynasty-obsessed, egotistical patriarchs – and in some cases, such as Katharine Graham at the Washington Post, matriarchs. It is the common thread that links Murdoch to Sumner Redstone and Mike Bloomberg to Si Newhouse. Not only do such alpha-male types revel in the power and influence they can exert atop a company reaching into the homes of millions. But these larger-than-life moguls unencumbered by interfering shareholders and fastidious directors are the only ones who can make the quick decisions and fast moves that media companies need to make it in a world of fast-changing technologies.

When things go wrong, of course, there is only one person to blame. Ted Turner, Hugh Hefner and Martha Stewart discovered that, and Oprah Winfrey is learning it by the week. Mark Zuckerberg, too. The problem with high-wire acts without a safety net is that bad decisions get found out fast. And it is only natural, perhaps, that those who manage to succeed in such a precarious trade soon come to the conclusion that because they drove their companies to success, success is something in their genes that they have handed down to their children.

from The Great Debate:

Romney is powerless against Murdoch’s lash

Mitt Romney must be wondering where it all went wrong. With the president presiding over a jobless, barely perceptible recovery, with most Americans thinking Obama is on the wrong track, and with his healthcare legislation widely derided, the Republican champion should be coasting by now. Yet Romney has been languishing in the head-to-head polls for almost a year, and prominent conservative commentators are complaining.

It is rare to hear such a concerted chorus of disapproval, not least with the election just six weeks away. Rupert Murdoch, at least, can say to Romney, “I told you so!” In July, he warned on Twitter: “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.” It was advice Romney could afford neither to accept nor refuse. To fire his staff at the behest of the media boss who controls the nation’s most unforgiving conservative news outlets would be to follow successive weak British leaders who bent to  Murdoch’s will, with tragic results. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, to name just three prime ministers, are still trying to rid themselves of the taint.

from The Great Debate:

Is Murdoch trying to sink Romney?

Rupert Murdoch should never go on holiday. It only makes him grumpy. He returned last month from cruising on his yacht off the coast of Croatia looking for a scrap. When Steve Jobs invented the iPad, he could hardly have imagined the havoc caused by one crabby old geezer letting rip on Twitter. Murdoch, a genius with the snappy tabloid headline, didn’t need all 140 characters to reduce Romney’s campaign to toast. “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless [Romney] drops old friends from team and hires some real pros,” he wrote, adding the fatal one-word zinger: “Doubtful.”

Romney met Murdoch recently for a secret chat about how things were going on the campaign trail, but the relaxed Republican nominee presumptive, perhaps with his lavish family vacation at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, on his mind, said he thought everything was just dandy. As Murdoch’s editors know to their cost, when the antipodean grouch asks how things are going it means he thinks things are going badly. As Romney’s minders did not issue a handout about the disastrous meeting, the lazy fourth estate did not know it was going on and so did not report it. But Murdoch took to his Twitter account to let the world know he was NOT HAPPY.

from The Great Debate:

Hypocrisy taints Murdoch grilling

Watching Tony Blair appear this week before the British judicial inquiry into press standards in London has left me feeling a little queasy. What began as an open-minded investigation into how to protect individuals from the snooping of the press in the age of the Internet has turned into a show trial to shame politicians who fell under the spell of Rupert Murdoch.

Now, heaven knows, I’m no apologist for Murdoch. His cynical approach to his readers and viewers and employees belies the fact that he is descended from sternly moral Scottish Presbyterians. He declares that the buck stops with a newspaper owner when one of his papers or journalists or printers fouls up, but when widespread illegality happens in his name, right under his nose, he forgets his fine words and lets it be known he has no intention of stepping down from his dual role of CEO and chairman of News Corp.

from The Great Debate:

Reprimand won’t stop Murdoch’s contempt

The headlines screaming from London tell the story: Murdoch “unfit” to run News Corp. The Commons committee that summoned the 81-year-old media magnate to explain how his newspapers came to hack the phones of everyone from Prince William to Paul McCartney has given its damning verdict.

Rupert Murdoch “turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies” and his instinct “was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators.” The bottom line? “Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” So much for Murdoch’s attempt to pose as an affable old codger with too much on his mind to notice the lawbreaking done in his name. So much for, “This is the most humble day of my life.”

from The Great Debate:

Murdoch’s tweets can’t save his tottering empire

On the night Queen Elizabeth scampered back from her Scottish castle to address an angry crowd outside Buckingham Palace – the crowd protesting she hadn’t paid enough respect to the memory of Princess Diana, killed in a car crash the week before – Rupert Murdoch was in the newsroom of the London Times. “There’s your headline,” he told the editor in charge. “Queen Saves Neck!” It was a perfect tabloid headline for a perfect tabloid story.

That Diana, named after the goddess of hunting, should die hounded by a pack of snap-happy paparazzi added a vein of irony to the story of her tragic life. A similar irony informs the scandal engulfing Murdoch. The biter has been bit, a fact clearly on display when Rupert and his son James, arm in arm with their flame-maned employee Rebekah Brooks, were shoved and jostled in a London street by the newshounds of Fleet Street. Hauled before a House of Commons committee, the usually unrepentant mogul looked dented when he uttered the phrase that will litter his obituaries: “This is the most humble day of my life.”

from Breakingviews:

Hapless former WSJ owners could yet sting Murdoch

By Rob Cox and Reynolds Holding
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.

LONDON/NEW YORK -- Add to Rupert Murdoch's list of potential headaches a blast from the past: the Bancroft family. The media mogul's UK newspaper scandal has upset some members of the family who haplessly gave in to News Corp's $5 billion offer to buy Dow Jones in 2007. It's hard to feel much sympathy. But the pact they forged to ensure the Wall Street Journal's integrity gave a special committee powers that could embarrass Murdoch further.

from MediaFile:

Is Murdoch free to destroy tabloid’s records?

Editor’s note:

After this post was published, News Corp indicated that it did not plan any liquidation of assets in connection with the shutdown of the News of the World newspaper.  In the absence of a liquidation, the scenario laid out by Mark Stephens does not apply.

By Alison Frankel
The views expressed are her own.

Here’s some News of the World news to spin the heads of American lawyers. According to British media law star Mark Stephens of Finers Stephens Innocent (whom The Times of London has dubbed “Mr Media”), Rupert Murdoch’s soon-to-be shuttered tabloid may not be obliged to retain documents that could be relevant to civil and criminal claims against the newspaper—even in cases that are already underway. That could mean that dozens of sports, media, and political celebrities who claim News of the World hacked into their telephone accounts won’t be able to find out exactly what the tabloid knew and how it got the information.

from MediaFile:

Closing a tabloid won’t stop the cheating culture

By David Callahan
The views expressed are his own.

The demise of the News of the World after a phone hacking scandal will not change a troubling truth about tabloid journalism – or business in general these days: Bad ethics can yield big financial rewards and such are the upsides of cheating that even honest professionals may feel they must bend the rules to compete.

Tabloid editors will surely think twice now before drawing on illegally obtained information. But other unethical practices – used by a range of print, broadcast, and online media businesses – will continue, like paying sources for dubious information (“cash for trash”) or fabricating juicy stories outright to boost circulation or ratings.

from Reuters Investigates:

The end of an era for British tabloids?

No sooner had our special report today on British tabloids hit the wire than Rupert Murdoch's News Corp shocked everybody by announcing it would close down the 168-year-old News of the World.

Steven Barnett, professor of communications at London's Westminster University, spoke for a lot of people when he said of the news: "Astonishing. I'm completely gobsmacked. Talk about a nuclear option."

  •