Jack Shafer

Murdoch’s latest scandal

Jack Shafer
Oct 12, 2011 22:48 UTC

Wall Street Journal Europe Publisher Andrew Langhoff resigned yesterday, but why?

A hard-to-comprehend story in today’s Wall Street Journal alleges that Langhoff transgressed by pressuring Wall Street Journal Europe reporters into covering an advertiser, consulting firm ELP, and by contractually promising that WSJE reporters would cover ELP in “special report” sections. (The tainted stories in question now carry a disclaimer.)

There’s a third dimension to the scandal, which the Wall Street Journal article soft-pedals. It turns out that bulk-sold, discounted copies of WSJE were sold to the same advertiser, ELP, to boost circulation. I defy any reader to cull the salient passages and find any evidence or hint of circulatory wrong-doing by the publication.

For that sort of coverage, see today’s piece in the Guardian by Nick Davies, “Wall Street Journal circulation scam claims senior Murdoch executive.” Davies exploits the circulation angle, alleging that the WSJE publisher “set up a complex scheme to channel money to ELP to pay for the papers it had agreed to buy—effectively buying the papers with the Journal‘s own cash.” The Guardian also calls Langhoff’s resignation a “damage limitation exercise” prompted by its inquiries into the scandal. The Wall Street Journal calls the resignation a result of an “internal probe” into the special-report articles and a circulation agreement with ELP.

Will the scandal go bigger or will it burn itself out in a couple of days? Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns the Wall Street Journal Europe, has already copped to the journalistic sins of having a publisher promise an advertiser coverage and of leaning on reporters to produce it. This behavior is considered very, very, unclean in the world of publishing when conducted covertly. But when the advertiser-pleasing copy is produced overtly in special sections, the worst publishers are accused of is opportunism. Today, most quality newspapers assemble special sections themed to energy, transportation, education, philanthropy, investing, health, et al. These sections, which contain soft or backgrounderish copy, are propped up by lucrative ads from the major industries doing business in the theme area. So great is the publisher’s appetite for special sections that if the New York Times could persuade Eukanuba, Purina, and Hartz Ultraguard Plus Rid Worm tablets to take out gigantic ads, it would gladly print a “Your Dog’s Retirement” section. Twice a year.

Cop-out in London

Jack Shafer
Sep 20, 2011 20:46 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

What were the London police thinking when they invoked the Official Secrets Act last week to compel Guardian reporters Amelia Hill and Nick Davies to disclose the confidential source for their July 4 Milly Dowler phone-hacking story? Did they think the Guardian would roll over when they arrived in court on Friday to contest the order? That Hill and Davies would submit? That free-speech advocates, members of Parliament, and journalists around the world would pay no mind to the prosecutorial over-reach?

Whatever the Metropolitan Police thought, they’ve rethought it today, announcing that they’re dropping for the time-being their request for a court order that the Guardian give up its sources.

With the perfect vision that comes with hindsight, it now appears that the court order was a bluff. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the Met did not consult the director of public prosecutions before wielding the Official Secrets Act, as the 1989 law requires. He was only consulted on Monday. In other words, the London police went rogue. If that’s the case, perhaps the goal of the cops was to give the Guardian and its journalists a fright and deter other reporters from investigating the pile-up of journalistic malfeasance, crimes by private detectives, corporate malfeasance at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps., and, of course, bribe-taking by the Metropolitan Police.

London police shoot the messenger

Jack Shafer
Sep 16, 2011 22:41 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

London’s Metropolitan Police, who helped cover up the U.K.’s phone-hacking scandal for the better part of a decade, have finally figured out how to crack the case. Attack the press.

The Guardian, which kept the story alive after Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World minions, top politicians, and the cops throttled it, reports that the Metropolitan Police have requested a court order to force two of its reporters, Amelia Hill and Nick Davies, to surrender their confidential sources from their July 4 Milly Dowler phone-hacking story. Hill has already been questioned by police.

The Met is making its demand under the  Official Secrets Act, which is usually invoked in national security cases. In 1985, Ministry of Defence employee Clive Ponting was prosecuted under the act for divulging information about the sinking of an Argentinean ship during the Falklands War. In 2002, counter-intelligence officer David Shayler was convicted of giving secret documents to a newspaper. In 2003, U.K. government employee Katharine Gun was charged under the act with leaking to a reporter email from the National Security Agency requesting help in bugging the United Nations offices of six countries.