Arthur Andersen. Anthony Weiner. News Corp?
Arthur Andersen. Anthony Weiner. News Corp?
Sure, it’s too early to “go there.” News Corp is an immense, diversified multi-national media conglomerate that has been widely reviled by many for more than a generation. For all of his detractors there are plenty of readers, viewers and shareholders who are just fine with Rupert Murdoch’s tabloidization and opinionization of the news business.
The New York Post may chronically lose money but such things are hardly news in the newspaper business. Yet the Post is a metaphor for the Murdoch empire. When Rupert amped up the sleepy New York tabloid to take on the New York Daily News, he started a media revolution with the newspaper that had been founded by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
It all seems so quaint now, with cable news talk show hosts having no qualm about taking sides in the style set by Fox News, and with newspapers still struggling to re-establish their relevance as a medium.
It’s been a bummer of a summer so far for Murdoch, starting with the sale of MySpace for about seven cents on the dollar. Until recently News Corp had been almost a teflon empire. You could almost say it’s Murdoch’s world — we just live in it. Even slings and arrows and kitchen sinks tossed at the Australian-turned-American seemed to have no discernible effect on the Murdoch empire except perhaps to have made it grow exponentially.
But unbridled success sometimes brings unbridled hubris and greed — not just for money, but also to be first and original and in a league of one’s own. And then it’s Greek tragedy time.
The closing of the News of the World was a big concession to the seriousness of the self-inflicted wound that was a systematic program to scoop out “news” by hacking into the voicemails of celebrities, politicians and private citizens suffering through crises. But it is unlikely to be nearly enough. The snowball is already getting bigger: On Wednesday, News Corp withdrew its bid for the rest of BSkyB, a direct result of disgust over this tempest. And in his adopted country, Sen. John Rockefeller has called for an investigation of the hacking scandal to see if any U.S. laws were broken.
The NOTW scandal pushed buttons that everyone can relate to: We may not mind that Hugh Grant’s privacy has been violated. But hacking into the phones of missing children who turned up dead, and to victims of terrorist attacks, brings home the scary in a way which reminds us of how we romanticize mob turf wars — it’s a good read until civilians start getting killed.
The truth is that mobile phone voicemails are probably accessed without your knowledge all the time by divorce lawyers, police departments, spies — and, for that matter, family members. There is nothing particularly challenging about hacking this data: it lives on remote servers that are accessible via the internet, just like your credit card numbers, bank accounts and Playstation information. (Mom’s low-tech approach is much more direct: she need only grab your phone as you sleep).
The problem for News Corp now is that there are lots of people who won’t forget quickly or move on. Only on Tuesday Rupert Murdoch and son were summoned by British MPs to testify about the scandal. This a terrible prospect for the brand when the less said is the better and you are facing politicians who have the higher moral ground for a change.
Protests and boycotts of huge companies have a history of having little effect, but it’s different when the target’s very existence depends on the public trust. Arthur Andersen was a Big Five accountancy until it was convicted of ethical violations in its dealings with client Enron. The company literally dissolved into virtual non-existence in a matter of weeks.
Weiner blamed hacking when he stupidly used Twitter to sext with a woman not his wife and lied relentlessly about it until cracking under unrelenting media glare (led by Weiner’s home town paper, the New York Post). Even though there was no allegation of any actual illicit sex, Weiner was crushed in a nanosecond. Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton did have sex with that woman, lied about it, survived what was only the second presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, and now thrives as an elder statesman.
Murdoch blamed his messengers at NOTW — most of whom were not even working there when all that foul stuff was going on — by shuttering the place and sacking the entire staff as a grand sacrifice on the pyre of public opinion.
For lack of a nail, a kingdom can be lost. As long as this story doesn’t go away, the Murdoch empire is in jeopardy. All because some private investigators were told to bang out a few commands on a keyboard.