Murdoch in good times and bad

By Sir Harold Evans
The views expressed are his own.

There is a clear connecting thread between the events I describe in “Good Times, Bad Times” and the dramas that led so many years later to Rupert Murdoch’s “most humble day of my life.” I was seated within a few feet of him in London on July 19, 2011, during his testimony to a select committee of MPs with his son James at his side. Not many more than a score of observers were allowed into the small room at Parliament’s Portcullis House, across the road from the House of Commons and Big Ben. A portcullis is a defensive latticed iron grating hung over the entrance to a fortified castle, the perfect metaphor for News International, which perpetually sees itself as beset by enemies.

Murdoch, as chairman and only begetter of the giant multi-media enterprise News International (NI), was called on to defend his castle and himself as best he could for the outrages of hacking and police bribery inflicted on the British public by his News of the World and the cover-up that he and his company conducted over nearly five years. The paper Murdoch most affects to despise, the Guardian, was the instrument of his undoing.

It persisted with the unraveling story almost alone in the face of repeated denials, defamation and threats and the sloppy exonerations of News International by Scotland Yard and the Press Complaints Commission. Among those waiting patiently – one might say humbly – for admission to the Portcullis House committee room was Nick Davies, the back-packing Guardian reporter, who led the paper’s investigation courageously sustained by his editor Alan Rusbridger. It was cheering to think of the impetus for good contained in Davies’ little notebook as he assiduously scribbled away during the hearing.

Murdoch had begun badly on jetting into London, all smiles in a jaunty Panama hat and embracing his ex-editor and CEO Rebekah Brooks whom he called his “first priority”; she was arrested days later. He quickly sensed the vengeful public mood and made a well-publicized consoling visit to the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl. He apologized profusely enough for his soon-to-be-shuttered paper’s most outrageous invasion of privacy, the hacking into voice mails left for Milly, and the hacker’s erasure of messages to make room for more that the News of the World could milk for despicable “exclusives.”

Observers in the Portcullis room were divided on the efficacy of Rupert Murdoch’s testimony. Some thought his answers revealed a doddery, amnesiac jet-lagged octogenarian. He cupped his ear occasionally to ask for a question to be repeated; at one moment he referred to the Prime Minister David Cameron when he meant Alastair Campbell, Prime Minister Blair’s press adviser. Others saw the testimony as a guileful imitation of “Uncle Junior,” the ageing mentor to Tony, the capo in the Sopranos, who feigned slippered incompetence to escape retribution. I thought, on the contrary, that Murdoch was a good witness, more direct than his son James, who unnervingly sported a buzz cut reminiscent of Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. His father was as taciturn as James was loquacious. Murdoch père paused to run each answer through his shrewd mental calculations of the legal implications of his own words, occasionally smiting the tabletop in front in a kind of brutal authoritarian emphasis that began to make his wife Wendi Murdoch distinctly nervous. She leaned forward to restrain the militancy.

UPDATED: News Corp’s new independent director Breyer not so, says investor

Rupert and Wendi Murdoch

Updated with official News Corp response below.

We don’t know what quite to make of this but CtW Investment Group,  a union-affiliated shareholder lobbyist, is raising a stink about News Corp’s new independent director appointment, Accel Partners’ Jim Breyer.

CtW, which claims its affiliations represent pension funds of some 5.5 million Americans or some $200 billion in assets, says Breyer, a venture capitalist best known as an early investor in Facebook, isn’t as independent as the board claims.

In a 1,400-word letter addressed to Viet Dinh, chair of News Corp’s nominating & corporate governance committee,  CtW lists a range of claims about Breyer’s relationships with News Corp, the Murdochs and his record as a director with major names like Wal-Mart and Dell.

News Corp’s ethics were set at the top

By David Callahan
All opinions expressed are his own.

Rupert and James Murdoch have even more explaining to do after Tuesday’s allegations that top editors at the News of the World knew about the use of phone hacking by reporters. While the Murdochs have pleaded ignorance about the sordid doings of their underlings, a growing pile of evidence suggests that at least James was very much in the loop. That is not surprising. You don’t build a business empire – or even inherit one – by being a hands-off boss. What’s more, subordinates in major corporations don’t tend to commit serious crimes unless they think such behavior is okay with the boss.

Business scandals typically take a predictable path. Atrocious behavior comes to light and, within days, top executives are in front of klieg lights professing to be just as shocked as anyone else. But look, they say, we CEOs and chairmen can’t know everything that goes on around here. Then, over time, documents and witnesses emerge to show that top executives did know about illegal behavior. So it is that former CEOs like Jeff Skilling of Enron, Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom, Calisto Tanzi of Parmalat, and John Rigas of Adelphia are now serving long prison sentences for frauds that they initially denied any knowledge of. Other CEOs, such as subprime king Angelo Mozillo of Countrywide, have paid large penalties to settle suits by government authorities.

The phone hacking scandal is now well along this familiar trajectory. James Murdoch may have gotten to the top of the News Corp mainly because of nepotism, but he is no dummy and profiles have depicted him as a very competent executive. Yet we are supposed to believe that he signed off on a record payment to settle a hacking complaint without knowing the damning details? Or that, even though hacking was discussed openly at News of the World editorial meetings — until such explicit talk was banned by the editor — the top command at the News Corp had no idea what was going on? Right.

Evidence of a News Corp coverup mounts

By Nicholas Wapshott
All opinions expressed are his own.

By this stage of the summer, Rupert Murdoch and his family would normally be relaxing on his yacht, The Rosehearty. But any hopes the magnate might have entertained that August would bring respite from the scandal that has engulfed his empire have been shattered by the release of two letters to the parliamentary committee investigating phone hacking by his papers. The excuse Murdoch gave to Parliament that he knew nothing of the wrongdoing is increasingly hard to credit. The blame for the routine invasion of privacy by his papers is now inching closer to Murdoch himself.

The first letter, from News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman, who became the patsy for the affair, gives the lie to the suggestion to Parliament by Murdoch’s most trusted retainer Les Hinton that phone hacking was the work of a single rogue reporter. In the letter, Goodman lets slip that “the actions … were carried out with the full knowledge and support” of some of the paper’s other journalists and that “other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.” The names of those others have been redacted for now, at the request of Scotland Yard, for fear of jeopardizing a prosecution.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s judgment is also called into question by the letter. The socially remote Cameron felt he could not connect with humdrum voters and hired Andy Coulson, top editor at the News of the World when the hacking took place, to explain his government’s policies in language the ordinary person could understand. Cameron says he hired the tainted Coulson because Coulson denied knowing of the illegality going on under his nose. But Goodman reports that hacking “was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor [Coulson].” The “smoking gun” letter makes Cameron look naïve and gullible for being taken in so easily.

The myth of the irrational Murdoch

By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.

No recent episode more vividly demonstrates the debasement the media has suffered in the ascent of Rupert Murdoch as its collective tsk-tsking over comedian Jonnie Marbles’ interruption of Murdoch’s Hackgate testimony. The outrage has generally echoed this New Republic missive:

I can’t find anyone who approves of what happened yesterday, when news titan Rupert Murdoch suffered a near-shaving-cream-pie in the face during a hearing before members of Parliament in London. Everyone seems to agree that the pie-thrower, “activist” Jonnie Marbles, is a dumbass. We even seem to agree that Rupert Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, is a badass.

If Rupert Murdoch doesn’t deserve a pie in the face, who does? This is a media baron whose free-market fundamentalism has effectively robbed journalists of their livelihoods, most vividly in the shuttering of News of the World. Perhaps more perniciously, he’s robbed the media industry of its sense of self-worth, not for the first time; it’s no surprise a trove of former Murdoch editors have decided stepped into the light and hurl a stone or two at the News Corp. castle walls.

Newsweek offline + online is the future, says Barry Diller

Many of you  might have forgotten IAC/InteractiveCorp’s Daily Beast and Newsweek agreed to merge operations last November to create a new entity called, well…  Newsweek. And that would be understandable as it’s been pretty quiet till this week’s interview scoop with the former IMF chief Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s accuser.

IAC Chairman Barry Diller (pictured, right) told Wall Street analysts today that Newsweek has a promising future very different from the floundering Newsweek of recent years. He said under the leadership of Daily Beast founder Tina Brown the weekly magazine is starting to win back advertisers and subscribers.

“The losses are not really high. In a year, year-and-a-half or so, I think it’s probably a year-and-a- half, I think we’ll have no losses and be on the positive side. And I think for a pretty small investment we’re going to build a serious long-term asset in new publishing,” which he describes as the combination or offline and online.

The last of the moguls

By Jeff Jarvis
The opinions expressed are his own.

Rupert Murdoch is the last of a breed, a breed he and his company will be responsible for killing in an act of mogulcide.

The Economist agrees that he is the last mogul and says it is time for him to go. It also says that media need a strong News Corp. There we certainly disagree. Autos don’t need a strong GM. What media needs — and is getting — is disruption of its overly strong institutions. The death of the mogul in news is something to celebrate, and eulogize.

I’ve worked for many moguls: latter-day Hearsts (San Francisco Examiner); Robert Maxwell (New York Daily News); Murdoch (TV Guide and Delphi Internet); and the Newhouses (though I’ll argue they’re not very mogully because they don’t fit most of these criteria). What makes a media mogul?

The real meaning of “hack”

By Adam Penenberg
The opinions expressed are his own. This piece originally appeared in Fast Company.

Over the years I’ve published tens of thousands of words on “hackers.” I wrote “Hacking Bhabha,” a story about the “hack” of an Indian atomic research station, when gangs of computer miscreants went wilding through its servers, and the 1998 takedown of the New York Times website, which, for me, resulted in the threat of a justice department subpoena.

I interviewed Kevin Mitnick while he was still in prison and sat at my computer one night as someone who called himself MagicFX replaced eBay’s home page with his own that said: ”Proof by MagicFX that you can’t always trust people… not even huge companies.”

Will the Democrats go after Murdoch?

By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.

“Rupert Murdoch wanted to become an American citizen,” Barbara Boxer, a leading member of the Senate Commerce Committee, told the BBC last week. “He needs to obey American law.” She cited the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which “he cannot … bribe officials anywhere in the world,” and the Wiretaps Act, that would snare the News Corp employees who, it has been suggested, hacked victims of the September 11 attacks on America.

Senator Boxer listed actions the U.S. could take if it deemed News Corp guilty, among them “the FCC [’s] ability to take away the [broadcasting] license from corporations who break the law.” Last week she and Senator Jay Rockefeller prompted an FBI probe into criminality by News Corp employees and this week urged the “special committee” that is charged with overseeing Dow Jones to discover whether former News International were implicated in illegality. They appear to have in their sights Les Hinton, the Dow Jones CEO who resigned last week after failing to properly investigate hacking at News of the World, and current Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson, who gave the top policeman who called off the hacking investigation regular employment at The Times of London.

Senators Boxer and Rockefeller are not alone. Other Democrats looking for News Corp scalps include Senator Frank Lautenberg, who called on the Justice Department and the Securities Exchange Commission to do their worst, saying that “current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation,” and Anna Eshoo of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, who demanded a full exposé of “this burgeoning scandal at News Corporation.” Dick Durbin, the Democrats’ number two in the Senate, threatened Murdoch with congressional hearings.

The case against the bribery case against Murdoch

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

Ever since reports surfaced that executives at News of the World paid bribes to members of the UK’s Metropolitan Police, there have been lots of people in the United States who would like to see News Corp and/or its top executives prosecuted under American laws. News Corp is an American company, goes the argument, and paying bribes abroad is explicitly prohibited by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Those observations are true as far as they go, and they appear bolstered by reports Friday morning that the Justice Department is preparing subpoenas as part of a preliminary investigation into News Corp. But the argument that a successful U.S.-based bribery case can be built against Murdoch’s company involves at least as much wishful thinking as it does legal acumen. There may be some effective ways to use the FCPA against News Corp, but nailing News Corp executives in the U.S. for police bribes in the UK requires an enormous, unprecedented stretch of the FCPA, and one which seems unlikely to stand up in court.

The FCPA was a groundbreaking piece of anti-corruption legislation when Jimmy Carter signed it into law in 1977. But even its most passionate fans would admit that a) its enforcement over the decades has been spotty, and b) no one involved in the creation of the FCPA ever envisioned it being used to punish checkbook journalism, legal or illegal.