The Murdoch Media phone hacking scandal did not get much play in the United States. Before now there were a host of excuses for why one of the biggest stories in the UK made so little impact in America – too complicated, Americans don’t care about foreign scandals, etc. But it seems the real reason one of America’s largest circulating newspapers ignored the story is quite different from the typical excuses – upper management tried to sabotage their own reporters to protect the parent company. Or at least so says a new book.
During the height of News Corp.’s phone-hacking drama in 2011, journalists at the company’s blue-chip American broadsheet grappled with efforts from higher-ups to muzzle their coverage of the scandal, according to a new book by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
Reporters and editors at The Wall Street Journal who were assigned to cover allegations of phone-hacking and other illegal activity at News International, News Corp’s British newspaper division, “told colleagues of stories that were blocked, stripped of damning detail or context, or just held up in bureaucratic purgatory,” Folkenflik reports in Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.
The lack of coverage of such a major story by News Corp’s most prestigious American media company is both shocking and yet in some way not at all surprising. Yes it is a serious story that has forever changed the media landscape in the UK, but it also ensnared the parent company directly and reporters who wanted a future at the Wall Street Journal knew, or soon learned from upper management’s pushback, that News Corp’s illegal conduct was not fit to print.
In the most troubling instance, Robert Thomson, now the C.E.O. of News Corp., tried to prevent the publication of a damaging Journal article when he was managing editor of the paper, according to Folkenflik…
“Thomson tried to kill the story several different times,” Folkenflik reports. “As a fallback strategy, several reporters and editors believed, Thomson was intentionally trying to set impossible standards so the story would not see the light of day.” It was eventually published on August 20, 2011, but the revelations about the altered News of the World article were buried in paragraph nine.
The CEO of News Corp is not a big fan of reporting the news? That should work out well.
The other issue this book raises is an old but still relevant critique of having large conglomerates in the news business. How can such gargantuan organizations like News Corp, with so many different assets, not continually run into conflicts of interest when reporting important news? Clearly in the case of their UK properties being involved in crime their other assets in America, like the Wall Street Journal, were compromised. They could not report the news, reportedly their reason for existing.
It is well past time to revisit media ownership rules as the behavior of Rupert Murdoch’s media executives well demonstrates.
Photo by the World Economic Forum under Creative Commons license