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Rupert Murdoch: Let the media mogul off the hook? [The conversation]

July 18, 2011 |  2:42 pm

Murdoch Protest

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul at the center of News Corp.'s hacking scandal, has been the topic of several commentaries in recent days, including two editorials that distinguish the difference between the British and American press and questions about whether Congress should "Americanize" this scandal.

In our Op-Ed pages, columnist Tim Rutten writes that the "Murdoch meltdown has become an American problem too," pointing out that "it would be outrageous if we now stood idly by and ignored credible allegations that an American company used our territory as a haven from which to subvert the laws and democratic processes of our closest cultural and political ally, as Murdoch's firm allegedly has."

Mike Hoyt acknowledges  an elephant in the room: "In a strange way, Murdoch has done newspapers -- those beleaguered products of the past -- a large favor. He has reminded us all of their singular power." It's a teachable moment, Hoyt concludes:

One lesson of the great scandal unfolding in Britain is that newspapers can choose to use their power for bread and circuses, like the News of the World, and to accumulate more and more power. That works, at least until it doesn't. Or they can use their power for public service -- to explain, to encourage and shape honest debate, and best of all, to expose the abuse of power of any kind, even of other news outlets. In the end, the public will appreciate that, and perhaps repay the kindness with loyalty.

And Timothy Garton Ash sees the Murdoch mess as a moment of opportunity:  

Out of this putrid quagmire there should emerge a whole new settlement: in the balances between politics, the media, the police and the law; in the self-regulation of the press; and in the practice of journalism. The danger is that once the initial outrage has passed, Britain will again settle for half-measures, half-implemented. But for now, one of the most important crises of the British political system in 30 years has produced an opportunity. I will return this autumn to a Britain that is slightly more free.

Over the weekend, Rupert Murdoch ran this apology in British newspapers.

We Are Sorry

It's hard not to wonder if this is Murdoch really swallowing his pride and stepping up to the plate to accept responsibility,  or if this was just one of several strategic measures he'll take to put out his media fire. Especially in light of Monday's editorial by the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, which reads as defensive and tone-deaf.  

Sure, the unsigned editorial does make one really good argument, as Hot Air's Ed Morrissey points out:

They then argue, very effectively, that the same people baying for Murdoch blood at the moment had just been cheering for Bradley Manning and Wikileaks for doing essentially the same thing and calling it "journalism."  The only real difference is in target selection.

But, counters Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams:

[I]n a Monday Wall Street Journal editorial on "News and Its Critics" that borders on brilliant satire, the Murdoch-owned paper rails on about how "our competitors are using the phone-hacking years ago at a British corner of News Corp. to assail the Journal, and perhaps injure press freedom in general." That's right, haters, when you criticize an organization that breaks into a murdered girl's voicemails, and believes paying off cops and tampering with individual privacy is "part of the game,"you're messing with the First Amendment itself. Though the editorial is unsigned, one can't help noting its spiritual kinship with the persuasive rhetoric of that legendary debater, Eric "Otter" Stratton, who once noted, "The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took a few liberties... You can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals... for isn't this an indictment of our entire American society?"

The piece goes on swinging from there, defending recently resigned publisher and CEO Les Hinton, who "said he knew nothing about wide-scale hacking," and noting that "on ethical questions, his judgment was as sound as that of any editor we've had."

That may well be true. But to include the words "sound judgment" in the same editorial piece that refers to the News of the World's now well-documented and openly apologized for transgressions as "alleged hacking" doesn't scream "we have great decision-making ability."


Graphic: What News Corp. owns

Tim Rutten: News Corp.'s widening scandal

 Photo gallery: British phone hacking scandal

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photos: A demonstrator posing as media baron Rupert Murdoch wields puppets depicting British Prime Minister David Cameron and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt during a recent protest. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press. An ad that ran in British newspapers featured an apology from Murdoch. Credit: Chris Helgren / Reuters.

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