Concluding that the News of the World scandal in Great Britain shows that Rupert Murdoch has less than a sufficient reverence for ethics, journalistic or otherwise, is an intellectual achievement well within the powers of Forrest Gump. Concerns about the integrity of the Australian media magnate have been voiced since he first stuck his kangaroo’s nose in the American media tent. As is too often the case here, legitimate points were minimized by their linkage to political bias: was Murdoch bad for American journalism because he was unethical, or because he was conservative? His most vocal critics, being from the Left, regard the two as the same, which allowed Murdoch to accumulate defenders on the political right who should have been just as wary of his methods and ethical deficit.
Now his flagship tabloid, The News of the World, has folded in the midst of a still-unfolding scandal. You can read details here; the important thing to know is that the tabloid was essentially lawless. It was the revelation of widespread phone hacking that finally brought it down, but it is clear from the statements of the paper’s past editors that it considered breaking the law to get a juicy story a perfectly legitimate way to gather the news. Murdoch and his son oversaw who was hired to run the tabloid and they are responsible for the stinking values of the leadership there. They were also aware of them.
The News of the World scandal is the smoking gun of Murdoch’s ethical leadership. I know the sleazy tabloid is across the pond, but there are few clichés more inevitably true than “the fish rots from the head down.” In ethics, it is the leader that sets the standards. The Murdoch media empire does not merely foster an ethically shaky culture, not just an ethically-flawed culture, but a shameless culture that doesn’t value ethics at all.
Is there any way the American public, knowing this, can or should trust any Murdock-owned media?
No. Of course not.
The Federal Communications Commission requirements for a broadcasting license requires that “the person or persons in control of an applicant corporation or other organization is of good character and possesses other qualifications sufficient to provide a satisfactory public service.”‘
Murdoch does not qualify. By no interpretation of those words can the executive who presides over a virtual criminal enterprise like News of the World qualify. There is every reason to believe that the unethical values that imbue the culture of one of his media organizations are systemic and cultural, and are infecting the rest of his empire, including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. The problem will not be solved by requiring ethics seminars for Murdoch employees. The problem can only be solved by getting rid of Murdoch.
I don’t know how to do that for the Wall Street Journal. If the FCC’s character requirement means anything, however, it compels the forced removal of Murdoch from the ownership of Fox. The greatest impediment to the FCC doing do, perhaps, is the undisciplined and improper criticism of Fox News by the Obama Administration for its political coverage, making it difficult for one of its agencies to take completely appropriate, indeed necessary, measures against the network’s parent, NewsCorp without prompting accusations of government interference with Freedom of the Press.
Ironic, don’t you think? In the end, what might save Rupert Murdoch’s control of Fox News is its bias.