It is starting to look more like Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper operation was a criminal enterprise, not merely one that somehow got off the track. Phone hacking, checking into messages on cell phones, appears to have been rampant. Paying bribes to police officers and others to get exclusive stories now seems to have been more or less standard practice.
Is this just a problem “over there”? No. Murdoch is, technically, a naturalized American citizen who has been shown the utmost courtesy (putting it mildly) in his adopted home nation. His company owns 27 American television stations that form the backbone of the Fox Network. Those television stations all get licenses from the federal government through the FCC and holders of those rights are required, by law and regulation, to be people of good moral standing. If your chief executives in England are spending more time in jail than pick pockets, how does that reflect on Murdoch himself? All of those licenses could be taken away from News Corp, which could start a chain reaction against Murdoch himself.
Here’s another part of RM’s big problem: he runs the News with an iron hand. Nothing happens unless he says it should. He appoints all of the board of directors, he controls 40% of the voting stock and he has used the company as a personal stepping stone for his three children, two of whom serve on the board and the third, his daughter, was set to join the board in 2012.
Murdoch can hardly claim that he is not responsible for what goes on under him. Well, of course, he can make any claim he wants, but who is going to believe him in regard to his control of his personal empire? He is responsible for everything the corporation does, because his control is so absolute and so unchallenged. Big problem. If he were more of a traditional CEO, he could claim that he had delegated responsibilities to others. As head of a one man, one family ruled company, he has nowhere to hide, especially under American law.
Murdoch has very powerful defenders: the entire Republican party. They know he has helped them by the hour by making Fox News into a virtual mouthpiece for Republican causes. Expect the Republicans to scream until their throats crack if this Democrat controlled American administration goes after Murdoch in a hard way. Yet, under our laws, there is no other choice but to start the long march toward taking away those television stations. If we had a Republican in the White House, you can bet your Lexus that they would find a way to soft pedal Murdoch’s offenses, but we have a Democrat who might (who knows?) encourage the actions required by our laws.
Right now, I would put the odds of losing the television stations at less than 30%, but events in the coming days and weeks could change that. In the hardball world of politics these days, the Dems would be foolish not to try, and try hard, to remove or weaken someone who is an obvious enemy of their hopes and someone who has played a major role in disrupting any hope of cooperation and compromise in DC.
Murdoch has turned American media into something we have seldom seen in American history: a national media voice that favors, outright, one side of political debate. Sure, we had partisan media more than a hundred years ago and we’ve had Democratic and Republican oriented newspapers all along, but Murdoch’s empire is different in size and impact. It is hard to conjure even a comparison, because, in the past, what we have had were more often individual voices, like Father Coughlin in the 1930s and ‘40s and Paul Harvey for the last half of the 20th century (both right wing voices, of course).
American concerns aside, most of the brewing trouble is still in England, where it could yet claim the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Right now, I would put the chance of Cameron stepping down as British PM at a higher level than Murdoch losing the television stations here. If someone offered me 50/50 odds that he will still be there in three months, I wouldn’t take them. If Murdoch’s newspapers were operating as a virtual criminal enterprise and if, as it now appears, the British government was up to its eyeballs playing their game, how long can Cameron survive? He hired, of all things, one of Murdoch’s former editors as the spokesperson for his national government.
It is probably not of great consequence to the U.S. if Cameron goes at some point. Thankfully, this is not a case of an American company corrupting a foreign nation. News Corp started in Australia and Murdoch only took American citizenship as a matter of convenience and necessity for his television network. He was a media empire builder in England long before he arrived here, so the Brit’s have true ownership of him and his scandals.
How soon before the fireworks start here? I’d give it ten days, max.