Posted at 09:52 AM ET, 07/18/2011

Wall Street Journal editorial raises hackles; is David Cameron on shaky ground?


Rupert Murdoch, center, attempts to speak to the media after he held a meeting with the parents and sister of murdered school girl Milly Dowler. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
The punches keep coming in the British phone hacking scandal: the head of the Scotland Yard has stepped down. Rebekah Brooks, who recently resigned as head of News Corp.’s British newspapers, was arrested and released on bail. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch will speak on Tuesday before parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron will speak on Wednesday. News Corp. shares have dropped 7.6 percent on the New York stock exchange, and are at a two-year low.

Amid the unspooling controversy, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that journalism professor Jeff Jarvis called an unbelievable defense of the boss.

The unsigned opinion piece has media watchers up in arms for its defense of the Murdoch media empire. It argues, much as a Fox and Friends segment did on the Friday show, that too much attention is being paid to the Murdoch papers. From the op-ed:

It is also worth noting the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a single media company, when British tabloids have been known for decades for buying scoops and digging up dirt on the famous.”

It goes on to defend Les Hinton, the publisher of News Corp.’s Down Jones subsidiary who stepped down on Friday, and lashes out at its critics:

We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can't cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur.”

The opinion piece is also not behind the Wall Street Journal’s paywall, allowing anyone to read its defense.

The New York Magazine called it a “tin-eared tirade.” Jarvis wrote a response to the editorial on his blog the Buzz Machine, hoping the scandal would break up Murdoch’s empire and diminish institutional journalism. However, he thinks it unlikely that Murdoch will relinquish control of his empire, even in the face of the ever-widening scandal.

It could, however, bring down the British government. Even Cameron’s own political party is questioning whether or not he can sidestep the scandal. From the First Post:

Tory blogger and former Conservative candidate Iain Dale says: "I can't believe I am even writing this, but it is no longer an impossibility to imagine this scandal bringing down the Prime Minister or even the government.”

The op-ed is just another example in the growing library of media stories that show the complicated relationship the press has toward reporting on the scandal. As the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi writes:

Murdoch’s U.S.-based media organizations — Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post — find themselves in the almost no-win position of reporting a story that involves their boss... At the same time, outlets such as the New York Times and NPR have also enthusiastically pursued the story, raising suspicions about their motives.

David Carr in the New York Times reports that News Corps’s traditional way of handling scandal has been to pay out to those making the complaints, as it did in 2009 when a New Jersey company accused it of hacking into its password protected computer system. However, Carr does not believe money will solve News Corps.’s current problems.

Nor, it seems, will the op-ed in the Journal.

By  |  09:52 AM ET, 07/18/2011

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