A recent segment of Fox News Watch took on the media’s coverage of the News Corp. scandal. The highlight came out of the mouth of syndicated columnist Cal Thomas: “This is the biggest case of piling on since the last rugby game I saw. The left has been out to get News Corp., especially Fox News Channel, for years.”
Predictable comment from someone at Fox, which is a property of News Corp. And predictable comment in the midst of any public scandal: Whenever there’s a lot of news about something, people will blame those who produce the news.
Yet reality in this case appears to be running in the opposite direction. The crisis began on July 4, when the Guardian published an account alleging that the News of the World, a News Corp. property, had hacked into the voicemail of then-missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler back in 2002. Though people were aghast at the revelations, the scandal would have fizzled by now if the outrageous conduct had been limited to the Milly case.
But no. The Guardian story uncorked a news media version of Deepwater Horizon, in which revelations of criminal, unethical and immoral acts gushed into the public sphere too quickly for news outlets to track them. Allegations of phone hacking extended to the families of dead British servicemen, the families of victims of the July 7, 2005, London bombings, victims of the 9/11 attacks. Police bribery, too. Coziness between News Corp. and the highest levels of British government? Yes, that’s another feature.
Sample the news feed from just the past few days. At around 5 a.m. EST Friday came news of the resignation of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. That story was coming out of London. At around 4 p.m. EST came news of the resignation of New York-based Les Hinton, chief executive of News Corp.’s Dow Jones division. That story was coming out of New York. Word of caution to scandal-prone media moguls: Keep your properties confined to one time zone.
Friday also spat out details on Neil Wallis, a former News of the World editor who was working as a consultant for the police on the hacking case while at the same time reporting back to News Corp.
Then came the weekend, when those lefty media types might have enjoyed a break from the scandal. But this thing is respecting no boundaries: On Sunday morning, Brooks was arrested; later in the day, the country’s highest-ranking cop resigned. Somewhere in the same news cycle, something called the Serious Fraud Office was called upon to investigate whether Murdoch’s people “breached company law when it paid to settle lawsuits in the aftermath of the original 2005-06 police inquiry,” according to the Independent.
So the only one piling on here is News Corp. itself. Its reportorial tactics, allegedly corrupt interactions with officialdom, and years of denial on this matter are the culprits behind the coverage plume. What looks like piling on is actually just reporting out each tick and tock of the controversy.
In its lead Sunday piece on the scandal, the New York Times wrote about “six overstuffed plastic bags gathering dust and little else” in a Scotland Yard evidence room. The bags contained 11,000 pages of notes on the hacking crisis. Now there’s a pile.