In Britain, the scandal erupted with revelations of the hacking of a murdered young girl’s cellphone by the News of the World newspaper, giving her parents false hopes that she might still be alive. The ensuing exposure of routine hacking of the phones of reportedly 4,000 victims, as well as routine payoffs and bribery of police officials for inside information, has now shattered News Corp.’s cover story that this was the work of a rogue journalist or editor, or bent policeman.
The head of Scotland Yard and his deputy have resigned, and 10 people have been arrested so far, including Rebekah Brooks, the head of News International, a British susidiary of News Corp., and Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor who served as Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s chief press aide. Les Hinton, who ran News International before Brooks, has resigned as the head of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal. As Mark Lewis, lawyer for the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered young girl, said, “This is not just about one individual but about the culture of an organization.” Sorry, indeed.
Nor are the sleaze, scandals and corruption unique to Great Britain. In consolidating his media holdings in the United States, Murdoch is famed for cutting corners and using money and power to gain regulatory favors. As the Nation’s Robert Sherrill wrote in 1995, “ F.C.C. Commissioners do not like to displease Murdoch. They have done a number of extraordinary favors for him in the past.” Over the past decade, as media reform groups battled to prevent FCC and Congressional moves to undermine controls on media consolidation, Murdoch and his lobbyists have been a constant, well-funded presence — pushing to rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation, and one man, accumulated extraordinary power.
David Carr reported in the New York Times that News Corp. has paid millions to settle claims against its illegal behavior. In 2009, it settled a suit by a company called Floorgraphics that accused News America, one of Murdoch’s subsidiaries, of hacking into its computer system, libeling it and costing it customers. News Corp. settled for $29.5 million and later bought Floorgraphics. Most recently it paid out half a billion dollars in on a settlement with a company called Valassis Communications.