The News of the World hacking scandal continued to fester this week. Accusations were made that the police went soft on the investigation during the past few years. This is extremely messy, and given the nastiness of some of the charges, it is understandable that the British public will demand some people over and above those specifically involved in the crime will be held accountable. Which means that until media mogul Rupert Murdoch can prove himself innocent of any role in the wrongdoing, he and his vast media empire will be tainted, if only by association.
But there are a couple of points about the feeding frenzy in which Murdoch is being represented as the font of all that is evil in the world. One is that as bad as the accusations lodged against the News International organization are, the belief the hacking was solely the product of Murdoch’s influence rather than the longstanding gutter culture of British tabloids seems to be grounded firmly in bias against the publisher. The other is that much of the dumping on Murdoch by rival media outlets is barefaced hypocrisy.
As to the first, it must be pointed out that Rupert Murdoch did not invent the crazy culture of London tabloids. As Anne Applebaum wisely noted last week in the Washington Post, the tabs thrived on this sort of muck for decades, and the downfall of News International execs fits right into the same story pattern that delighted News of the World readers for a century. Nor can the cozy relationship between large media outlets and politicians and police be attributed to some original insight on Murdoch’s part. While they might be considered regrettable, such ties are a given in any democracy. No “reform” enacted purely to punish Murdoch will change any of this.
Second, while it is also understandable some in the media would get up on their hind legs and huff and puff about how awful this scandal is, the fact that the alleged hacking really is terrible stuff is no excuse for some of the hypocritical criticism doled out by those who don’t work for Murdoch.
One comical example was a piece published in the Washington Post on Friday by, of all people, pornographer Larry Flynt. The idea the publisher of Hustler could teach anyone a lesson about the ethics of journalism is so bizarre you might have thought it was a parody.
Far worse was Joe Nocera’s anti-Murdoch rant in the New York Times on Saturday. Nocera’s interest was in bashing the Wall Street Journal and claiming that Murdoch had destroyed a once-great paper, not commenting about the scandal. The Journal had no role in the hacking, and despite Nocera’s carping, the changes Murdoch wrought at the Journal have been widely praised for bringing new energy and improved features to a paper directly competing with the Times in a way that it has never done before.
Nocera delivered a searing indictment of the Journal’s coverage of the story and what he thought was a fawning interview with Murdoch published in the paper. Even if we were to agree with his assessment of the Journal’s work on this story, it is beyond me how anyone at the Times could have had the chutzpah to write about journalists not subjecting their publishers to the third degree. Suffice it to say the day someone on the Times’ payroll treats their boss Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (whose many follies on both the editorial and business sides of the newspaper are certainly worthy of scrutiny) the way Nocera thinks the scribes at the Journal should treat Murdoch, he will have standing to write about that subject.