I disagree with Roger Cohen on just about everything, but occasionally the New York Times columnist’s journalistic chops get the better of his hyper-liberal bias. Today’s piece by Cohen is an example of this, as he refuses to join the media lynch mob crying for Rupert Murdoch’s scalp. Murdoch is being pilloried for the crimes committed in the last decade by the News of the World, his British tabloid. The paper’s hacking of the e-mail accounts of crime victims and politicians alike is indefensible, and those involved in making those decisions deserve to be punished. But the price being exacted for this scandal seems incommensurate with the crimes that were committed. News Corp’s decision to shut down the paper was an attempt to put the story to sleep, but it didn’t succeed. It now appears as if Murdoch may be denied the right to purchase control of a satellite cable network, as a further penalty for what his critics believe is his malign influence on journalism and politics.
But as Cohen rightly points out, Rupert Murdoch was the best thing that ever happened to British newspapers and has been a positive force in the American media as well. Rupert Murdoch was not the first press baron in Britain with political influence. Such figures have been key players in British history for more than a century. The idea that shaming Murdoch or depriving him of the right to own a network will fix this supposed problem is absurd. Moreover, although Murdoch is by no means a doctrinaire conservative, we all know that were he a liberal, few of the pundits who want his head would think cutting back his holdings should be an international priority.
Murdoch is the quintessential anti-establishment figure, a visionary risk taker whose goal has been to create markets not merely to make money (though he certainly has made a great deal of it). Though liberals despise his Fox News Channel, he rightly understood that the liberal monopoly of the mainstream media left a vacuum on the right that the public demanded be filled with content. Like Cohen, I’d bet on Murdoch not only to survive this crisis but to sooner or later come out far ahead.
After all, as bad as the crimes committed by some of Murdoch’s employees were, are they really any worse than a columnist for one of the most influential publications in the world acting as an apologist for a despotic regime and whitewashing its anti-Semitic actions? The point is, if Roger Cohen kept his job after doing just that for Iran, there’s no reason why the employees of the News of the World or Rupert Murdoch should be deprived of either the right to work as journalists or to own media outlets.