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Friday, July 08, 2011


Schadenfreude is best savored when its intended victim falls from Alpine heights. And Rupert Murdoch, #4 on the Vanity Fair 100, comes from the thinnest of atmospheres and appears to be in the slow-motion process of being brought low. It is hugely ironic that one of the greatest media companies of the modern era is so completely bungling the PR as this bad operetta plays itself out. It would appear from the outside that Murdoch's media clumsiness, his bad decisions -- protecting Rebekah Brooks, being the most glaring example -- may have something to do with the way he runs his particular court, his imperial style, and not good business or, adjacent to that, good media practices.

There is some virtue to that. Murdoch, like Si Newhouse and any other media mogul worth his weight in postmodern Sun King gold, has his favorites. And to those favorites Murdoch is loyal, for loyalty to one's friends is an aristocratic virtue. Further, corporate culture -- media culture to be precise in this particular case-- resembles nothing if not aristocratic forms of government. An aristocracy within the American democracy, so to speak. How else does one explain golden parachutes not tied to performance?

But back to Murdoch. It was under Brooks, whose career advanced at bacterial velocity, that the paper became such a toxic mess. Good business and good media would have been to throw Rebekah Brooks to the wolves. NewsCorp is, after all a public company as well as a family organization. Brooks certainly deserved it. And so might James Murdoch, his son. One can easily conjure up a scenario in which someone like a Ted Tuner would have cut professional though not personal ties, smiling, with a "nothing personal" playing upon his thin media mogul lips (he actually did something like this to his own son). And, of course, it wouldn't be personal. They could fight it in the courts together, but a public business is not a personal family feifdom.

There is, of course, a lot of damning to go around. These things tend to happen when 168-year old media institutions evaporate and 500 people are forced to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. What News of the World did, particularly with the family of the missing little girl, showed more than just a lack of journalistic ethics -- it was sociopathic, devoid of any sense of decency. Simon Dumenco is particularly damning in AdAge:

More than nine months ago, I predicted that News Corp.'s News of the World phone-hacking scandal would only escalate and could amount to "The End of Rupert Murdoch." I suggested that while News Corp. was likely big enough to be able to absorb the spiraling legal costs associated with the scandal without materially affecting its bottom line (the company gets most of its revenue from its non-newspaper operations, including 20th Century Fox), the real cost would be highly personal: The world's most powerful and feared media mogul would be going down.

Remember, the years-old phone-hacking scandal only really heated up last fall -- and is only coming to a boil now -- because Murdoch's archnemesis, The New York Times, rekindled interest in it with a major investigative feature in its Sunday magazine ... I also pointed out Murdoch's age (then 79, now 80) and the reality of actuarial tables (the average Australian man lives 79.33 years).
Ouch. But Dumenco does seem to have a point. It's not so much the crime now, but the cover-up, the falling upwards under protective corporate cover of people that really ought not to be protected. What gives it more pathos is that the workers -- the journos that until Sunday worked at the paper -- by and large had nothing to do with the previous regimes's excesses and they are getting fired anyway. That, dear reader, is a sure formula for SchadenMurdoch. The difference between the lofty heights of Murdoch and his court and the lot of the newly unemployed as well as the phone hacking victims is how I define ScahdenMurdoch.

This story does not appear to be going away, and is now ensorcelling all the players in High British Politics ("We've all been in this together" PM Cameron) and, because of the highly political nature of NewsCorp's content -- at least on the cable and print side -- one can imagine that the story will remain a profoundly partisan issue for the foreseeable future. Already anti-Murdochian stories dominate HuffPo's Media section. One can already hear the "media elites" counterspin on the right.

Let the long, hot media summer begin.

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