The Bush administration told taxpayers to hand over hundreds of billions of their hard-earned dollars to bail out Wall Street banks because the financial institutions were too big to fail. Now, Rupert Murdoch, owner of politically powerful publications and broadcast stations, claims his News Corp. is too big to know.
Murdoch, who’s in the news industry, essentially a business based on knowing and knowing first, told an investigating committee of the British Parliament this week that he’s a know-nothing. The CEO of News Corp., owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, said he was clueless about the phone hacking and other illegality endemic at his company. News Corp., he said, was just too big for him to keep track of its criminal activity. Others were to blame, he blathered. Others are responsible. But not him, not the guy in charge. Here’s what he said:
“I feel that people I trusted — I don’t know who, on what level — have let me down, and I think they have behaved disgracefully, and it’s for them to pay.”
Basically, he said, he deserves the profits that his underlings make for him by bribing police officers and hacking phone lines. But if his underlings do something wrong —like bribing police and hacking phones — he can’t be held accountable because News Corp. is too big for him to know. He claims he certainly would not be behaving disgracefully as CEO for failing to know. And he’s saying he certainly shouldn’t have to pay for his underlings’ bad behavior on his watch. No, the way it works is he gets paid. No matter what.
Brilliant, as the Brits would say.
Banks are too big to be held accountable. Murdoch is too big to be held accountable. Only the little guy, like a laid off minimum wage earner, should be held accountable when he can’t make his mortgage or car payment.
In the United States, everyone is equal, except the guys who are more equal, the big shots like Wall Street banksters who rake in tens of millions in bonuses even when they lose gambles on collateralized debt obligations and the likes of Murdoch, now under investigation for violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — which Murdoch earlier had tried to defang through donations to a Republican congressman who floated legislation to make foreign bribery less, well, illegal, and to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce campaign supporting that.
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband blamed both the international banking crisis and the Murdoch scandal on those in the more-than-equal class shirking responsibility. Referring specifically to News Corp., he said:
“This was an organization that thought it was beyond responsibility. Its power was so immense, its influence so great, from prime ministers downwards. Nobody confronted them. Nobody held them to account. Nobody seemed willing to challenge them. Not the police, not most front-line politicians, nor most of the press.”
Here’s a little bit of what got News Corp. into trouble: The now-defunct News Corp.-owned The News of the World hacked into the phones of innocent people including, investigators believe, victims of terrorist attacks, the royal family, a prime minister and other politicians, celebrities and a 13-year-old kidnap victim, Milly Dowler. In her case, the paper wrote stories based on her voice mails, and then, police believe, erased some of her messages when her box filled up, leading her family to believe that she might be alive and hindering investigation into what ultimately turned out to be a murder.
News Corp. paid some people who threatened legal action millions for their silence. Evidence indicating that The News of the World paid police for information was withheld from authorities for four years. The corporation destroyed the computer of a key editor at The News of the World and failed to safeguard e-mail evidence. Ten employees and former employees now have been arrested, including a woman described as Murdoch’s most trusted lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks. Britain’s top cop, the commissioner of Scotland Yard, and one of his deputies resigned this week over questions about the delay in investigating the phone hacking.
In the U.S., the FBI and the Justice Department are probing the actions of the U.S.-based News Corp. because if it bribed British police, that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and because of allegations that the hacking may have included the phones of American families of 9-11 victims.
In addition, Les Hinton, formerly executive chairman of News International, resigned last week as publisher of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), claiming, like Murdoch, that he “was ignorant of what apparently happened.” Hinton served as executive chairman of the News Corp. unit that oversaw its British tabloids for 12 years, a period during which The News of the World hacking occurred, and he was responsible for News Corp.’s 2007 internal inquiry into the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voice mails. He quit the WSJ after British papers suggested his testimony about the Dowler case to Parliament was, as American conservatives are fond of saying, “not meant to be factual.”
As the scandal escalated, Murdoch withdrew News Corp.’s $12 billion bid to buy controlling interest in British Sky Broadcasting, the country’s dominant satellite TV network. This must have felt like a wooden stake to the heart for the political power broker, to whom candidates for prime minister bowed and scraped. He was, for example, the second person David Cameron invited to Downing Street after Cameron’s 2009 election as prime minister. And Cameron hired as his communications director former The News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Coulson now is one of 10 facing charges in the phone hacking and police bribing debacle.
Murdoch needs to get out of American TV as well. Federal communications law contains a morals clause requiring owners of television stations to be “of good character.” Murdoch has proved that he is not.
He either permitted phone hacking, police bribing and a costly cover-up, or he is so incompetent that he failed to know. Either way, Murdoch’s character could hardly be described as good.
Unlike Britain, the United States doesn’t have kings. But Murdoch assumed the role of kingmaker here — aiming to control American elections with his newspapers including the WSJ, his broadcast stations including Fox, and millions in contributions to conservatives and conservative causes like the Chamber of Commerce. If he can’t be held accountable for his corrupt business dealings because of his self-induced amnesia, at least the FCC can hold him responsible for his corrupt character.
Time for the FCC to oust Mr. Know-Nothing.