For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Police bribes,illicit cell phone tracking, and allegations that UK News Corps journalists targeted a former prime minister and possibly members of the royal family: Allegations of phone hacking were thought to have been relatively isolated incidents, but now it seems the hacking was widespread, and the questions keep coming. Last week media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of the popular tabloid at the center of the controversy, shut it down. Murdoch’s holdings include film studios, television stations and news papers around the world including the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Join us to discuss the tabloid scandal and the Murdoch empire.
- Clive Crook Washington commentator, Financial Times senior editor, Atlantic Monthly
- David Folkenflik media correspondent at NPR News.
- Rem Rieder editor and senior vice president,American Journalism Review.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. And the plot thickens. Members of parliament hold hearings today on whether Scotland Yard investigators looking in the phone-hacking allegations were themselves being hacked. The widening scandal involving the recently shut down British tabloid News of the World is putting pressure on its owner, media giant Rupert Murdoch.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the expanding phone-hacking scandal and some of the many unsavory links exposed among journalists, politicians and the police, Rem Rieder of American Journalism Review. Good morning to you, Rem.
MR. REM RIEDERGood morning, Diane. Great to be here.
REHMGood to have you here. Clive Crook of the Financial Times and The Atlantic Monthly. Good morning, Clive.
MR. CLIVE CROOKHi.
REHMNice to have you here. And joining us from a BBC studio in London, David Folkenflik of NPR News. Good morning, David.
MR. DAVID FOLKENFLIKGood morning, Diane.
REHMI'm going to start with you, David, after I invite our listeners to take part in this program. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook, or join us on Twitter. David, it would seem that this scandal is expanding to where we do not know. What's the latest this morning?
FOLKENFLIKWell, this morning, as you mentioned, there's parliamentary hearings about -- yeah, committee hearings about the role of police in shutting down an earlier investigation, whether or not they did so knowingly or obtusely, and also the statements of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who accused a couple of Murdoch -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.-owned papers of misdeeds, both in terms of The Sunday Times, which is one of their more prestigious newspapers here in the United Kingdom, of misrepresenting themselves in order to gain access to some of his financial records, and The Sun, the daily Murdoch-owned tabloid here in London, of improperly obtaining medical records involving the diagnosis of his very young son.
FOLKENFLIKIt was a shattering story for the Browns. He was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and that spurred a new wave of outrage. You know, this was a scandal that actually broke out a couple years ago in royals and celebrities and football stars. And, you know, the public sort of shrugged off the idea that their voicemails had been hacked into because they were famous people, wealthy people, powerful people. They had lawyers to represent them.
FOLKENFLIKLast week, this got started when an abducted girl's voicemail, it turned out, had been hacked into by the Murdoch tabloid News of the World nine years ago. And today's news about Gordon Brown's young son, with this diagnosis, a very invasive story at a time that the Browns themselves were just coming to terms with this, reminded people why they were so repelled by it just eight days ago.
REHMAnd, in fact, learning that that young girl, who had been murdered, had had her phones tapped into, hacked into, really seemed to be the turning point, didn't it?
FOLKENFLIKAbsolutely. It was the spark that turned into a brush fire. I mean, this is the grand unification theory of scandals here in London. You've got the police department implicated, both on a high level and a low level, allegations that police officers took money.
FOLKENFLIKMost recent allegation being that a member of the royal security force who protect the queen and Prince Philip sold information about the queen's whereabouts for money and, you know, claims that more lower level officers routinely sold bits of information about people in the news to the tabloids, particularly The News of the World, which was just closed.
FOLKENFLIKBut also, you know, you have people on the high end, like Gordon Brown, like the Queen of England, whose information is sold or trampled on. And you have lower people like this unknown school girl, you know, whose stuff was hacked into. It meant that everybody lies in between. There is nobody that's safe from this. The police are implicated.
FOLKENFLIKThe politicians' ties to the Murdochs are so tight and so important, at least in their minds, to their being able to seek and obtain power here that, you know, the parliament doesn't have clean hands. The press, obviously, doesn't have clean hands. And it would seem that the police and the investigators don't either.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News, he is joining us from a BBC studio in London. Rem Rieder, there were reports yesterday that some News of the World reporters had tried to get personal information about 9/11 victims from a former member of the New York City Police. So this scandal is certainly one that does not stop with borders.
RIEDERNo, it doesn't at all. And that certainly brings that point home. And Rupert Murdoch, while he's such a powerful figure in Britain, of course, is an extremely influential media presence in the United States. His creation, Fox News, has had a revolutionary effect both in the media world, in recent years, and in politics.
RIEDERAnd he, not long ago, acquired The Wall Street Journal, one of the best papers in the United States, as well as his ownership of the New York Post, probably the clever -- one of cleverest tabloids around. So it's -- it will be fascinating to see how much of this spills over and ultimately what it means for Rupert Murdoch, media baron, in both countries.
REHMAnd what it could mean for those media entities he owns here in this country?
RIEDERAbsolutely. I mean, it's way too early to know what -- where that's going to go. But you have the sense with this investigation that it's exploding. If you think of how far it's moved in the last week or so, that he's -- most incredible revelations about the hacking of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and going after his banking records, the medical records that you talked about.
RIEDERAnd what's significant there is that some of that dirty work was done not by the now closed News of the World, but by other Murdoch properties, including, you know, the up market one, and what that suggests, that this is much more institutional. You know, we're used to scandals in the United States in journalism. They're kind of -- seem kind of tame compared to this, generally involving plagiarism or fabrication.
RIEDERAnd, usually, they're traced back to one misbehaving reporter. Here, both at the News of the World, is that what emerged in the last week is how rampant the hacking was. It clearly -- this was institutional, and this revelation that other papers are involved really raises the stakes.
REHMRem Rieder, he is editor, senior vice president for the American Journalism Review. Turning to you, Clive Crook, looking at British tabloids, how different are they from tabloids here in the U.S.?
CROOKIn terms of style, you know, they're different, but not hugely different. I mean, they both -- tabloids in Britain and in the U.S. both have a pre-occupation with scandal, you know, with sensationalism. So, you know, the voice of the papers are not that different, I think. I mean, the British tabloids have pioneered a more sort of salacious style of coverage, especially with celebrities even, than the U.S. tabloids.
CROOKBut I don't think they're that different in terms of, you know, the market they've identified for that product. But the big difference, I think, is there's a sort of tradition in British journalism, a sort of tacit acceptance of very dubious methods for getting stories. And things that would be regarded as completely beyond the pale in the U.S., I think, are being tacitly accepted in Britain for a long time.
REHMSo, now, you reach a point where you find that some allegations of wrongdoing really crossed a line?
CROOKYeah, it's that -- partly, that they pushed it too far. And they went from things that were highly questionable to things that were plainly outrageous and, in some cases, outright criminal. And that sort of brought the ceiling down. But the interesting thing to me is the way that the, you know, the scandal has so many dimensions. It spread beyond the, you know, the issue of the methods. Is it right, you know, to tap into the phone of a kidnap victim?
CROOKPlainly, it is not. But it's gone so far beyond that, it's now a huge political scandal because of the links between Murdoch and leading politicians in Britain. And now, of course, we have this amazing, to my mind, you know, police blackmail angle, you know, that the -- that these papers were actually, you know, extorting cooperation or bribing policemen to cooperate with their work.
CROOKThat is a wholly new dimension and lifts the thing, you know, to a new level of sort of astonishment.
REHMSo two entities in which people, you know, might normally have a certain amount of trust. Certainly, Scotland Yard and, to a lesser degree, the press, have both now -- somehow, their idealized level has been shattered.
CROOKCertainly in the case of the police, I mean, and I think that is the new sort of dramatic development. What on earth -- and where does this stop? What were the police doing? But I would just qualify what you say about, you know, the exalted place of the press. People in Britain, I think, have always understood, that they -- a place of the press is not that exalted.
CROOKOne of the things that struck me most forcefully, coming to work in the U.S. from Britain, was that American journalists and the American press take themselves very seriously. And I remember, to begin with, finding this, to be honest, a little off-putting. You know, I thought the American press, it's -- you know, regards itself as a kind of priesthood. You know, it's very po-faced, takes itself too seriously.
CROOKYou know, I was raised in -- more in that British tradition. But, of course, now we're seeing the downside of that British acceptance of dubious, to put it mildly, practices. Now, I'm -- now, I'm, you know, the advantages of a press that takes itself seriously are now very plain.
REHMClive Crook, Washington commentator and Financial Times senior editor for Atlantic Monthly. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the tabloid scandal that has broken in Great Britain and certainly spread, to a certain extent, here, across the pond, to the U.S., where we learned yesterday that there has been some hacking into 9/11 victims. Now, here's an email from James in San Antonio. And I'll ask you, David Folkenflik. "Has Rupert Murdoch himself been implicated in actually paying anyone or illegally obtaining any of this information?
REHM"If not, why has his name been mentioned over 15 times within the first 10 minutes of your show?"
FOLKENFLIKWell, I admire James', you know, accounting of the mentions. I would say this. The News of the World tabloid, which the Murdochs -- and, specifically, most explicitly, Rupert Murdoch's son, James, who's the head of News Corp.'s British operations, decided to shut down in the wake of the revelations of last week. The News of the World itself was Murdoch's great entry into the British market.
FOLKENFLIKHe was, after all, an Australian press baron before he came to the U.K., which then was his launching pad to come into the U.S. He's now a naturalized American citizen. And the News of the World and its sister daily tabloid, The Sun, have subsidized the Murdoch family's newspaper holdings here, the more prestigious titles that give it perhaps more respectable influence, we might say, the Sunday Times and The Times of London.
FOLKENFLIKAnd they've been quite profitable. They've also provided the financial basis for them to get into the television business with the degree of success that the Murdochs have. Rupert Murdoch himself? No. I think it's very important to say there's no evidence or hint, so far, that he had any knowledge of the practices going on, although he's known to be a pretty hands-on proprietor.
FOLKENFLIKHe's known to go into the newsrooms of various newspapers, tear up headlines and tell them how to improve it. He did that in the opening days and weeks of his ownership of The Wall Street Journal in 2007, for example. The reason he's mentioned, is that, you know, unlike most media companies that are publicly traded, Rupert Murdoch really is the visionary behind News Corp.
FOLKENFLIKAnd there's real question about how philosophies, how direction might change in his absence. He's also -- you know, he's come back to the U.K. to help his son deal with this. In terms of who knew what, it's a very interesting question. There are a lot of questions about senior executives at the top level of News Corp.'s British subsidiaries. Rebekah Brooks was editor of News of the World at the time of some of the most egregious allegations that are said to have occurred.
FOLKENFLIKShe's now the chief executive over News Corp.'s British newspapers and is fighting hard to keep public reputation high enough to be able to hold on to her job. Her boss is James Murdoch, obviously, as I said, the son of Rupert Murdoch. And there's real question right now.
FOLKENFLIKAn internal review by News International -- and that's the British newspaper division of News Corp. -- conducted in 2007, publicly found that there was no evidence to suggest that hacking went any broader than the royals' editor of the News of the World and a private investigator, both of whom ended up serving some time in jail.
FOLKENFLIKThe supporting material for that review, which was not publicly released, actually seems, by all accounts of those who have seen it subsequently, to show that, actually, it was very widespread and a very serious problem indeed. But among the people who attested to the public conclusion that it was not widespread was Les Hinton. He was then the top executive over the British newspaper division of News Corp.
FOLKENFLIKHe said so in front of a parliamentary panel, and he attested so again, just two years ago in 2009.
REHMAnd he is...
FOLKENFLIKThat's important to our -- exactly right.
REHMHe is now?
FOLKENFLIKHe is now the CEO of Dow Jones, and he is now the publisher of The Wall Street Journal. And so that raises questions about the top person at one of the nation's -- our nation, the United States -- leading news organizations, the question of whether he intentionally misled parliament in a very serious inquiry indeed.
REHMRem Rieder, when you look at Rupert Murdoch himself, how do you think he has changed the media not only in Britain, but here in the U.S. as well?
RIEDERWell, the most dramatic example is the creation of Fox News, which is a -- has been a -- whatever your politics -- is a stunning achievement, creating a fourth national network and, more significantly, one with a -- at least a chunk -- a good chunk of its broadcast, a very distinctive political point of view and has had an enormous influence as well on politics in the United States as very much a Republican and right wing partisan.
RIEDERAnd that really is -- has had a spin-off effect on cable television, where we've seen the rise of MSNBC, a cable channel that tilts to the left. They've all had -- this has all had the effect of marginalizing, to some extent, CNN, the pioneer in this line of work, which has always prided itself on the news being straight down the middle and more in what we've thought of as the American tradition.
RIEDERSo it would be -- it's part of a phenomenon where we now have people who only get the news that reinforces their views. You have people who watch Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and listen to talk radio, people like Rush Limbaugh, and read the Drudge Report. On the left, you have people who watch MSNBC and go to the Huffington Post. So this is a really significant cultural shift. And it all -- it stems, in part, from the creation of Fox News by Rupert Murdoch.
REHMAnd what about in Great Britain, Clive?
CROOKWell, I think -- you know, I agree with what was just said, Diane. I think something similar happened in Britain. There is a distinctive Murdoch style to running a newspaper, especially a popular newspaper. He is, by instinct, I think, a populist. That is what he knows how to do, you know, to appeal to a huge audience. And that did drive journalistic standards down, I think, in the U.K.
CROOKBut I think it is a little bit complicated in the sense that he is -- you know, the thing about Murdoch is that he has always had his finger on the pulse of what the public wants. One of the great ironies of this scandal is that he pushed it too far. And now the public has turned against Murdoch in much the same way that Murdoch papers would build up celebrities and then tear them down, just like standard operating procedure in the British tabloids.
CROOKAnd now, I think, Murdoch is on the receiving end of that, which is interesting. But let's not forget the complicity of public opinion in all of this. I mean, and taking the specific case of Fox News, I mean, you know, Murdoch was responding to an unmet demand, and there's a good side to that.
CROOKI agree with -- I have tremendous reservations about this echo chamber effect that allows people to lock themselves into their own particular, you know, room, where they never hear a dissenting word. They just get their prejudices stroked. But the fact is there was a demand for Fox News, and there was a demand for MSNBC. And it's not a wholly bad thing that these voices have come forward, not by any means.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, you mentioned Les Hinton. And I wonder whether you believe or whether any of the stories that are coming out would or might suggest repercussions for him.
FOLKENFLIKThey're not. It's not at that stage quite yet, although I got to tell you, the story seems to shift every two or three hours. What you are seeing is aggressive push-back, behind the scenes, by News International figures of the idea that Rebekah Brooks, who's a very close confidant of Rupert Murdoch and associate of James Murdoch, or that James Murdoch himself had any knowledge of these things.
FOLKENFLIKWhat you're not hearing -- and what I think is a deafening silence -- is any similar protestations about Mr. Hinton. And I certainly have tried on a number of occasions with folks at Dow Jones to seek comment from him about it. And he's not speaking in his own defense either at this time.
FOLKENFLIKSo, you know, James Murdoch, on behalf of News International, has said that, you know, the company had made some false representations to parliament and that it was regrettable and he regretted it. You know, clearly, that's an allusion to Mr. Hinton's comments, among other things. It's a deafening silence at this moment. You know, he's a very loyal figure to Murdoch.
FOLKENFLIKIt's my understanding he started out at the age of about 15, back in Australia, as a -- basically a gopher for Rupert Murdoch. You know, he spent decades in his employ, loyally. And I've got to say that a lot of people with ties to The Wall Street Journal and to Dow Jones say that he brought a terrific leadership, that it was one of the unequivocal successes of Mr. Murdoch's acquisition of Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal.
REHMAnd I gather there's also been a great deal of speculation about Rebekah Brooks and why Rupert Murdoch is seeking to protect her so much.
FOLKENFLIKShe seems to have taken on the profile and the role almost of a family member. There's a closeness there, a desire to protect. Mr. Murdoch tends to be a pretty loyal employer to those who are devoutly protective and loyal to him, and she has certainly fulfilled that role. She led News of the World and The Sun, both of which she edited before ascending to her current role, to some real financial successes.
FOLKENFLIKShe's worked hard to try to stave off the circulation declines that have beset the entire newspaper industry in England, as well as in the United States. And he must be one of a handful of people who think that she still is tenable in her job. After all, she oversaw News International, the newspaper division at a time that the scandal deeply metastasized.
FOLKENFLIKAnd she was editor of the News of the World at a time the -- some of the chief allegations are said to have occurred. And, now, we have former Prime Minister Brown's allegations. She was editor of The Sun tabloid when he said that they somehow obtained medical records about his young son that should have stayed quiet. So, you know...
REHMI'm wondering whether -- that Rebekah Brooks could be something of a firewall for Rupert Murdoch.
CROOKWell, he has obviously decided to try and defend her, you know, to the end. But this -- I think David has put his point -- put his finger on something quite important here, that, you know, it's almost a sort of familial devotion to defend this woman who plainly should have resigned already, I think, on any calculation.
CROOKAnd that makes me want to suggest that the principal channel of contagion to the U.S. in this whole affair is going to be through the business side. I mean, this raises questions. This whole thing raises questions, not so much about journalistic ethics -- though, of course, it raises those -- but also about the way Murdoch has been running this business. I mean, it is a public company but run like a personal family enterprise.
CROOKAnd it's where Rebekah Brooks is being drawn into the family. Shareholders in News Corp. are entitled to be dismayed as they watch this. Shares in this business have not done well. The business is severely threatened in Britain because its bid, the BSkyB, is now in serious jeopardy, in fact, if it's not over altogether.
CROOKAnd, I think, you know, global investors in this company are going to be asking whether Rupert Murdoch is doing a good job running their company.
REHMClive Crook of the Financial Times and The Atlantic Monthly. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Saint Louis, Mo. Good morning, Eric. You're on the air.
ERICGood morning. I had a couple of points that I wonder if you could address or reflect on. One is that it appears that these kinds of invasive tactics may have begun in the pursuit of stories on celebrities. And given that celebrities themselves are seen as very able to manipulate the media, whether that sort of led to rationalizations for invasive tactics against people who really sort of knew how to play the game themselves.
ERICThe other point that I really just find impossible to believe is that a worldwide journalistic entity such as News Corp. could see certain kinds of tactics producing clear and definite advantage in their U.K. papers and then not taking those same tactics and exporting them, both to the U.S. and to Australia and, for that matter, to their business enterprises. Clive just mentioned the business side.
ERICWhy would we doubt that such espionage kinds of tactics would not be applied in the business level of the competition that is so noticeably furious within the News Corp. structure?
RIEDERWell, again, it's a reasonable question. But, I think, particularly with allegations of this seriousness, you need facts. You need evidence that something has taken place. And the other issue is we don't know for sure yet that this was a corporate strategy. We don't know how far up it goes, and we really need to see how the facts develop. Clearly, this investigation, parts are moving quickly.
RIEDERYou think of where we were a week ago and what we've learned since, you almost -- Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, mentioned that this was -- reminded him of Watergate. And I remember covering Watergate. And there is that same sense of the slow drip that suddenly becomes a torrent. And we've had that in the past week. So it's hard to know what, six or seven days from now, we know.
RIEDERBut I think, also, it's important that, you know, that the presumption of innocence extends to everybody until we have evidence or know that this was going on in the United States. You know, that kind of stays there.
REHMAnd, David Folkenflik, to what extent do we know exactly what's being investigated there in Britain by parliament?
FOLKENFLIKIt's almost a question of what isn't, you know? You have major questions about the police investigations, about the -- separately about the question of police being bribed for information. You have what are going to be inquiries into the practices of the press generally, of the questions of the phone hacking by News of the World and, possibly, now, other Murdoch titles as well.
FOLKENFLIKThere's layer upon layer of review and inquiry that's taking place, some of which -- with real criminal possibilities. One thing that I want to say, because I don't think it's been stressed enough, is, you know, how complicit almost every sector of the political structure is -- power structure is here in London.
FOLKENFLIKPrime Minister Cameron who came out Friday, denounced this situation, you know, has, in recent days, said that Rebekah Brooks needs to look to her conscience, has suggested that Mr. Murdoch has better things to do than consider the bid for BSkyB, that -- Britain's largest broadcaster, as Clive said -- that -- of which he already holds about 39 percent. But he wants the additional rest of the company and thought he would get it quite easily.
FOLKENFLIKPrime Minister Cameron also -- you know, his former chief press aide, the communications director, was the former News of the World editor at the time that the royals' editor and private investigator were themselves arrested and sent away. So, you know, he has very close ties to the Murdochs and to News Corp. himself.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News. More of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the ever-widening phone hacking, record hacking scandal that began in Britain, but seems to have drifted on this side of the Atlantic. Here in the studio, Rem Rieder. He's editor and senior vice president of the American Journalism Review. Clive Crook is with the Financial Times. He's also senior editor at Atlantic Monthly. David Folkenflik is at a studio in BBC in London.
REHMHe's media correspondent at NPR News. Here's an email from Sherry who says, "Please discuss the ties between News Corp. and Prime Minister David Cameron." Clive Crook.
CROOKWell, the thing I think you need to understand here is that Cameron -- you know, Cameron is prime minister, does have embarrassing connections with News Corp. He hired one of their former executives as his chief of communications. But the important thing to understand is that this is not unusual in Britain.
CROOKThe prime ministers of both parties have courted the, you know, the tabloid press and Rupert Murdoch in particular because they felt it's absolutely -- you know, they wanted to manipulate public opinion. They wanted to get the papers in their pocket, and, I think, you know, they are all guilty of this. It's something Cameron referred to the other day in his -- in a press statement. Whether he can stop the rot from his own point of view is debatable.
CROOKBut he -- I think, he -- what he said was honest, which is that we've all been in this together. You know, the politicians and the papers have been trading access for influence, and it has been a kind of ongoing form of soft corruption.
REHMAnd, David Folkenflik, explain what's at stake over the BSkyB merger. Tell us about that.
FOLKENFLIKWell, I think if you were to combine, I don't know, Comcast and Fox News and much of ESPN, BSkyB is a broadcaster that both conveys programs to the nation. It's -- it serves as a foundation for Murdoch to have ongoing satellite and broadcasting operations in Europe. It is -- it dwarfs the size of the BBC, you know, which we think of as the major British broadcaster.
FOLKENFLIKAnd, you know, the amount that he would get, just 60 percent of the company, is value-depending, I guess, on the day of the currency exchange in about 12 billion bucks. A lot of money's at stake. This is worth a lot more to him and to News Corp. than the newspapers are themselves. You know, the political ramifications are also pretty real.
FOLKENFLIKThe BSkyB deal was expected to sail in, as we talked a little earlier, through the Cameron government with easy approval. And the Labour Party -- which, as Clive suggests, is exactly right -- had been courting Murdoch for decades with some success under Tony Blair and less so much to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's dismay during the 2009 elections when Murdoch swang (sic) back to the Conservative Party.
FOLKENFLIKLabour has found its voice. It's decided to come out openly against Murdoch and News Corp. It's decided to oppose the BSkyB deal and throw as many things in its way as possible. And you're finding that David Cameron, who won but only with the minority of the votes, he had to take in to his coalition a third party called the Liberal Democrats here. And that third party is not inclined to support Murdoch either.
FOLKENFLIKIt hadn't made -- brokered any deals with Murdoch papers over the years to quite the same degree. It's not particularly inclined to help Murdoch out of this trouble.
FOLKENFLIKAnd, suddenly, you're seeing a much tougher climate for BSkyB and a much tougher client for Murdoch. People are sprinting away from them, patron they once actively courted.
REHMHere's an email from David in Port Charlotte, Fla., who says, "I do wonder how objective most journalists can be when talking about the scandal with News Corp. and News International when many journalists stand to benefit from the downfall of Mr. Murdoch's journalism empire. Should a journalist disclose if their employer is in competition with one of News Corp.'s companies?
REHM"Let's not forget the scandal only broke because the Guardian, one of News of the World's biggest rivals, kept pushing the story. I'd love to hear your panel comment on this. For example, would it benefit The New York Times if The Wall Street Journal were to be dragged into the mud? What about CNN and Fox News, et cetera?" Clive.
CROOKIt's a very good question, a very shrewd point. It's true. Everyone in this business who isn't working for News Corporation is in competition with News Corporation. The FT that I work for is in competition with The Wall Street Journal, so I hereby disclose that interest. Certainly, The New York Times is worried about The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch is on record as having said he has The New York Times in his crosshairs.
CROOKHe wants to take The Wall Street Journal into The Time's market. And he will be delighted to crush The New York Times. So, yes, I would say. Short answer to the question is, do bear that in mind. We all have an axe to grind in this debate.
RIEDERWell, one of the interesting things here is, for years, there is a tradition when the news organizations were very loathe to report on each other. And you could see just how dramatically that -- that's gone away in this case, where it was very much the aggressive reporting of the Guardian.
RIEDERYes, a rival. But at the same time I think that rivalry in -- at least, in this country in the past, has sort of had -- been a deterrent to aggressively going after other news organizations, kind of a gentlemen's agreement, which always struck me as silly because news organizations are important in society and deserve the same kind of scrutiny that politicians do. If I could go back to one previous point, David was -- that he was enumerating some of the (word?).
RIEDERI've been talking about BSkyB. I think just a couple of things he mentioned illustrate just how significant, already, this scandal has been for Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. Just to the fact the he's had to shut News of the World, his first paper that was his entree into London, that he's had to back off and may have imperiled forever the BSkyB deal, in addition to all the political (word?).
RIEDERBut there are two really concrete things that have happened, a, you know, kind of revived scandal that the -- for a couple of years looked like that he would escape it, that his kind of Teflon tradition would continue. And yet, since this exploded with the allegations about the hacking of a 13-year-old girl, the missing girl, already enormous consequences.
REHMAll right. To Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning. I think there's a problem of power corrupting as you have politicians, who get Murdoch's favor, get elected to office, whether it's Labour or Conservative. They didn't approve deals for him to extend his media empire. And it's a very unhealthy situation when you have this huge expansion of concentration of power in very few hands. And politicians are complicit with it.
MICHAELAnd Murdoch, because he engages in bare-knuckled fighting to help whoever he thinks will help him, didn't get favors back. And this is the real corruption of the situation.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, is there any indication that, because of the scandal, the tabloid culture promoted by Rupert Murdoch and others, we must say, could lose favor completely in the U.K.?
FOLKENFLIKWell, you know, on Sunday, which was the last day of publication of the News of the World, I went around various coffee shops and newsstands and tried to talk to people who were buying the issue for the first time. And a lot of them said, well, you know or -- excuse me, for the last time. A lot of them said, you know, this has been a guilty pleasure. I'll miss it. But, you know, it's not something I'm proud of.
FOLKENFLIKAnd other said, oh, no. It's the greatest because we got a little bit of the news, but we got the gossip we wanted. And now we're going to have to look for it elsewhere. But it was always the place for the best gossip. There was a true hunger for this. I mean, this sold, I believe, 2.6 million copies every Sunday, which is, you know, would put it on a par above any American newspaper by far. And as a country of a lot smaller population, there was a hunger for this.
FOLKENFLIKSo I think it may change practices. Certainly, I think, people are going to scale way back. But is there really going to be less of an appetite for news about the David Beckhams of the world stepping out on their spouses or the royals' missteps or, you know, movie stars tumbling out of their various dresses? I don't know. I think it's hard to say. I think it will shift and change form. But it's hard to say at this time.
CROOKI do not -- no, it's not hard to say. Of course, those appetites aren't going away. You know, they'll come back as strong as ever. But, David, I thought the key point you made, which I agree with completely, is on the method, you know, on the practices. That is going to change for sure, I think.
CROOKWell, I think, you know, you've got these two inquiries going on. People are going to go to jail over this, and we still don't know how many. But, you know, as I said before, it's outright criminality. And I think, you know, the -- as it were, the standards, the methods of British tabloid journalism is certain to change. But that doesn't mean that people's desire to read about scandal and gossip is going to be at all diminished. That will go on, I'm sure.
REHMAll right. To Susan in Fort Worth, Texas. Good morning.
SUSANGood morning. I tell you, I have been -- I haven't liked Murdoch for years. And, you know, I think he's a monster. But I really hope that this scandal brings down his little empire. The politics here in the U.S. were very civil until he got his hands on our news and our TV, our papers. And it's so divided now that we're to the point we can't do anything. We can't get anything done here in our country.
REHMAll right. First, to David Folkenflik, could this bring Murdoch down?
FOLKENFLIKWell, I mean it would take a concerted effort by the corporate board of News Corp. and shareholders to do that, and it's been such a creature of him. It's hard to imagine that. But you do hear speculation about it.
FOLKENFLIKYou also see most of the major newspapers in London speculating -- including Mr. Murdoch's own newspapers here in London -- speculating about the possibility of him getting out of the British newspaper business as a way of saying, well, forget it. Let me distance myself from that. It's been too much trouble. That said...
REHMBut what would that mean for his son?
FOLKENFLIKWell, I mean, if News Corp. were to get rid of those newspapers, his son who, after all, was the head of BSkyB, as News Corp. was the major minority owner of that, you know, would just oversee British and operations and continue to help lead the greater company. But the thing to remember is, you know, Mr. Murdoch, for all those who condemn him, also oversees several very prestigious and impressive newspapers, The Times of London, The Sunday Times, in particular, The Wall Street Journal.
FOLKENFLIKSome people take issue with the more general approach rather than purely financial emphasis. The Journal has taken under his proprietorship, but he's subsidized what would have been, in effect, money-losing ventures, to do some tremendous journalism, particularly from abroad at a time of constriction of a lot of the rest of the major media other than a handful of outlets. And, you know, that kind of subsidy could be at risk, too. He's a very -- his hands are in a lot of different places.
FOLKENFLIKSky News here in the U.K. is a very well-regarded news outlet with a different profile than, say, Fox News. So, you know, simply to say, as this listener does, I'd like to bring him down. There are unexpected consequences were he to get out of the publishing business.
REHMDavid Folkenflik of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Clive, I know you wanted to add something.
CROOKWell, I do think that Murdoch's main problem right now is the business problem. Of course, we don't know what he knew and when he knew it, about the hacking scandals. So one can't rule out the possibility there's something there. But the real problem is the business. His business is in huge difficulty in Britain.
CROOKAnd that could well spill over to the U.S. as shareholders in News Corp. ask, you know, what kind of a job is this guy doing running our company? Has his family in place to help him run the company, he has his loyalists in place. If he defends them too tenaciously, I think that is going to raise the issue in people's minds. Is he a good custodian of this business?
REHMAnd to the other part of our caller's question, Rem. How much influence has Rupert Murdoch had on the development of incivility in our political life?
RIEDERWell, Fox has certainly been a force in that. And a good point was made by Clive earlier, that, while it's been a force and has a revolutionary impact, it didn't arise out of nowhere. It clearly spoke to a large, large group of people who felt unrepresented in the media. We've heard, for years, about the liberal media that -- you could argue about that at length. And nevertheless, it struck a chord.
RIEDERAnd, already, we'd had the development of talk radio, which was very successful in reaching out to many of the same people. So, you know, while Fox has been a very important -- and Murdoch -- a very important player in this, obviously, it tapped into something very deep in this country. I mean, and I hardly think, while he's a man of many achievements, we can give him a complete credit for creating the partisanship and kind of the sometimes ugly politics that we're encountering today.
REHMAnd here's the last email from Dean, who says, "One of your guests defended Murdoch by saying there's in no evidence now that Murdoch knew of the unethical practices at his papers. If I don't know my brakes have gone bad, I will be convicted of a major crime after I go through a stop sign and kill someone. In other words, there should be evidence that Murdoch knew everything since he's in control of the papers under investigation."
REHM"There should be evidence, also, that he took steps to fix the brakes, so to speak, and get rid of the people involved." Clive.
CROOKI think -- actually, I think that's about right. You know, he's the head of the company. The buck stops with him. Now, at one time, they were arguing that this is not -- was not a systemic problem in the company. It was like a couple of rogues.
CROOKAnd at that point, I think, the line that, you know, you don't carry responsibility right at the top of the organization. That was at least worth a try. But, now, we're way beyond that. I mean, we're talking about 4,000 people getting their phones hacked.
REHMSo where does it go from here, Clive?
CROOKWell, that is so hard to say. I mean, every day, you know, that -- it's a new...
CROOK...it's a new, remarkable escalation of the story. I mean, at the moment, I'm watching this -- the police angle. If it turns out that there is a -- this is a big deal, there was systematic corruption of the police, both through bribes and extortion, then who knows where this stops.
REHMClive Crook of Financial Times and senior editor for Atlantic Monthly, Rem Rieder of American Journalism Review and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Party insiders and backroom deals: One author on why we need to bring back old-time politics.
With a now-likely U.K. exit from the EU, America’s relationship with a key intelligence and global trade ally will change. Please join us to discuss what the British vote means for the U.S. economy, the 2016 presidential campaign and global security.
Analysis of the Supreme Court's last decisions of the term and the impact of a vacant seat on the bench.