Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch need to be held accountable for phone hacking

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The “News of the World” is no more, but the phone hacking scandal lives on. And the only question remaining is whether the scandal will reach the top of the News Corp. chain.

The allegations of phone hacking of a murdered young girl, relatives of victims killed in terrorist acts stirred emotion among those in the UK.

But those who found this behavior so despicable in 2011 have to respond to “Why are you only complaining about this now?”

Rupert Murdoch’s journalism style has involved phone hacking for years. True, the victims then were royals, politicians, and celebrities. However, as much as it pains us to say so, royals and politicians and celebrities are … people.

We put these well-known people in a different category, needing tougher skins than regular people. The tradeoff is they have power and status that we will never get. And tabloid journalism, more in the UK than in the U.S. even, thrives on catching those people in doing something that we think they shouldn’t do.

And this is why the public went along with the Murdoch philosophy, phone hacking be damned.

The logical extension is that the Murdoch philosophy would eventually shift to “regular people,” and according to the allegations, they have been long before 2011.

By sales of the News of the World, the British public voted with their pounds and shillings that this behavior was acceptable, and they have some level of accountability.

Some accountability lies in the reporters and editors that engaged in this behavior, but we have heard very little about them. Did they get punished when the victims were politicians and celebrities? Did they get punished later when the Murdoch philosophy expanded?

The majority of the accountability in this behavior rests with those who encouraged, instigated, or condoned the behavior.

To say that Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, and had no accountability in any of the behavior over the many years at the numerous News Corp./News International properties is a stretch. To say that Rebekah Brooks played no role is highly unlikely.

Let’s pretend that the Murdochs had no idea of anything that was going on, they didn’t know about paying off the police or hacking into phone accounts, or any other unethical and/or illegal behavior at any of those news operations throughout the world, including the United States’ Fox News Channel.

To not know what was going on is beyond inexcusable, so even in the best of scenarios for the Murdoch family, they must receive a just punishment for their actions. And if they knew, every reason to assume that is true, well that requires a bigger punishment.

Some of the blame for this expanded phone hacking scandal lies in government. Obviously, the British government has its role: not just that Prime Minister David Cameron hired a former News of the World editor as his press secretary, an editor that resigned because of, brace for it, a phone hacking scandal. And allegations that the police had been bought off by News Corp. employees reflects a sense that Murdoch can’t be touched. And minus the scandal, Murdoch was going to grow his media empire by buying B Sky B.

This impression extends significantly into the United States. Various U.S. government agencies have let Murdoch accumulate media power that no one else is allowed to own. Murdoch was allowed to buy the New York Post while owning WNYW-TV 5 in New York City, a violation of the law at that time. Murdoch was allowed to own two VHF signals in New York City in buying WWOR-TV 9, something that was and still is illegal. And Murdoch was allowed to buy the Wall Street Journal and didn’t have to sacrifice owning a daily newspaper and two VHF stations in the country’s #1 media market, something so illegal for everyone else that no category exists for such an abomination.

And Fox ‘News’ Channel, as Jon Stewart has noted recently, gets away with so many factually inaccurate statements that 6 columns couldn’t fit all of them.

We still don’t know to what extent the impact is on American shores, though we have the early complaints of phone hacking for 9/11 victims. But there is great reason to believe that Murdoch won’t suffer on these shores because he is too powerful to be stopped.

Then again, you could have said the same thing about Murdoch in England just a few months ago.

An investigation that doesn’t seriously consider Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks and others in News Corp. management isn’t legitimate or thorough. We’ve seen the journalism practices, minus the recent allegations, of this company and its owners: the assumption that the allegations are true is based purely on the idea that we wouldn’t be surprised if all of them and more are true.

This comes down to accountability, something upstanding journalists pride themselves on doing.

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