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Murdoch's Nixonian Demise

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In the end, the Senate Select Committee investigating the Watergate crimes was never able to compel Richard Nixon to testify before Congress about criminality inside his White House. (Nixon's 1974 resignation made sure that never happened.) But I suspect if Nixon had ever been forced to appear before Congress and had been questioned for hours about the sprawling Watergate controversy and the ensuing cover-up, the sad spectacle would have looked, and sounded, something like Rupert Murdoch's uncomfortable testimony before a Parliament panel last week, in which the media mogul was confronted (yet again) with a litany of phone-hacking and bribery allegations.

The parallels between Murdoch and Nixon are striking. Unfortunately for the media mogul, the similarities are only growing more undeniable as his signature scandal approaches its one-year anniversary of detonating in Great Britain last summer (The sorry tale had been simmering for years, prior to last July.)

Both Nixon and Murdoch developed a culture of corruption. Both practiced partisan hardball but quickly cast themselves as victims when law enforcements started to ask difficult questions. For Murdoch and Nixon, the rules did not apply, as breaking the law became commonplace in the pursuit of the ultimate goal-- serving enemies with payback. And like Nixon, Murdoch's reputation has suffered a fatal blow in the form of a botched cover-up.

All of this has been made plain by a scathing new Parliament report issued today, which condemns the News Corp. CEO for being not only unfit to run an international corporation, but also for having turned "a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. The inquiry found the culture of corruption permeated "from the top" of News Corp.; corruption that "speaks volumes" about the company's "lack of effective corporate governance."

And yes, Parliament's blunt assessment noted how extraordinary it was that a "journalistic enterprise" would be so deeply involved with lawbreaking. It's reminiscent of how Americans were amazed that Nixon's White House at times resembled a (political) crime syndicate.

The findings from the exhaustive Murdoch inquiry shatter the defense of the chairman's partisan defenders who in the past have claimed Murdoch's critics were simply trying to trip up the CEO for political gain. The report also mocks Murdoch's naive, elite media apologists who previously had spent years, if not decades, toasting the media baron while turning a blind eye to the rancid form of "journalism" his properties often produced.

Thanks to the British investigation we've begun to fully understand the casual criminality that has fueled Murdoch's media empire.

For years, Media Matters has documented the stream of purposeful misinformation that flows from Murdoch's American properties, most notably Fox News, where the misinformation has taken an epic turn for the worse under President Obama. Yet the corporate spectacle on display over the last year has been even more troubling. This has been Murdoch overseeing a corrupt enterprise and one whose transgressions extend well beyond tapping into phone messages.

Indeed, evidence quickly emerged indicating that the hacking had been widespread, and that multiple, high-ranking executives had been aware about the litany of intrusions. That meant previous assurances to Parliament that any crimes had been limited were misleading at best. At worst, Murdoch chiefs lied to lawmakers in an effort to cover-up far-reaching criminality.

What's inescapable is that that kind of corporate moral bankruptcy helps explain the behavior of other Murdoch properties, such as Fox News. Remember, there is no other news organization in America that would have stood by a host after he claimed the President of the United States hates white people. It takes a certain poisonous corporate culture to back up that kind of hate speech. But that's what Fox News did with Glenn Beck, which means the rot on display in Great Britain was never fully quarantined.

And don't forget that one of Murdoch's American companies was accused of computer hacking and other anti-competitive practices. In fact, a Murdoch attorney admitted in court that company computers were used nearly a dozen times in a three-month period to hack into the secure websites of a competitor. And don't forget that company's founder claimed a Murdoch executive had threatened to "destroy" their company if they ever tried to compete with him directly, and allegedly warned ominously, "I work for a man who wants it all, and doesn't understand anybody telling him he can't have it all."

In terms of additional phone hacking woes, the American shoe may soon drop on Murdoch in the form of stateside lawsuits from people claiming their phones were intruded upon by investigators working for News Corp. If those cases materialize and take hold, Murdoch's collapse will be complete.

Ten months ago when Murdoch's monumental woes first began, I noted:

Like Nixon during his Watergate demise, the hacking story appears to have thrown Murdoch into a free fall with no safe landing spot in sight. There doesn't seem to be any maneuver or strategy available to him at this crucial juncture that will make the blockbuster story go away, even for a price.

My only mistake was underestimating the amount of cavalier lawbreaking that would be uncovered within Murdoch's "news" empire.

Murdoch, like Nixon, had lots of secrets in hiding.


Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.