Even for media observers who do Rupert Murdoch a favor by asking the press baron to clear an impossibly low bar of corporate behavior, recent revelations must have some wondering if there are any lows Murdoch and his lieutenants haven't yet stooped to.
Britain's epic phone hacking scandal that's destroyed Murdoch's reputation is now being used as a wedge to open a very dark door and provide a disturbing look into a media empire that seems to operate for long periods without a moral compass.
The new, first-person accusations now tumbling out against Murdoch and his minions (on two different continents) are astonishing considering Murdoch is supposed to be overseeing a news organization, not a criminal enterprise. What's been emerging in recent days has been an ugly portrait of a larger corporate culture where rules don't apply.
Instead, media properties are allegedly used in Nixonian fashion to carry out petty vendettas against Murdoch's enemies, or used as carrots to promise friendly coverage to would-be allies. (i.e. Otherwise known as bribes.) It's amoral behavior either way and it's a complete corruption of the press' role in a free society.
For years, many in the media adopted a it's-just-Rupert-being-Rupert attitude when covering Murdoch's blatant transgressions. Whether kowtowing to China's communist government or assigning New York Post reporters to help his lawyers depose a rival CEO, Murdoch has always operated outside the realm of responsible (recognizable?) journalism. And he's been able to get away with.
It seemed no matter how many stumbles, Murdoch would become the subject of more glossy magazine, Master-of-the-Universe profiles. The transgressions only bolstered his media reputation as a renegade. (I doubt the owners of the New York Times or the Washington Post, for instance, would have been toasted in the press after bounding across so many ethical boundaries.)
Those admiring profiles are now gone forever though, and Murdoch's status will not be restored in his lifetime.
Before the phone hacking scandal blew open in July, victims of Murdoch media wrath were often afraid to come forward because they feared the abuse would only intensify. But now with Murdoch crippled and many of his top executives jettisoned, the veil of intimidation has been lifted and we're starting to better understand what kind of crooked operation Murdoch has been running all these years.
A "protection racket." That's how British actor Steve Coogan last week described Murdoch's newspaper properties, claiming they use threats to ensure it's allowed to "conduct business unencumbered by scrutiny or regulation". (Coogan is suing Murdoch's company for allegedly hacking into his mobile phone messages.)
The most recent allegations of corporate misconduct, if true, are indefensible. But what's been telling is the continued obedient silence for the right-wing media in America.
Remember, Rupert Murdoch is their godfather. His aggressively unethical stamp permeates not only Fox News, but also AM talk radio and the far-right blogosphere where all practitioners seem to have taken an oath to uphold no oath at all. Conservative media outlets not only won't condemn Murdoch's abysmal corporate behavior but they can't even summon the courage to acknowledge the unfolding car-wreck of a story.
Can you blame them? Look at the most recent lowlights.
A former Australian senator said Friday that Rupert Murdoch's eldest son was present when a News Corp. executive allegedly offered him favorable newspaper coverage and "a special relationship" in return for voting against government legislation.
The former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain has been told by the Metropolitan police that they are investigating evidence that his computer, and those of senior Northern Ireland civil servants and intelligence agents, may have been hacked by private detectives working for [Murdoch's] News International.
Singer Charlotte Church gave damning testimony against the British press at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics on Monday. In it, she claimed that she sang for free at Rupert Murdoch's wedding in exchange for favorable press coverage.
Rupert Murdoch ordered his editors to "go after" TV presenter Anne Diamond after she accused the media mogul's papers of ruining people's lives, she said today.
For context, if any other global news organization had been confronted with just one of those allegations this year, the fall-out would have been dramatic and widespread. Murdoch's spiraling empire though, was hit with all those stunning charges in just a four-day span.
Let's take a detailed look at one specific claim involving Murdoch's newspaper and how it was allegedly used as a battering ram to punish an enemy by relentlessly printing abusive and increasingly intrusive trash about that person, and her family. That's the case of former British morning anchor Anne Diamond, who told her tale in public this week.
She claims that because she once confronted Murdoch about the reckless behavior of his tabloids and demanded to know why they were allowed to ruin people's lives, Murdoch declared open season on her and her family at his tabloids.
There's certainly no doubt that after pressing Murdoch about his tabloids Diamond became the target of relentlessly vicious coverage from his Sun newspaper.
From Diamond's submitted testimony this week:
Three weeks after my exchange with Mr Murdoch, my romantic relationship with the man who was to become my husband for 10 years and father of our five children (Mike Hollingsworth) was exposed by the Sun. Thus started the incessant intrusion into my private family life. The next 20 years were marked with one horrible, unnecessary and upsetting story after another.
That may be an understatement.
In late 1986 I became pregnant for the first time, but before I had told even my parents, I suffered an emergency and had to undergo an ultrasound scan to determine whether or not the pregnancy was still intact. I was told that it was touch-and--go, and that I should go home and get bed rest. Within hours of the scan, a journalist from [Murdoch's] News of the World called me and said "We're going to run a story in tomorrow's paper that you are pregnant - do you confirm or deny?"
I was not ready to tell the world. I had not yet told my parents. A "no comment" would have been interpreted as a license to print whatever they wanted. So I "chose" to deny. The News of the World printed the storyanyway - and when I later was indeed pregnant, they chose to call me a liar for many months afterwards.
And this, after Diamond's baby son died:
We wrote personally to every Fleet Street editor begging them to stay away from the small, private family funeral. Despite our express wishes at this most sensitive time, one photographer attended, whom we later learned was a freelance. The Sun subsequently bought and ran the picture of myself, my husband and our son's coffin, all over its front page the next day. This seemed to us to be a very great violation of privacy and a gross intrusion into private grief.
All of this and more, Diamond claimed, because she made the mistake of standing up to Murdoch and his "protection racket."
Based on his spectacular, slow motion fall from grace now progressing in Britain, Murdoch's racket has been busted. And all the mangled pieces are now on public display.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.