Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Assume News Corp. Tactics Limited to the U.K.?

Sarah Lyall is writing a fire-breathing series on News Corp. scandals across the pond for The New York Times. I quoted from her story in my previous post but events have accelerated.

Due to growing allegations of illegal activity, including hacking into the cell phones of private citizens such as the parents of a murdered 13-year-old British schoolgirl and the parents of soldiers killed in combat, Rupert Murdoch, monarch of News Corp., decided to shut down one of his British tabloids, the News of the World. The News of the World lasted 168 years and according to Hoovers, a business that tracks corporations, brought in almost $1 billion a year.

Presumably Murdoch shuttered it in order to save his takeover bid for the dominant pay-tv network, British Sky Broadcasting, aka BskyB. The British government must approve the takeover. I guess the alleged criminality rife in News of the World as its sponsors run from the tabloid like dogs from a skunk called for decisive action.

Murdoch isn’t used to his shady policies being brought to account. Both Conservative and Labour candidates seek his imprimatur and indeed you can win easily betting on the candidates he approves.

My question is: Why assume that malfeasance stops at the west coast of England, that sceptered isle? Dirty deeds at Murdoch properties have been exposed in America, especially at the New York Post. Another one of his properties, the London Times (an even older and originally quite esteemed property than News of the World—that’s like saying The Wall Street Journal’s readers buy Rolexes while the Post’s readers snatch Swatches), reported back in 2006 that one of its most prominent gossip reporters, Jared Paul Stern, tried to blackmail Ron Burkle, a billionaire supermarket magnate, supporter of sworn enemy former President Bill Clinton and at the time adviser to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Burkle had been angry at false items about him printed in the Post’s popular celebrity gossip column, Page Six. Stern met with Burkle twice at his Manhattan loft and was recorded as offering Burkle various levels of protection in exchange for favors:

[Stern told Burkle]that he could either choose to inform on his celebrity friends, hire the fiancée of his editor [Richard Johnson, influential editor of Page Six] or invest in Stern’s “Skull and Bones clothing line.

“How much do I need to pay you to make this stop? I need level one, level two protection, level three protection. How much do you want?”

“Um, $100,000 to get going and month to month, $10,000,” the writer was reported to have said.

You might think it’s odd for a newspaper to report on a story that ran in another one of News Corp’s properties in such a passive fashion, but the Times was quoting The Daily News, its rival. There can’t be much doubt about its veracity if it’s quoting its rival, even at arm’s length.

In a concise précis of some of News Corp’s scandals, Jeff Bercovici sums up the scandal:

Although Stern escaped criminal prosecution, the scandal led to all sorts of unsavory revelations, such as the disclosure that Page Six editor Richard Johnson had accepted an envelope full of cash from one of his frequent column subjects.

[By the way, Bercovici’s short piece makes juicy reading but, as he acknowledges, it merely scratches the surface at News Corp.]

There are loud calls for Rebekah Brooks to step down. She is the former editor of News of the World during the time Milly Dowler, the murdered British schoolgirl, went missing. Now she is chief executive of News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper subsidiary.

Andy Coulson, who was editor of News of the World when it was first revealed that the tabloid engaged in hacking cellphones, at that time of the British Royals, became the spokesman for the current Prime Minister, David Cameron. According to knowledgeable sources, he is to be arrested today on suspicion of illegally paying the police for information during his editorship, which came after Ms. Brooks’ stewardship.

If these two are accountable, then why shouldn’t Col Allan, Editor-In-Chief of the New York Post, be held accountable for (at the very least) the criminality of his employees?

In fact, apply the RICO act to all News Corp properties. How often are extralegal tactics used?

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