Politics & Media
Jul 12, 2011, 09:18AM

Rupert Murdoch’s Waterloo

The international media mogul, now an octogenarian, is in a desperate pickle.

So it turns out that illegally hacking voicemails isn’t looked upon with great favor by prosecutors, the British government, or the public at large. Who knew?

Apparently not Rupert Murdoch, everybody’s favorite 80-year-old media mogul, whose journalistic efforts have given us the likes of Fox News, Fox Business Channel, the current shabby version of The New York Post, and Britain’s own News of the World. Well, he had given us that last one; the 168-year-old tabloid famously folded over the weekend.

NOTW could survive the first wave of hacking scandals—those, after all, dealt mostly with the royal family, and if the only way past that was by waving a not-so-tearful farewell to “royal editor” Clive Goodman as he headed to jail, well…these things happen. But the story wouldn’t go away, as NOTW found itself increasingly beleaguered by ongoing charges of phone hacking. (Much like the paper itself had tirelessly hounded any number of politicians and other public figures over the years.)

Finally, over the past week, allegations were made that the paper had hacked into the voicemails of murder victim Milly Dowler (wherein journalists deleted some voicemails, leading family members to think the 13-year-old was still alive), victims of the 7/7 attacks of 2005, and of relatives of slain British soldiers. Now comes word that families of 9/11 victims may also have been targeted, and that there’s a “ticking time bomb” out there regarding thousands of emails that the paper may also have hacked.

It’s doubtful that Rupert himself ordered these things; after all, that’s why he keeps the likes of Roger Ailes and Rebekah Brooks around. Still, the whole thing rests uneasily on Rupe’s shoulders—but not because of the possibility of prosecution against himself, or the public shame of this kind of thing being discovered, or (God knows) a personal sense of ethics.

No, it’s because there’s every chance that the scandal will sink Murdoch’s News Corp.’s chances of buying out the remainder of satellite broadcasting company British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). His wallet, and his overarching need for power are the only places where Murdoch can be hurt.

NOTW is already seen as a sacrificial lamb for the BSkyB deal, but it’s looking like that—or, in fact, anything—won’t be enough. Various regulators and legislators, including a deputy prime minister, have publicly advised Murdoch to drop the idea, and the satellite company’s value dropped by another £877 million (nearly $1.4 billion) this morning and now sits below News Corp.’s offered price for it.

The affair has called into question the future of James Murdoch, Rupe’s son and the chairman of News International. Long viewed as Murdoch Senior’s most likely heir—assuming that Rupert ever dies—James admitted last week that he had personally approved out of court settlements to hacking victims, leaving all the “what did he know and when did he know it” questions uncomfortably open.

But no one’s under as much scrutiny as the aforementioned Brooks, News International CEO and NOTW editor-in-chief during some of the years that the hacking took place. A great deal of surprise has been expressed that Brooks hasn’t been fired or at least suspended by now, though fewer eyebrows have been raised over her not stepping down of her own accord. After all, this is someone, like Ailes, whom Rupert could have cooked up in a laboratory.

According to The Daily Beast, she’s disguised herself as a cleaning woman to spy on another Murdoch paper, The Sunday Times and oversaw the installation of various bugging devices when working on a story about Princess Diana’s alleged former lover, James Hewitt. She also famously, all-too-casually admitted in court. “We have paid the police for information in the past.”

Now, of course, she’s maintaining that she knew nothing about this hacking stuff, even as Dowler’s family has joined in the chorus calling for her head… a chorus that now includes her longtime friend, Prime Minister David Cameron.

It’s said that Murdoch regards Brooks like a daughter, although family ties don’t mean much when you’re trying to create the biggest company in the world via the BSkyB deal. Even if Brooks has the good sense to sacrifice herself, it’s probably already too late. After a lifetime of pretty much gobbling up whatever has caught his eye, Murdoch’s ultimate legacy may be the one that got away.

Even for a billionaire, that’s gotta hurt.


Register or Login to leave a comment