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Newsroom gone bad

July 7, 2011 - Jim Anderson
What did Rupert Murdoch know and when did he know it?

Is this his Watergate, or a temporary distraction?

Murdoch, the media mogul who entered the U.S. cable news market in 1996 with the Fox News Channel, is under serious pressure in Great Britain, where the News of the World scandal grows worse each day.

News of the World, a Murdoch-owned tabloid, stands accused of hacking into the cell phone messages of victims ranging from celebrities to grieving families of slain soldiers. It was part of the paper's quest for “news.”

The worst offense dates to 2002 when the voicemail account of a missing 13-year-old, Milly Dowler, was hacked.

The tabloid’s “journalists” allegedly deleted messages from Milly's phone to free up space for more messages. This gave her family false hope that their daughter was still alive. It also, of course, misled police investigators.

(Milly’s body was found six months later and a serial killer was convicted of her murder nine years later.)

As I type, news is breaking that in response to the outrage in Britain, the Murdoch media empire is shutting down its 168-year-old News of the World.

Rupert’s son James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., had this to say:

"Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued."

Trouble is, reports suggest cell phone hacking was a common, encouraged practiced. A piece in the New York Times Magazine last year quoted a former employee who said cell phone hacking was so pervasive that even “the office cat knew.”

Did Rupert (or James) Murdoch, know as much as the office cat?

Today's headline at the Fox News-despised Media Matters is this: “Murdoch’s Watergate unravels.”

My guess is that there’s more wishful thinking than logical premise in that trumpet.

This won’t amount to Watergate. It's a substantial stain on the Murdoch machine. But unless there’s a John Dean and a pile of incriminating tapes lurking in the weeds, the empire moves on.



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