Money Talking: Rupert Murdoch and Echoes of the Washington Post and Watergate

Friday, May 04, 2012 - 12:00 AM

That noise you heard this week from one side of the Atlantic to the other is the outburst of schadenfreude that greeted a declaration from a British parliamentary committee that Rupert Murdoch was "not a fit person" to run a major international company like News Corporation.

For those appalled by the noxious evidence of phone-hacking and payoffs, the conclusion seemed eminently justified. For those appalled by the journalistic practices of his media holdings, or by the immense political power he holds, the judgment was welcomed as the potential beginning of the end of his outsize influence over both journalism and politics. (Perhaps some held out the hope — for which there is at present no evidence — that there will be revealed crimes and misdemeanors on this side of the Atlantic that could jeopardize his American power centers.)

There is, however, another way of thinking about this story which might be useful to consider — especially for those who hold no brief for Murdoch as media baron or king-maker.

We are, after all, talking about an arm of government declaring that a purveyor of the media is unfit to lead — a declaration with potentially disastrous consequences for a media company.

So try a different scenario.

It is 1973 here in the United States. As the Watergate story proceeds, an arm of government  — a Congressional committee or perhaps the Federal Communications Commission — begins hearings into the behavior of the Washington Post. They solemnly eschew any interest in the paper's politics. They have learned, however, that two of their reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, may have violated the sanctity of the grand jury process. The investigation finds that editor Ben Bradlee knew or should have known about this possibly criminal behavior. (You may know that a just-published book about Bradlee has provided strong evidence of just such a violation.) It further finds that Post owner Katherine Graham willfully kept her distance from the practices of her editors and reporters, thus "creating a climate" where such behavior was either encouraged or tolerated.

Therefore, this committee or commission declares, Graham does not meet the test of character that would permit her company to own the radio and television licenses granted by the FCC.

In real life, as the Nixon tapes demonstrated, the president and his team were almost giddy at the prospect of punishing the Post by stripping it of its lucrative broadcast licenses. I doubt that many would have been reassured by the assertion that the company was losing these licenses not because it was looking hard at Watergate, but because of the possible unethical or even illegal means used in pursuit of that investigation.

You can call it too simplistic, but I have a visceral reaction anytime an arm of the government renders a judgment about who is and who is not fit to control a media empire, no matter how much I might share that view of the press baron. To to turn Voltaire on his head, "I may agree with what you say, but I disagree with your right to say it."

Each week Jeff Greenfield offers his take on business and the economy as part of WNYC's Money Talking.


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Comments [3]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ


We live in a world where money may buy the presidency of the USA, where nations observe bestiality and mass killings of innocents, but are afraid that their trade relations might suffer if they intercede. What may yet save still greater calamities is the sophisticated technologies that enable people to reach out to others worldwide to alarm others of all sorts of misconduct. YAHOO, like its competitors, will always need to repair their image and to offer what the public requires. My own background and activities have been somewhat marginalized by the commercial interests that seek to foster their own projects and to limit the cultural achievements from being known to the young in particular and to make the major cultural institutions fight amongst themselves for any financial support. In this respect Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries value far more their own heritage than "we" do our own. WAKE UP AMERICA and salvage our possibilities for artistic growth and recognition. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor and the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where professional actors are trained for the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner roles and voice production and dramaturgy techniques. My next concert in New York will be on Saturday, June 9th at the YOGA EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel . The title of the concert is 'BRING HIM HOME, with that song from the musical LES MISERABLES, encouraging the return of our armed forces and inspiring hope and love of country with This Land is Your Land, The House I Live In, Climb Every Mountain, You'll Never Walk Alone, The Impossible Dream [the Quest], Granada, Wien, Wien, nur du allein, Kumbaya, Billy Bigelow's Soliloquy from Carousel, New York, New Yprk, There's No Business Like Show Business, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Do You Hear the People Sing?, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Memory, Music of the Night, Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, Donkey Serenade, and Earth Anthem.

Jun. 01 2012 07:33 AM
jenny lansing

Actually, the problem with Murdoch getting to own media in the United States is that THAT is ILLEGAL. Republicans couldn't see past the prospect of having a network biased in their favor and essentially gave control of our "airwaves" to someone with a foreign allegiance -- something that previously was verbotten for good reason.The Fourth Estate IS in a sense, a 4th branch of government. Murdoch didn't grow up saying the Pledge of Allegiance. What did it matter to him if George W. Bush's FIRST COUSIN was ensconced in the belly of FOX NEWS on election night 2000,literally and nefariously CHANGING the vote tally in Florida from Gore to Bush?! And the cousin did that AFTER the other networks had called Florida for Gore! Murdoch's insidious bigotry continues to this day as everyone who's seen Jon Stewart's bit, "Pundit prep I Can't Believe it Got Better" shows a lot better than I can tell. Hilarious. and. Tragic.

May. 06 2012 02:18 PM
renechang from London SE21 7BE, UK

The latest doubts about ‘All the President’s Men’ are not the only problems with the accepted account of Nixon and Watergate.
It has been said that there is so much material on the Watergate affair that only experts have the time to go through all of them. This is an example of a meme has going viral, the idea that there was wrong doing taking root and becoming the accepted truth. Only the foolish dare to question it. One does not have to wade through all the material to ask the simple questions. “Why all the campaigning aganst Nixon? Was he so very diferent from all other presidents?”.
Nixon is known to be very thorough. He will examine every possibility before making an informed decision. Can an alternative explanation be made about what was recorded on the tapes? If so the jury is still out although the sentence has already been passed and the ‘prisoner’ lynched.
I do not agree with Nixon’s politics, but from a reading of his writings before and after Watergate, one can see that he is first and foremost an American patriot. He would do anything, upset any vested interest group(s) to defend what he thinks is in the interest of his beloved country. I offer my re-interpretation of what may have happened forty years ago by asking key questions such as:
1. Why were the culprits arrested at the THIRD attempt to break into Watergate?
2. Why did the $100 dollar bills have consecutive serial numbers?
3. Why were Howard Hunt’s details in the address books of TWO of the four arrested Cubans?
4. There was a coup attempt in China to prevent the rapprochement. Could the same have happened in the US?
5. Why were the leaks of ‘Deep Throat’ regarded as the gospel truth?
6. Why was a member of the grand jury illegally interviewed?
7. What vital ‘information’ was passed to the intrepid reporter?
8. What has Richard Dawkin’s memes got to do with Watergate?
9. Why would Nixon pass the FEC Act if he was such a bad egg?
10. Why would Nixon order the Watergate raid when he was already 26 points ahead of Senator McGovern?
11. Was Watergate a set-up or a cock-up?

Find out by reading “Watergate – A Political Assaination” an ebook at Is there any merit in my hypothesis?

May. 04 2012 04:54 AM

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