Murdochs Are Grilled

The Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2011

News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch forcefully apologized to victims of phone hacking by his employees but declared he was not to blame. He deflected the responsibility for the fiasco to other managers, saying “they behaved dreadfully” and “it’s for them to pay.” His statements before a parliamentary committee in London were the latest twist in a drama that has riveted not just Britain, but around the world, as it became both intense and at times bizarre.

The scandal has focused on questionable reporting practices by News Corp.’s U.K. Weekly tabloid the News of the World, which the company closed last month. The public saga started nearly six years ago with a police investigation that resulted in the 2007 imprisonment of a former correspondent of the newspaper and a private investigator for illegally intercepting voice mail messages.

Tuesday’s hearing was interrupted when a demonstrator sprang up from the crowd and attacked Mr. Murdoch with a plate of foam. In the past day alone, a whistleblower in the saga was found dead, although police said the cause was not suspicious. In another instance, a laptop computer belonging to a former News Corp. executive and key player in the scandal, turned up in a parking garage near his home.

In opening Tuesday’s hearing before the U.K. Parliament, Mr. Murdoch said it was “the most humble day of my life.” He conceded the company had made mistakes in the saga, which involves allegations of intercepting voice mails and paying bribes to police.

Mr. Murdoch, viewed for decades as a take-no-prisoners empire builder, was assailed for appearing out of touch, particularly when he attributed his own failure to tackle the crisis to the size and sprawl of his global media empire. Mr. Murdoch read stark apologies to victims but insisted that subordinates and a law firm that the company had hired to review some emails related to allegations of wrongdoing were at fault. He said, “I feel that people I trusted, I’m not saying who and I don’t know what level, have let me down.” News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal.

Comment: To say this is bizarre is an understatement. Mr. Murdoch has led the media giant for 57 years and has become very wealthy and powerful, basically not reporting or responsible to anyone. This is always dangerous. It would appear that he lost touch with his vast “take-no-prisoners” empire.

By Roger Eigsti
Board President,
Institute for Business, Technology, and Ethics