Joe Nocera on the Foxification of a once-great newspaper.
As a business story, the News of the World scandal isn’t just about phone hacking and police bribery. It is about Murdoch’s media empire, the News Corporation, being at risk — along with his family’s once unshakable hold on it. The old Wall Street Journal would have been leading the pack in pursuit of that story.
Now? At first, The Journal ignored the scandal, even though, as the Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff pointed out in Adweek, it was front-page news all across Britain. Then, when the scandal was no longer avoidable, The Journal did just enough to avoid being accused of looking the other way. Blogging for Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman, the media critic, described The Journal’s coverage as “obviously hamstrung, and far, far below the paper’s true capacity.”
On Friday, however, the coverage went all the way to craven. The paper published an interview with Murdoch that might as well have been dictated by the News Corporation public relations department. He was going to testify before Parliament next week, he told the Journal reporter, because “it’s important to absolutely establish our integrity.” Some of the accusations made in Parliament were “total lies.” The News Corporation had handled the scandal “extremely well in every way possible.” So had his son James, a top company executive. “When I hear something going wrong, I insist on it being put right,” he said. He was “getting annoyed” by the scandal. And “tired.” And so on.
In the article containing the interview, there was no pushback against any of these statements, even though several of them bordered on the delusional. The two most obvious questions — When did Murdoch first learn of the phone hacking at The News of the World? And when did he learn that reporters were bribing police officers for information? — went unasked. The Journal reporter had either been told not to ask those questions, or instinctively knew that he shouldn’t. It is hard to know which is worse. The dwindling handful of great journalists who remain at the paper — Mark Maremont, Alan Murray and Alix Freedman among them — must be hanging their heads in shame.