Editorial: Trust But VerifyNews Corp. will need more than guts and a well-delivered, and admittedly well-coached, defense of its business and journalism ethics 7/25/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Rupert and James Murdoch acquitted themselves well last week
under the klieg lights, and Rupert Murdoch said all the right
things in his closing statement after a tough session testifying
before a Parliament committee.
Even the pie-throwing anarchist that tried to embarrass
the octogenarian billionaire only wound up
making him appear stronger. One of the committee
members said she had a hard time asking as tough
questions after the incident as before, and praised
him for having the guts to continue.
But News Corp. will need more than guts and
a well-delivered, and admittedly well-coached, defense
of its business and journalism ethics—at least
the ones it says it aspires to after the beating it has
earned over the News of the
World hacking scandal.
And it is nothing if not
a full-bore scandal. Fleet
Street is famous for pushing
the edge of the envelope
to get a story, but the paper
shot into the stratosphere
of tastelessness and crashed
There is no defense for
what the paper did, and the
Murdochs offered exactly
that, skipping past selfrecrimination
broadly defending their
ability to right the ship.
Only time will tell if their
readers, viewers and shareholders will agree that
they are the right team for News Corp. for the future.
But, for the present, they must be as pure as
Caesar’s wife when it comes to cooperating with
the current U.K. investigations and any that may
be launched in the U.S.
“Invading people’s privacy by listening to their
voicemail is wrong,” said Rupert Murdoch. “Paying
police officers for information is wrong. They
are inconsistent with our codes of conduct and
neither has any place, in any part of the company
I run.” We would have hoped that would
go without saying, but apparently not.
Our primary concern is that U.S. viewers and
regulators and legislators be as convinced that
nothing like that happened in the U.S. portion
of the company.
The Murdochs stressed last week that there
is no evidence that the company’s U.S. properties—
that would include The Wall Street Journal
and its cable and TV holdings—have engaged in
any similar practices. Again, we hope that would
go without saying in any but this most extraordinary
One particularly troubling allegation was that
there might have been hacking of the phones of
victims of 9/11. With the 10th anniversary of the
tragedy fast approaching, that could be a companybreaker
and would likely raise
the issue of its fitness as a licensee.
foes are keeping their powder
dry on that score, but they
won’t be gun-shy if given any
reason to suspect otherwise.
The Murdochs insisted
there was no evidence that
there had been any hacking
of 9/11 victims’ phones and
suggested the FBI had found
no evidence either. And yet,
as Rupert Murdoch seemed
to realize, no evidence of execrable
conduct cannot be the
company’s ethical compass going
forward, any more than it
should have been before the scandal broke.
“But saying you’re sorry is not enough,” Murdoch
said. “Things must be put right. No excuses.”
Whether it is the Edelman PR folks brought
in to help a company that is better known for
closing ranks and blaming its accusers, or whether
it was Murdoch recognizing that it was time to
roll up his sleeves and get to work, that is exactly
what the company has to do, and should be held
to it by its friends. Its foes need no urging.
“I hope that, through the process that is beginning
with your questions today, we will come to
understand the wrongs of the past, prevent them
from happening again and, in the years ahead,
restore the nation’s trust in our company,” Murdoch
said last week. We trust he will make good
on that pledge, especially now that he’s had a
glimpse of the alternative.