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Smart v. Stupid

Rupert Murdoch runs from his shadow

Newscorp closes British newspaper after criminal news gathering scandal

A simmering criminal scandal broke wide open at News Corp’s British newspaper The News of the World last week. Now—only days after Newscorp CEO Rupert Murdoch expressed his continued support for the paper’s management—Murdoch has announced plans to shutter the 168-year-old paper on Sunday.

The News of the World is being investigated by Scotland Yard for hacking into the cell phones of at least 4,000 British citizens including celebrities, elected officials and crime victims. That’s been simmering for a few years. The paper has even admitted to bugging of politicians and celebrities. At least 31 reporters are involved.

But the scandal caught fire when it was learned that The News of the World employees listened to the phone messages of victims of the British subway bombing known as “7/7”. 7/7 killed 56 British citizens and injured 700.

The now fast breaking story then went nuclear when the British public learned that the paper’s employees had listened to and then deleted messages from the cell phone of a missing 13-year-old girl. The message deletions led the girl’s parents to believe she might still be alive. But the kidnap victim had already been murdered.

The next emerging part of this story is that The News of the World appears to have hacked the phones of the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

In the closure announcement, made in a folksy and strident press release by son James Murdoch, News Corp announced “this Sunday, 10 July 2011, will be the last issue of the News of the World.” The Wall Street Journal, a News Corp-owned U.S. paper, has said The News of the World is the U.K.'s best-selling Sunday paper, with an average circulation of 3.7 million people. Murdoch has owned the paper since 1969.

The decision to shutter comes just one day after News Corp stock lost four percent of its value over the scandal. That’s nearly two billion dollars – all erased on just the afternoon of July 5. In addition, almost all The News of the World advertisers joined Ford, GM, Mitsubishi and Vauxhall in pulling the plug.

Arguably, the decision to close a formerly valuable news property is strategic—an apparent attempt to distance the parent company from the criminal scandal now unfolding. It is a transparent attempt to invent distance between The News of the World and News Corp. The announcement was one long “Why we would never…”

But News Corp watchers are left to wonder if, well, they just might. Like the James Bond villain, Eliot Carver (who many believe was based on Murdoch) Murdoch and his media empire have a long history of attempting to influence the news of the day through reporting. And no one who follows the media would believe that Murdoch’s famous, hands-on management of his papers left him blindsided by widespread abuses at a newspaper he had owned since the year the Beatles recorded Abbey Road.

Here at home, we’ve documented the pattern of misinformation at FOX News, another News Corp property. Media Matters manages to content an entire, thriving website with FOX News distortions, misstatements and outright lies. Though FOX’s attempts to employ likely Republican presidential candidates backfired, it would be hard to imagine that it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to promote a FOX News candidate. And it would be hard to argue – with a straight face – that their “fair and balanced” reporting isn’t intended to influence News Corp profits. No one should be surprised to learn that the company engages in illegal wiretapping.

So we now have ample evidence of unethical practices in the US and illegal practices in the UK. The scandal continues to grow. A larger investigation is now warranted—an investigation by the FBI.

I’d certainly like to know if the phones of the families of any of our service members or the voicemails of any of our 9/11 families have been hacked. Mr. Murdock?

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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The News of the World is the U.K.‘s best-selling Sunday paper, with an average circulation of 3.7 million people.

— The Wall Street Journal