First aired on The Current (12/7/11)
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is one of the largest media empires on the planet. Its holdings include the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, HarperCollins, Fox Broadcasting and 20th Century Fox, 60 newspapers, 27 TV stations and 11 movie production companies, and it has about 50,000 employees worldwide. But right now, the most important Murdoch property is one that no longer exists. Murdoch shut down the 138-year-old London-based tabloid News of the World in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal that took the media world by storm.
Over the past few days some have been drawing parallels between the News of the World scandal and Watergate, with its dirty tricks, burglaries and its attempted interception of phone calls. But is Murdoch's scandal really worthy of comparisons to Tricky Dick's Watergate? The Current brought together three media experts to decide.
Eric Boehlert, writer at Media Matter for America, says yes. "The parallels are amazing," he told The Current guest host Jim Brown. "The initial somewhat petty crime, the cover up, the attempt to throw bodies overboard, the mounting police investigation. Whereas Richard Nixon was dogged by the Washington Post, Rupert Murdoch is being driven crazy by The Guardian."
However, Paul La Monica, author of Inside Rupert's Brain, is quick to caution that people shouldn't jump to these conclusions too quickly. News Corp. is not a country, it's a corporation, and Rupert Murdoch is a businessman, not a politician. And for La Monica, this makes a major difference.
"There is a big difference between being the elected leader of a sovereign nation and the head of a corporation that's run like a fiefdom because you own about 40 per cent of the controlling shares," he argued. And because of this distinction, Murdoch may be able to walk free. "I don't think this means that Murdoch and the Murdoch family give up News Corp. and someone else comes in and cleans house." For the final panelist, Margaret Heffernan, a businesswoman, journalist and author of Willful Blindness, the biggest problem is this very distinction that caused the controversy in the first place. We live in a time where corporations have more power than countries, and where businesspeople have more political influence than national leaders.
"News Corp. has been paying off the police force, the fact is that it's interfered with criminal investigations," Heffernan said. "This causes a real level of profound distaste, in interfering with what is supposed to be a democratic nation and what are supposed to be democratic processes."
Phone hacking is scary stuff. But knowing that those who are hacking your phone have even more power than those who are supposed to prevent it is even scarier.
What do you think? Is it fair to compare the News Corp. scandal to Watergate?