News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch built a media empire on a “cannibalistic feral version of tabloid journalism” that eventually ended up bringing him down, says the author of a new book about him.
In Murdoch’s World, released today, NPR journalist David Folkenflik shows how Murdoch built News Corp. into a media empire spanning 50 countries, starting with a small newspaper in Adelaide, Australia.
Then how, over the course of two years, a series of phone hacking scandals threatened to break up the global conglomerate.
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Folkenflik, who covered the hacking scandals for NPR, said the 2011 inquiry, in which Fleet Street journalists were shown to have broken into celebrity cellphones and even the phone of a murder victim, seem to have been a British phenomenon.
“There was double standard. The widespread hacking of messages on mobile phones turned out to involve thousands of people, but there was also widespread bribery – by now certainly acknowledged and in some cases confessed to – to get knowledge and information from law enforcement officials that they couldn’t under the law,” he said in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.
Fox News 'is actually dependent on argumentation, which is much cheaper than paying hordes of reporters to go out and ransack people’s trash bins and the like' - NPR journalist David Folkenflik
But that didn’t seem to happen in the U.S., where Murdoch owned publications as diverse as the New York Post, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
“One of the amazing things about the success of Fox News, for example, was that it is not dependent on churning out scoops about celebrities and politicians. It’s actually dependent on argumentation, which is much cheaper than paying hordes of reporters to go out and ransack people’s trash bins and the like,” Folkenflik said.
The culture Murdoch created played out in different ways in Australia, Germany and the U.S. than it did in Britain, he said.
But even the Wall Street Journal, which Murdoch bought in 2007, came under pressure not to write about the 2011 hacking scandals.
“At a key moment, Murdoch’s lieutenant Robert Thomson, now the CEO of News Corp., but then the top news executive at the Wall Street Journal, amid the crisis of hacking, he sought to forestall and prevent coverage of what could have been and was a very damaging story about Murdoch’s business interests in England,” Folkenflik said.
“I think it’s to the Journal’s credit that the story was published,” he said, but added, “The credit belongs to the journalists in the newsroom of the WSJ and not to leadership.”
Insiders' views of News Corp.
Folkenflik says many News Corp. insiders refused to cooperate with him in writing the book, but he did speak to more than 100 sources close to the Murdochs to give him a closer look into "how things went down.”
Folkenflik calls Murdoch one of the most influential people in media and gives him full credit for underwriting the cost of the Times of London, the Wall Street Journal and the Times that were not as profitable as the tabloids or in some cases not at all profitable.
He also credits him for inventing the Fox News format, with the key insight that a slice of the U.S. population – centre-right populist and anti-elitist – wasn’t being served.
Fox News “nurtured a sense of grievance against coastal and liberal elites – it identified and created this audience that has been very faithful,” he said.
Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires was released Tuesday.