Murdoch’s empire mum on criticism

Do you remember when some bully picked on you but then got leveled by someone even bigger and meaner? Of course you do. Just a few short weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch seemed to be one of the world’s most invulnerable and powerful personages. He’s the owner of the Fox network where all the rightwingers gather to decry creeping socialism. He also owns the New York Post which, despite apparently losing money every year, gives him a tremendous amount of power. Hey, to him it’s probably all just chump change.

In case you’ve just flown in from Mars, Murdoch has gotten himself into a tremendous amount of trouble. Beset with allegations of phone hacking and bribery at his News of the World paper in England, he closed it. Why would he do that if he had nothing to hide? Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire.

As it turns out, not one but two British prime ministers, past and present, were bosom buddies with the octogenarian.

In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Murdoch seem to be on the same ideological path. Cuomo believes in no new taxes and tax caps and now in taking away public workers’ pensions from them.

The New York Post has had nary a tough thing to say about Cuomo.

That’s because, as labor union leader Samuel Gompers used to say, you “reward your friends and punish your enemies.” If you like the news, print it. If you don’t, ignore it.

As I write this, I haven’t seen a single word in the Post about the Murdoch scandals. I’ve been checking for days to see whether this “fair and balanced” paper would report on the allegations of phone hacking, police bribery and more. Now even conservative Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King is calling for an investigation into allegations that the phones of Sept. 11 victims were hacked. King is a fierce protector of the families and legacy of Sept. 11 victims, and many of the people who died in the great tragedy lived in his district. While one might assume King and Murdoch to be ideological soul mates, the truth is that King, the conservative Republican, and Louise Slaughter, the liberal Democrat from upstate New York, have both called for the FBI and Congress to investigate the Murdoch organization. The FBI has already started such an investigation. If Congress holds hearings and puts Murdoch and his people under oath, it’s certain that new information will come out. The last thing you want to do is to perjure yourself before a congressional committee.

If it turns out that the Murdoch properties in this country have done what the guys across the waters are alleged to have done, the whole house of cards could come down. I suspect that’s why Murdoch closed the News of the World and dropped his bid for BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster. My bet is that it is too little too late. The question now is who knew what about the alleged wrongdoing and when they knew it.

Clearly, the Murdoch flea is jumping the Atlantic, and many people can’t wait to see what happens.

There is much more at stake here than one might guess at first glance.

American newspapers often invoke the First Amendment when they get into hot water. If it turns out that the Murdoch organization is found guilty of wrongdoing, those politicians who have been skewered by the press might consider getting even. Things like shield laws – usually, but not always, a good thing – could become a thing of the past. The treatment of newspapers and the taxes imposed on them might change in the country’s legislatures.

Murdoch has often been seen as a rogue by his fellow publishers. Now, they’ll be madder than ever.

The question, of course, is whether the bully will get his.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/16/11

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