Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch hearing take-away: defense of corporate heads boils down to ignorance and an avoidance of responsibility

Until today, the one thing no one ever said of News Corp. was that Rupert Murdoch is a disengaged corporate executive. But today both Rupert and James Murdoch again and again said that they were "shocked" at the revelations that News International was engaging in illegal and immoral behavior.

For the Murdochs, they were forced to either take personal blame for the actions of their media properties, or they can claim ignorance. They chose the defense of ignorance.

Today's session, that certainly lasted far longer than was useful, and included the now famous shaving cream incident, did News Corp. little good, though it probably will have done little harm. Yes, investors in News Corp. could come away today a bit worried about the ability of the Murdochs to run the company going forward. But I doubt that a hearing in front of a committee will have more impact on the company than the continued police investigations being conducted by Scotland Yard.
For me, the most revealing moment of the hearing was when Rupert Murdoch got emotional when he recalled that his father felt his most important contribution to journalism was pushing the story about Galopoli, and the actions of the British. But he finished by saying that he hopes his children can accomplish similar things.

But what immediately crossed my mind was that the nostalgic moment was revealing in that Mr. Murdoch did not have any similar story to refer to during his long reign as head of News Corp.

Indeed, the question has to be asked "if all of News Corp. were to disappear would journalism suffer a loss other than the loss of jobs that would occur?" Over the past decade, when one thinks about the big stories that have impacted our lives, how many of these stories were broken by a News Corp. media property? and how many have actually been buried by News Corp. properties? Did Fox News dismiss Gitmo and torture, or lead the charge to reveal the crimes? Is the Wall Street Journal leading the investigation into the doings of Wall Street? Hardly.

In fact, it is News Corp. that promoted 'death panels' rather than discuss health care reform, promotes the notion that social security is going bankrupt, rather than talk about taxes and defense spending. News is not at the center of News Corp., politics is.

This may have indeed been a "humbling" day for Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., but I don't see that the chairman or his son in any way feel that things have to change at the company.