Rupert Murdoch, News of the World, bye-bye, and the ethics of hacking

Dateline: Thu 07 Jul 2011

Britain's biggest tabloid, The News of the World, is folding. This Sunday's edition will be the last for the insensitive, unethical rag; its demise is spelled out in scandal, its stock and trade, with itself as the latest blaring, high-casualty headline.

When word began leaking that investigators hired by News of the World were hacking into the phones of family members of those killed and injured during bombing attacks in Great Britain in 2005, plus politicians, celebrities and assorted others, that was it. Advertisers backed off, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns News of the World, decided to pull the plug.

Here is the report from National Public Radio, which I heard today:

And since when, someone asked me, is hacking into phones ever reporting? Where's the journalism in that?

NPR interviewed Bob Steele about the pitfalls of hacking, since Steele is the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism and Ethics and a member of the faculty of DePauw University, (visiting distinguished prof from 2008-20014). His expertise is doing the right thing in a field that has no written code of ethics (journalism is a craft, not a profession).

Here are some points he scored with NPR during his interview:

Journalists are called upon, at the highest and best level, to write about significant stories that have the potential for great impact.

There is hardly ever an instance where hacking phones would be justified, unless an investigation carried great  weight and had such serious possible consequences (the security of the nation, for instance) as to justify it. Maybe, only maybe, would the acking of a phone then be employed, but only if all other resources had been.

Steele recounted the Chiquita Banana story run by the Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett paper; in 1998, two investigative reporters at the paper reported in an 18-page section of sensational stories that Chiquita was guilty of practically everything (mistreating workers in Central America, dealing in cocaine, pollution, bribery, etc.). The paper eventually retracted the entire series, published a Page 1 apology, and paid Chiquita millions of dollars in a settlement. The lead reporter was fired, and the editor (who was angling for a Pulitzer) moved over to Gannett HQ. But of course.

Steele said that, over the years, he has occasionally received inquiries from reporters on when hacking would be permissable; he said he's never seen a case. In other nations, where free speech and First Amendment rights do not exist, there might be some justification. In a free society, never, or very very rarely. Again, the caveat: Unless the future of the nation was in jeopardy and all other means had been exhausted.

Rupert Murdoch is ruthless and a money-monger; he collects newspapers like kids used to collect Garbage Pail Kid cards. Thanks to my friend Hendy for pointing that out. In 2009, Murdoch, who bought the Wall Street Journal in 2007 because he always wanted to own a  major U.S. newspaper, said this in the WSJ:

"The future of journalism is more promising than ever—limited only by editors and producers unwilling to fight for their readers and viewers, or government using its heavy hand either to overregulate or subsidize us.

"From the beginning, newspapers have prospered for one reason: the trust that comes from representing their readers' interests and giving them the news that's important to them. That means covering the communities where they live, exposing government or business corruption, and standing up to the rich and powerful.

"Technology now allows us to do this on a much greater scale..."

Alas, his minions used technology to breach not only ethics but common sense and common courtesty.  Thus was a grave dug, and few will pay their respects.



hendy [Member] said:

If the empire falls apart, who picks up the pieces, and how trustworthy might they be? I wonder if they've only scratched the surface of his misdeeds.

2011-07-07 22:03:09

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

"Page One: Inside the New York Times" is at Keystone Art... you know it will be a limited run, like "Food, Inc."; "The Tillman Story"; "Inside Job"; etc. etc. etc.

Good riddance to the tabloid, but according to the NPR report those resources will just be redirected to strengthen Murdoch's other properties.

Let's talk about media ownership, and how messages are homogenized and spread by too few owners, and how this applies to our own community.

2011-07-08 07:58:04

ruthholl [Member] said:

Today's Letters to Editors seem to hit on this theme, especially in what you've said about the homogenized messages. What deadens newspapers is repeating the party line, whatever it happens to be; rarely does the Star go boldly.
My own experience with how the newsroom was run is that we did a lot of PR for a lot of folks and institutions and the status quo in general. I don't think typically reporters do PR; I think editors assign them.
Where are the not-for-profit news gathering entities that are supposed to be rising up?
Have to do some research on that...

2011-07-08 11:17:27

hendy [Member] said:

People don't like to listen to bad news. That's why NPR/CPB was on the US House chopping block. There ought to be a test for elections in the US: you must be able to sit for four hours and listen to contrasting opinion without opening your mouth, or pulling out your legally licensed concealed weapon and firing. I'd love to start from there.

2011-07-08 11:23:32

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I wonder how Rupert Murdoch sleeps at night.

Maybe he sleeps near Roger Ailes.

Maybe their dreams collide in the night.

Maybe pigs will fly.

Oy. The politics of media ownership. Those of us who whined at ESP's far-reaching political advocacy (from which we got Danforth Quayle--apologies, America), may learn to glorify those days.

At least he wasn't Cacky Loeb.

2011-07-08 15:22:47

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"My own experience with how the newsroom was run is that we did a lot of PR for a lot of folks and institutions and the status quo in general."

Yeah, Ruth, that was my experience too in 25 inkstained years.

Is it just me, or does it seem to you that The Star is becoming increasingly a vehicle for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and even less about vox populi?

2011-07-08 17:01:20

indykjsharp [unverified] said:


Except you recent Star refugees and holders on... you should go see Midnight in Paris instead.

David Carr, whose Media Equation I greatly admire, is a TRIP.

The Sam Zell story is even more riveting than Murdoch.

I still have the page on which the Tribune story broke because of the picture of a man sitting in a chair in the midst of a toxic red spill in Hungary. It's one of those pics you never forget.

2011-07-08 21:00:28

indykjsharp [unverified] said:

David Carr's Media Equation today:

On Murdoch: "Logic and fairness would suggest that it was folly to concentrate so much power in the hands of someone who already controlled many national media assets. So where was the outrage? Well, check who owns the megaphone."


"Newspapers, it turns out, are still powerful things.... The Guardian stayed on the phone-hacking story like a dog on a meat bone."

2011-07-11 08:47:24

JohnHoward [unverified] said:

By the way, how do you like the new obit format on It's now all generated by a 3rd party. So is there no one in house involved at all anymore? I assume the funeral directors now feed the vendor the obit writeups directly.

I have yet to figure out why everybody has an asterisk behind their name.

2011-07-11 09:37:10

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Murdoch should go to prison if it can be proven he gave the goaheads.

Media consolidation has concentrated too much ownership in the hands of too few. I would prefer more, smaller independent newspapers to Rupert Mogul's idea of journalism, notwithstanding the argument that hefty resources are necessary for investigative journalism. Those kind of resources also enable mischief.

I rather like the new obit format though I also detest the pay-for-play policy that fails to give Important Persons a final recognition.

2011-07-12 07:33:20

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