OFF THE GRID

News Corp. Is Freaking Out

Sep 8, 10 | 7:48 AM   byMichael Wolff
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“You don’t get it,” a member of News Corporation’s inner circle in London told me last night, about the phone hacking scandal. “If there was a conspiracy in the company, the conspiracy was to keep Rupert from knowing.”

That is called the circle-the-wagons defense. That’s called everybody-else-is-expendable. That’s called a total freak-out.

The company has been caught as unaware, as unprepared, as incapable of responding, as on the ropes, as it ever has in its 60-year history. News Corp. only knows how to be the aggressor; now it’s on the defensive—and it has to defend itself against the very thing that it has always been, that has always protected it, that is the reason for its fundamental pride: Its newsrooms are down and dirty.

It can only see its predicament in terms of newspapers and what newspapers can do when they are roused to anger. The fault is with the New York Times and how unfair it’s playing. Here’s what they're obsessed with now at the highest level of News Corp.: How much the Times spent to get its story about how the company’s reporters have hacked the phones of anybody who is anybody in Britain.

And while the answer is plenty—the Times seems to have had reporters on this story for at least seven months—that does not much help News Corp.’s rebuttal of the charges. Non-Murdoch British news outlets, stymied on this story for more than a year, are in bloom with new investigations and sources, but Murdoch’s Times can only bury the story and, with the greatest disapproval, point out that the allegations are being made by its competitors. Harrumph.

And now there’s a deer-in-headlights, I-am-not-a-crook, I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman video: a hapless correspondent at the hapless Fox Business channel asking Murdoch about the scandal and him, on his own air, growing dark and angry and refusing to answer, then leaving his minion to shuck and jive and apologize. The video, from more than a year ago, just after the scandal first broke, is suddenly back in viral circulation.

For News Corp. and Murdoch it’s a confounding situation. They had locked down this scandal. With as much clout as there is accumulated in one company and in one man in Britain, they had closed almost every avenue of investigation. Now comes the New York Times showing that British police, government, and media took a dive for Murdoch. Institutions fight for their own lives and reputations. They might have been willing to protect Murdoch and News Corp. but if it becomes necessary to have to throw him overboard to save themselves, they will.

That’s the process that’s started.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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