Today in Parliament
As expected, the appearance of James Murdoch, the Chief Executive of News International (and related to some other famous people) before the DCMS Committee today failed to produce any huge bombshells. Let's remind ourselves that the Parliamentary Committee has no real powers of subpoena, witnesses are not obliged to testify on oath, is not run by trained lawyers, and is not allowed to investigate anything that could prejudice the three ongoing police investigations.
James is smart, lawyered up, and left no hostages to fortune in terms of his evidence. Tom Watson had some stellar moments, challenging James over various contradictory testimonies, naming three or four other private investigators working for News International (adding some cryptic reference to Operation Millipede), and at least landing a rhetorical blow by calling James
'the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise.'.
(This latter remark has caused some consternation among Watson's enemies and Murdoch's apologists - but my American friends will know that the Department of Justice IS looking at potential RICO violations by Newscorp)
All in all, another day in the ongoing Murdoch saga. As Britover puts it in an excellent rec-listed diary: Some top line people really need to face jailtime. The most senior executive of the sixteen so far arrested has been Rebekah Brooks: but though James might not feel the hand of the law on his shoulder, the media scrutiny of his performance could be just as damaging in the long run.
But however evasive and well trained James is at avoiding direct questions ("I have no knowledge of that... I don't recall") there are three glaring contradictions that this appearance has underlined.
1. Someone has Misled Parliament over the information provided to James when he authorised an extraordinary 700,000 GBP payment to Gordon Taylor in a civil suit over his phone being hacked by News of the World. James' claim in his previous appearance in July that he had no knowledge of phone hacking beyond the rogue reporter Clive Goodman had been directly contradicted by evidence given by the editor of NOTW at the time, Colin Myler, and News International's chief legal adviser, Tom Crone. They claim they informed James when he made that settlement. James now claims they didn't tell him, and that they misled Parliament rather than him.
TW: Did you mislead this committee?
JM: No I did not
TW: If you didn't who did?
JM I believe his committee was given [evidence] by people without full possession of the facts or...it was economical. My own testimony has been consistent. I testify to this committee with as much clarity and transparency as I can.
TW: Was it Mr Crone [who misled the committee?]
JM: I thought it was inconsistent and
TW: So you agree he misled the committee
JM: It follows that I do. I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it
This is a kind of either/or argument that the Committee will comment on: both accounts cannot be true.
2. How can an Effective Chief Executive be so ineffectual? James consistent response to the mounting evidence of extensive phone hacking, blagging and other borderline illegal activities by his staff was 'how am I supposed to know that level of detail'. Fair enough. But when you're making multimillion pound payouts to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford, with dozens of other suits pending, surely it's your corporate duty to find out.
This is now being called the Asda Moment - 'Asda' is the UK equivalent of Walmart.
After explaining that he used to work for the supermarket chain (owned by the giant US company, Walmart) Davies registered his incredulity that Murdoch could have authorised the payment of more than £500,000 (to Taylor) without inquiring deeply into the reasons.
"It all seems so cavalier to me," said Davies. "You agree to settle cases with no real cap but a ballpark figure. You agree that a company should have a legal opinion, but you don't even ask to see the opinion when it is written."
3. A Fit and Proper Person? Next month is the shareholders meeting of BSkyB, Britain's largest pay-for-TV operator, 39.14% owned by Newscorp. Though the public outcry and online petitioning (by groups such as Avaaz) effectively stopped the full takeover of the company this summer, James still chairs the board. Our broadcast regulator, Ofcom, has a statutory duty to make sure that owners of licensed broadcasters are 'fit and proper' and can revoke a license if a director fails that test.
By the time BSkyB meets next, the DCMS committee will have ruled whether James has deceived Parliament or not.
Is being either/or a 'liar' or completely incompetent enough? Or even better - both.
In other News
Your intrepid reporter made
a fool of himself an appearance outside Parliament for James' testimony. Bedecked like a human press pack, Brit decided to protest about the 30 years of Murdoch influence by sporting a sandwich board illustrated by fellow Kossack Eric Lewis, bearing the understated message:
Murdoch Ruined my Life.
Above you can see him above talking to a French journalist. Tonight he will appear on Al Jazeera. Below he joins members of the Avaaz campaign also picketing parliament.
When it's processed, I'll also post a video of him picketing Portcullis House where James was supposed to arrive, only to be stopped by a policeman and told (much to his shock and amazement) that no protests or placards are allowed within a kilometre of Parliament without prior approval, and I could be arrested. I told the very polite and helpful officer that I wasn't protesting, merely advertising the book I'm writing with Eric Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch. The policeman said he didn't hear that, because advertising without a licence could also earn me a night in the cells.
I'm not as brave as many in the Occupy Movement, and rapidly removed my billboards.
There will be more about the book in later posts. It will be loosely based on my Kossack series of diaries, and focus on the stellar 'crowd sourced' journalism, reportage and activism of my fellow bloggers. It will also be crowd sourced in funding, so we'll be hitting back at the command and control modus operandi of the main stream media both in form and content.
Meanwhile join me below to discuss what you make of this latest chapter in the FOTHOM saga. And do contribute to the dedicated Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch website if you can
Over the course of these diaries, both myself and other FOTHOM aficianados have tried to stress that the UK hacking scandal is just one indication of the corrupt and anti-competitive practices that characterise the modal monopoly of Newscorp. Now another scandal is breaking which, like the looming shareholder rebellion, allegations of satellite card hacking in Italy and the Floorgraphics case prove once again that - like Watergate - the current scandal being investigated by no less than three large scale police operations in the UK, is only the tip of the iceberg, and that RICO violations are the best way for the current DOJ investigation to go.
Now the Wall Street Journal has news of the resignation of one of its chief executives:
Bernstein on the Watergate Analogy and the Culture of Lawlessness
If you think the Watergate analogy is hyperbolical or fanciful, don't forget it was first made by Carl Bernstein himself in The Daily Beast nearly three months ago
The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp. suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that routinely resulted in lawbreaking and unconstitutional conduct. Not to mention his role in the cover-up. It will remain for British authorities and, presumably, disgusted and/or legally squeezed News Corp. executives and editors to reveal exactly where the rot came from at News of the World, and whether Rupert Murdoch enabled, approved, or opposed the obvious corruption that infected his underlings.
And here he is, in a Guardian interview today where he makes the same point
The parallels with Watergate... Had to do with the culture itself that made this possible. In the Nixon Whitehouse Nixon was responsible for the sensibility that permeated the place, that had to do with unconstitutional acts with a cynicism about the political process and how it was practised, and a disregard for the law. And it became apparent to me, as I read more and more what was happening here, that really at bottom what this hacking furore is about,but rather has to do with serving up both the lowest common denominator of information and calling it news, and obtaining it through a methodology which is outrageous, whether you're talking about hacking or other kinds of invasions of privacy, and that the atmosphere in that newsroom is a product of the culture that Murdoch in the News of the World .
it's about a culture in the newsroom that has nothing to do with real journalism, real reporting (which is very simply put the best obtainable version of the truth)
I've always said that Murdoch's Wizard of Oz like appearance before the House of Commons Select Committee this summer - the first time the most powerful man in my country had faced the people's elected representatives - was the crucial moment. Murdoch ruled by fear, by politicians self censoring and second guessing his movements. The revelation that he was a rather frail crank oldy man suddenly undermined the fear, and frankly did much to diminish his effective power. As Bernstein says:
I think his power as it were is diminished, because I don't think he's held - as a result of what we've heard and seen - in the same kind of awe by both his peers and those who feared. At the same time I think it's a mistake to oversimplify any of this. Is his power over? Is he all good or all bad. I think that's much too simple.
Let me state for the record. I have no personal opinions of Rupert himself. I've never met him. I've heard he can be a deeply loyal father and boss. However, the empire he has accumulated , the modal monopoly it deployed to create a 'market in news' which was corrupt, was used to game legislation, blackmail politicians, intimidate opponents and destroy the lives of innocent people through tabloid exposure using illegal mean...
That was unequivocally bad, and we should keep campaigning for that empire to be dismantled.
Quiet Intensity: The Raft of Ongoing Investigations
So, while things may seem to be quiet on the Murdoch scandal front, but with three police investigations ongoing in the UK (into phone hacking, computer hacking and payments to police), a public inquiry and two parliamentary committees, it won't stay like that for long in the UK. Like all criminal scandals, the onus on investigators is to compile evidence - and much more is coming to light.
Just this week it's been revealed the James Murdoch's senior PR advisor has resigned: one of the arrested journalists is joining Andy Coulson in suing News International; continued threats to Tom Watson who tirelessly campaigned on this issue in Parliament, the revelation of 11 million emails, and details of illegal practices in other Murdoch tabloid titles, apart from the now defunct News of the World.
So the culture Bernstein talked about extended to Murdoch's other titles. What is the chance it didn't extend to the US too?
Ad has been diaried before, there are now three prongs to the ongoing DOJ investigation into Newscorp: the most salient being the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (it's illegal to bribe foreign officials as Newscorp seems to have done with British police officers), rumours still of hacking victims on US soil, and by far the least known, but potentially the most deadly, an investigation into an old anti-trust suit from a few years ago, the Floorgraphics case, which could leave Newscorp vulnerable to RICO statutes.
U.S. investigators are looking into potential antitrust activities of Murdoch's News America Marketing Group, which specializes in producing in-store ads, coupons, advertising inserts and other promotional materials for supermarkets and retail outlets worldwide.
Investigators reportedly are seeking documents relating to a 2009 trial of a suit against News America by a New Jersey advertising company, Floorgraphics, which had accused News America of, among other things, hacking into its computer systems and lying to its customers. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum, and News America subsequently acquired Floorgraphics.
All told, News America has shelled out $655 million to settle suits against competitors alleging unsavory business practices.
As Crains put it two days ago (hat tip to the ever watchful Ceebs)
Investigations of News Corp.'s illegal conduct initially involved just News of the World, which represented only 1% of annual revenue for the New York-based media company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal and operator of the Fox television networks.
The marketing unit, which promotes products through supermarket coupons, accounted for four times that revenue and about 12% of profit for fiscal 2011.
Rivals of News America Marketing have claimed in court papers that it prospered by violating antitrust laws. It also hacked into a Floorgraphics password-protected website, one of its own lawyers told the jury at the 2009 trial.
“There is a pattern of anticompetitive behavior by News Corp.,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group. “We've seen it in Britain, and we've seen it in America.”
Remember, News America Marketing provides 12% of Newscorp profits. That's a really compared with the 1% provided by the biggest English language paper, the News of the World, before it was closed.
So though it seems quiet, that doesn't mean a lot isn't going on under the surface. Indeed the 'unnamed source' regularly talking about Newscorp affairs is either a whistleblower, or some desperate damage limitation..
Remember all the Presidents Men? The movie ends with Bernstein and Woodward filing more stories: it took two years before Nixon resigned, and another year or two after that for the final criminal indictments to be handed down.
Don't despair: watch this space
Originally posted on DailyKos