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Outrage Over News Corp: A Tale of Two Standards

As a rule, I eschew political news here but I think this one merits an exception.

The big story of the moment for political junkies is the illegal hacking of cell phones allegedly carried out by employees of one of Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid newspapers. Not just any phones either, the cell phones of British VIPs, political bigwigs, celebrities and perhaps, some 9/11 victims. All of the details have not been revealed, but there are police investigations, one of News Corp’s top employees has been arrested, parliamentary inquiries and demands by Murdochs political enemies there to have the British government “dismantle his empire“.

Rupert Murdoch is not, it must be said, a cuddly public figure. He is a press baron throwback to the era of Joseph Pulitizer and William Randolph Hearst and has a reputation for ruthlessness in business and overweening ambition in politics to gain personal influence for promoting his conservative views. He is a hate figure to Democratic and liberal partisans of the intolerant kind who see political disagreement as evidence of evil and would like FOXnews, one of Murdoch’s most influential and profitable properties, to be suppressed by the FCC (though Murdoch’s right-wing views did not preclude him from trying to cozy up to China’s communist leadership). These folks are naturally celebrating Murdoch’s dilemma and hoping for a collapse – and Murdoch and his son James are in genuine jeopardy, possibly legal, certainly political and commercial.

Much indignant outrage is being heaped on Murdoch’s head now by the enlightened; I have no love for phone hacking and I definitely agree that and violating people’s privacy is a crime that ought to be punished by sending those responsible to prison. I am curious though, how this position is squared morally with the fact that the two liberal news outlets most triumphant about the News Corp scandal, The New York Times and The Guardian, themselves recently were knowing accessories to the much more serious crime of espionage.

Actually calling these papers criminal accessories is not a full picture of their behavior during the Wikileaks document dump; it is more accurate to say that they reaped corporate financial benefit from facilitating espionage, grand theft and treason, for which their editors have not faced any legal consequences. 

Yes, treason. Look up the definition.

Much unlike the nobody Army private and patsy, Bradley Manning, who is likely to face a sentence of life in prison. Good thing for  Manning that he only outed a vast array of US intelligence and diplomatic secrets and exposed ordinary, unimportant, unprotected Afghans and Iraqis to murderous retribution by Islamist degenerates. If Manning had phonehacked a Labor MP or a wealthy, airhead celebrity – you know, really important and beautiful people – the NYT and the Guardian would be calling for a death sentence. It is a most curious scale of values.

Go back and look at which partisan blowhards with columns and bylines and talking head opinion shapers thought Wikileaks was just great and defended Julian Assange and what their opinion is on phonehacking today and see if any – any at all – evidence some consistency. Or awareness of the relative magnitude of each crime – and crime is the right word, neither of these scandals are mere pranks, but one is important to national security and the other, so far, is only interesting.

There’s something amiss here in the way that partisan politics and a seamy, not too subtle, undercurrent of class entitlement have warped the perspective and sense of proportion of some people who are smart enough to know better.

26 Responses to “Outrage Over News Corp: A Tale of Two Standards”

  1. Matt Says:

    Excellent post. It is hypocrisy, and I am still scratching my head on why those media groups were able to get away with what they did?  Treason trumps phone hacking any day of the week.

  2. balance Says:

    I you believe that leakers like Bradley Manning or Daniel Ellsberg are exactly the same as the billionaire owners of multinational media conglomerates, I can understand why you’re confused. You have absolutely no sense of proportion. The systematic criminal machinations of the most powerful media empire on the planet bear no comparison to anyone’s individual actions.  It’s truly sad that you believe that individual humans and billion-dollar corporate media conglomerates operate on a level playing field.  Or are you simply lashing out randomly as the NewsCorp empire crumbles?

  3. Jay Says:

    "You have absolutely no sense of proportion."

    So, if the playing field was "level" then this uproar wouldn’t be hypocrisy? I don’t follow your logic and wonder if this had been an NBC network if you’d still reference "criminal machinations."

  4. Daniel Says:

    balance, please learn to differentiate between means and intentions. Zen is arguing that the means in both cases are the same: illegal access of information. You — and the rest of the left — are arguing that intentions somehow morally alleviate your favorite side from being criticized, which is plainly garbage. The media makes a Robin Hood out of one, and a Sheriff of Nottingham out of the other. Yet both can engage in criminal acts. I’m guessing you would think that ‘emptying the cities’ or ‘liquidating the ruling class’ would be a moral thing to do based on your insane, secular-messianic intentions. The fundamental problem with people like you balance, is that you never learn from your mistakes. And why would you? You have "good intentions". Any bad act, or terrible consequences can be explained away as "aw shucks, we were just trying to do some good in the world against the evil oppressors".

  5. Steve Heise Says:

    Qui Bono, Qui Malo.

    Murdoch made great financial gains from his organizations activities.
    Manning has suffered greatly, and did not seem to have the intention of gain.
    Assange… that’s a judgement call.

  6. Eddie Says:

    I agree with Mark but it is important to remember that the Guardian is not out of the woods yet by any means. Cameron or someone else may yet start releasing details of their dirty deeds as well, since in the UK at least, the scandal is being driven primarily by a growing notion among the public that everyone is corrupt. The police, the Labor & Conservative parties, other government agencies, and the entire media ( including the Guardian, which tried like hell to ignore this for months, even years, since the big details have been well-known in media and gov’t circles for years, esp. the awareness that all of them engaged in such illegal activities as part of daily "scoops") are all implicated in not only enabling this sort of behavior but providing active encouragement and even apparently collusion.
    This is important, because it lays the groundwork for a real public accounting perhaps. Cameron can be unpredictable and he has in some ways continued Gordon Brown’s admirable (one of his few good qualities) retrenchment of government power, esp. those onerous policies that mocked Anglo heritage in rights and freedoms), raising the possibility of meaningful change, or at least chagrin, among UK governing elites in response to the public outcry.

    If only in this country we could have such a scandal.. oh wait, we did (Freddie/Fannie/TARP). And it was essentially co-opted by one of the major facilitators of that corruption into their political and monetary gain.

  7. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Hi Mark –

    I have to admit to "schadenfreude so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw." Murdoch and his empire have done more damage to democracy than, well, any number of badguys you can list.

    But I wasn’t all that pleased by Assange, either. I think that what he achieved was a great deal less than he intended, and not much more than a blip on history. A few people were damaged.

    Murdoch’s evil empire has been undermining the trust and public education that a democracy needs. Plus all the propaganda value of "helping" people to see that freedom of the press means freedom for Murdoch’s money to spread lies.

    The immediate cause of concern seems to be a business plan with illegal action at its base. You can argue that’s Assange’s business plan too. But Assange hasn’t been as wildly successful as Murdoch.

    I’ll probably write a post with more detail.

  8. Eddie Says:

    By the way, Roger Cohen may be the only one among the pundits you rightfully critiqued to show some consistency (or at least independent thought), writing a column in defense/praise of Murdoch.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/opinion/12iht-edcohen12.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

  9. Joseph Fouche Says:

    Like many contemporary ills, the ultimate villan of the piece is the Fab Five from SCOTUS.

  10. joey Says:

    I think the fact that the Police were being bribed by news corp employees, that news corp employees were tapping the phones of murdered school children (to the point of deleting messages of frantic parents when the mail boxes were full, so they could record more messages),  nobody cared as long as the victims were celebs.  This story has been smoldering away for month, its only recently caught fire.  Cameron’s chief press officer was the news of the worlds editor at the time of the Hacking, and by all accounts was fully compliant.  This goes all the way to the top in the UK, it shows there was criminal association between the Press and the police, and that News International had a grip over the UK government that is unprecedented.  
    News Corp has had a malign influence over the political system in the UK over the last 40 years, they have owned most of the biggest sellers in the UK, and it has been well known that if you didn’t have the support of Murdoch Press you weren’t getting elected.  This has lead to the humiliation of the British Prime minister having to pay his respects to Murdoch before elections in an attempt to win his papers support.  Hence the glee on both sides of the house of commons at his recent prat falls, there is very much the sense that the Tyrant is dead.

    You have your own beef with the NYT’s editorials  thats fine there band wagon jumpers.
    The Guardian is a different kettle of fish.I don’t think you’ve read the Guardians coverage of the events, which has been a piece of outstanding investigative journalism, otherwise you would have moderated your comments.  As for treason, how had the Guardian committed Treason? Or facilated espionage?  They are a British paper accessing publicly released material.  Where is the crime? 
    Finally, the Guardian has never called for anyone’s death sentence,  it one of the reasons I read it.  

  11. Alex Olesker Says:

    Mark, I agree with the theme of this post, and think it’s a message more people need to hear to examine the consistency of their values. Hey, what happened to transparency? Some of the hacking activity could be considered whistle-blowing, just not most, sort of like WikiLeaks. I have to push back on some of the specifics, though.
    Despite the perceived hypocrisy, we shouldn’t forget how disgusting these phone hacks are. That would be like the people who responded to the murder of Leiby Kletzky by stating that this wouldn’t be news if he wasn’t a white, Jewish kid. Maybe, but that doesn’t make it less horrible. Similarly, these hacks hurt the families of dead soldiers and murdered children, they interfered in criminal investigations, and involved the widespread misuse of law enforcement. WikiLeaks was pretty nasty at times too, but we can’t downplay this.
    Also, I think the analogy works better for WikiLeaks and Assange than for Manning, because Manning was just dumping millions of files (despite what anybody says, look at the mass and majority of the material he leaked) whereas NOTW and Assange were effectively editorializing and pushing an agenda with what information they sought and released. This is a key distinction.

  12. zen Says:

    Hi ladies and gents,
    .
    Thank you for the many comments and questions. A few clarifications on my part.
    .
    The theme here is indeed hypocrisy, thank you to Eddie for pointing out an exception.
    .
    The New York times and The Guardian are also billion dollar corporations. Manning is not a whistleblower, he is a spy and a traitor whose acts were facilitated by these corporations. The News Corp employees were engaged in wiretapping/cybercrime.
    .
    These corporations, were they, say soap manufacturers and not global media outlets with powerful political allies, would be charged not with treason, but *conspiracy* and perhaps espionage and receiving stolen goods. The crime is not reporting about Wikileaks, it is orchestrating release of stolen classified documents with the criminals which moved them from observers  and journalists to participants in illegal activities. The Guardian is, of course, like Der Spiegel beyond American jurisdiction, barring the editors visiting the US. In any event, we all know they are in no danger of prosecution for political reasons. 
    .
    Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning are not exactly the same, though there are some similarities, and Ellsberg had different motivations at the time ( at least as I have read secondary and primary sources).
    .
    Phonehacking and coordinating publication of stolen classied documents are both crimes and not something to be excused based upon whose ox is being gored. Both should be prosecuted in my view.
    .
    Joey brings up the good point that there is widespread corruption in the British system and Eddie that the practice may be more widespread than just one tabloid. I think both are correct. I will add that I expect that the NSA and other national intel services are probably spying on major media outlets as a matter of course (legally or not) and that the antics here by Murdoch’s ppl have been known shortly after they began.
    .
    Cheryl, Alex, Joey, Eddie bring up the larger political aspects, which are the context for most ppl’s reactions. I am no expert on the inside baseball of British politics, I love the Brits but their system is theirs to clean up or not as they please by British rules of the game. My concern is over here where the rules of the game seem to be increasingly subject to a kind of visceral tribal sense of political and social affiliation. Under the 1st amendment, a free press gets to print propaganda. They do not have a license to commit felonies.

  13. Dave Schuler Says:

    Too many people continue to believe that the ends justify the means.

  14. Mercutio Says:

    If and when Murdoch and his minions are criminally charged on trumped up – not legitimate – charges, stripped naked, and thrown into solitary for months will I consider your arguments.  

  15. NYkrinDC Says:

    Mark,

    You are most definitely right about Manning being a traitor to this country. He stole classified material and released it to the public, putting the lives of many informants in danger as a result, and potentially cutting off access to various intel sources that either, no longer trust us to keep their identities secret, or are unable to do so thanks to their regimes muzzling. For that, he should be tried and if found guilty, given the ultimate penalty.  The same goes for Assange, should the US ever get its hands on him. However, I cannot understand why you think the NY Times is in the same position as Murdoch and News Corp. For one, once Wikileaks released the documents, they were there for the public to view, and any journalist worth his salt could not ignore the documents in the wild. It’s not like our enemies would not be pouring through the data absent their reporting. Perhaps you can explain how the NY Times and others were involved in getting Manning to steal the classified data, and getting him to release it to the public, other than merely reporting what became open source information available to one and all.

    Where News Corp, or, at least its UK branch is concerned, is of a very troubling sort. I mean, from the little I’ve read on the situation, it seems as if News Corp not only actively encouraged spying on politicians, the Royal family, celebrities, etc., but used a lot of its information, particularly with regard to politicians, to steer political debate and/or actions in a direction more favorable to its conservative ideology and/or profitability, corrupting along the way, veritable institutions like Scotland Yard, and other British security services. These actions, are exactly the type that many feared here at home, following the SCOTUS decision giving corporations the same rights as people, and should make us revisit that decision and craft laws to prevent such abuse, be it from News Corp, the NY Times, or any other corporation that gets big enough to be able to corrupt and undermine our government.

    Sorry if my thoughts are a bit disjointed, but I’m typing this in between other things, and have not much time to re-read and edit.

  16. balance Says:

    Hey zen.  Daniel Ellsberg’s situation in comparison to Bradley Manning, you know who’s opinion I respect a whole hell of a lot more than yours?  Daniel Ellsberg.  "The people who give comfort to the enemy are the people who sent troops there and are keeping the cost of the war from the people. Bradley Manning is acting in the interest of the United States and against the interest of our enemy al Qaeda."Rupert Murdock and Bradley Manning are both suspects of crime, innocent for the time being. If you are not a hypocrite, you should call for them to both be treated the same. 

  17. balance Says:

    wonder if this had been an NBC network if you’d still reference "criminal machinations." If the president of NBC had just been taken to jail, the head of Comcast forced to testify to Congress, and the head of the FBI forced to resign due to his ties to General Electric, then hell yes I’d still reference "criminal machinations. " Seriously. No perspective.

  18. zen Says:

    Hey balance,
    .
    First, if you want to know what a historical figure did and why, you look at the evidence from the time when the event happened and not, say, thirty years after the fact. I’m well aware of Ellsberg’s views on Manning are and post priori spinning isn’t relevant to what he was doing at the time of the Pentagon Papers.
    .
    Secondly, in my post, I wrote:
    .
    "I definitely agree that and violating people’s privacy is a crime that ought to be punished by sending those responsible to prison"
    .
    and
    .
    " Or awareness of the relative magnitude of each crime – and crime is the right word, neither of these scandals are mere pranks"
    .
    and in the comments above, I further wrote:
    .
    "Phonehacking and coordinating publication of stolen classied documents are both crimes and not something to be excused based upon whose ox is being gored. Both should be prosecuted in my view."
    .
    After that, you wrote:
    .
    "If you are not a hypocrite, you should call for them to both be treated the same. "
    .
    Your partisanship may be getting in the way of your reading comprehension today. I am calling for them to be treated the same way, in a court of law. I can’t speak for British law but if Murdoch knew of wiretapping by his employees here in the US and did not instantly fire them he’s crminally liable and should be prosecuted along with the employees who did it.

  19. zen Says:

    Hi NYkrinDC,
    .
    The editors of the times were not simply reading off of the wikileaks website in the great Manning document dump. Along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel, they were working collaboratively with Assange, strategizing to determine which unrevealed documents would be released and when, so that their publications would reap the benefit of inside, early, access. It was a business advantage much like a legitimate used car dealership working in partnership with the local mafia’s chop shops to get an edge over their competitors in the auto market.
    .
    Except the Times, like Murdoch but unlike our hypothetical car dealer, were also playing a political angle.

  20. balance Says:

    My reading comprehension is fine, thanks.  For example, I notice that you do not accuse NewsCorp of treason — yes treason, look it up — even though it appears they bought off elected officials and an entire national police force in order to facilitate international crimes.Before you lash out, you might want to consider your own partisan blinders.

  21. zen Says:

    No, your reading comprehension is poor and getting worse.
    .
    First, I wrote that the Times "facilitated" treason – ie. Manning’s – not that the editors committed treason themselves. They didn’t, though they might technically be on the hook for espionage via a conspiracy charge. For constitutional reasons that cannot be the case with treason.
    .
    Secondly, the actions of News Corp, while criminal, do not fit the legal definition of treason under American law. As no one has yet alleged that they violated Britain’s Official Secrets Act,  soNews Corp would be unlikely to merit a treason charge under British law. If new evidence comes out, I will revise my opinion – which, incidentally, is how it is actually supposed to work rather than deciding on a position first and trying to shoehorn information to fit the thesis afterwards :)

  22. balance Says:

    Deciding on a position first and trying to shoehorn information to fit the thesis?  For example, making an unambiguous blanket declaration that someone reaped corporate financial benefit from facilitating espionage, grand theft and treason in the absence of any convictions supporting that personal belief? ..Ah. Got it.

  23. Courtside Says:

    It’s not "a Labor MP or a wealthy, airhead celebrity – you know, really important and beautiful people" who’ve set this scandal aflame. It’s the hacked phone of a missing (later dead) teenage girl.
    Your argument that the Guardian and the NYT held the phone-hacking and Wikileaks to different standards is reasonable. But trying to shoehorn (your word) in a second angle about class issues doesn’t really work. If anything, it seems the media establishment was perfectly comfortable with wealthy, important, beautiful people getting hacked. That got to go on for years. People started talking and resigning when the masses got involved.

  24. zen Says:

    Hi Courtside,
    .
    Fair criticism. I think there’s a difference between the NYT and the Brits on the class angle but you are correct, News Corp’s phonehacking in Britain was tolerated "in house" so long as it stayed within the elite class and it crumbled only when the tactics were used on a sympathetic ordinary person and looked particularly despicable.
    .
    I suspect the reverse would hold true here but that is an opinion.

  25. Eddie Says:

    David Frum observed today that this tribalism seems to be infecting the WSJ and certain conservative radio outlets.
    http://www.frumforum.com/news-corp-employees-say-were-not-sorry
    "I remember when we were supposed to worry about Obama’s “gangster government,” with massive invasions of privacy and breaches of legality. Now we have actual invasions of privacy and outright police corruption. And yet that’s to be dismissed as no big deal?"

  26. zen Says:

    The tribalism exists on both sides and it is a big deal. It is just not the only big deal.


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