News Corp condemns hacking. That seems to be the corporate PR directive that has landed on the desk of every one of Rupert Murdoch’s minions in their ongoing effort to save him and themselves.
The latest example of this strategy of damage control comes from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens under the headline: “News of the World vs. WikiLeaks.”
How does this year’s phone hacking scandal at the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World—owned, I hardly need add, by News Corp., the Journal‘s parent company—compare with last year’s contretemps over the release of classified information by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks and his partners at the New York Times, the Guardian and other newspapers?
At bottom, they’re largely the same story.
In both cases, secret information, initially obtained by illegal means, was disseminated publicly by news organizations that believed the value of the information superseded the letter of the law, as well as the personal interests of those whom it would most directly affect. In both cases, fundamental questions about the lengths to which a news organization should go in pursuit of a scoop have been raised. In both cases, a dreadful human toll has been exacted: The British parents of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, led to the false hope that their child might be alive because some of her voice mails were deleted after her abduction; Afghan citizens, fearful of Taliban reprisals after being exposed by WikiLeaks as U.S. informants.
Both, in short, are despicable instances of journalistic malpractice, for which some kind of price ought to be paid. So why is one a scandal, replete with arrests, resignations and parliamentary inquests, while the other is merely a controversy, with Mr. Assange’s name mooted in some quarters for a Nobel Peace Prize?
Scandal: “A publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society.”
We all know why Bret Stephen’s News Corp paymasters have been hauled in front of a parliamentary committee today to answer questions on the News of the World phone hacking scandal. But the Wikileaks scandal?
The treatment of Bradley Manning is certainly a scandal — but not one that has garnered a great deal of attention in the mainstream media. But Wikileaks efforts to promote transparency in government are neither a scandal, nor indeed do they involve hacking. There is no evidence that either Wikileaks or newspapers publishing documents provided by Wikileaks, broke the law.
The real difference between the Wikileaks story and the exposure of business practices employed by News Corp is the difference between public interest and self interest. For Rupert Murdoch’s empire, as ideological driven as some of its components might seem to be, is ultimately an enterprise with a very simple agenda.
The populism that unites News of the World and Fox News is one in which news entertainers exploit the commercial value of popular sentiment in whatever way can grab the largest market share. Sure, they have a broadly conservative agenda, but their philosophy and business practices boil down to this: they’re only in it for the money.