Watching Rupert Murdoch's Face as News of the World Closes
The News Corp. owner refuses to comment on News of the World shutting down
Everybody has something to say about News of the World shutting down. Everybody except Rupert Murdoch. The News Corp. owner has defended the company's current CEO Rebekah Brooks, who was the editor of News of the World at the time the phone hacking scandal began. Since the scandal's most recent flare-up over reports that News of the World hacked into the cellphone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, there have been repeated calls for Brooks to step down, but the Murdochs don't seem to hear.
James Murdoch, Rupert's son, gave no mention of Brooks in his memo announcing the 168-year-old paper shuttering. When approached by reporters at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho on Thursday mornings Rupert Murdoch "walked briskly and did not respond to any of the questions fired at him, including why he was standing by Rebekah Brooks," reports The Guardian. When asked for comment, Murdoch said blankly, "I'm not making comments any more."
So what does Rupert Murdoch really think? For fans of facial expressions and body language, here's a roundup of some of the photos from the Idaho press moment. We've also tossed in some notes from the British press on the broader situation for context.
The photo above appears to have been taken just before Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi reached the gaggle of reporters.
Meanwhile, The Guardian points to a round-up of reactions by Peter Walker at UK National News:
"Just lost my job on the News of the World. Absolutely devastated that a talented group of people are suffering right now," tweeted Tina Campanella, a news reporter at the paper, roughly half an hour after it emerged this afternoon that this Sunday's edition of her paper would be the last …
Outsiders piled in to make similar points, one freelance journalist noting: "My mate with 4 kids, not a hacker, honest journo, now lost his job, shame on the bosses at #NOTW." He added, in a sentiment not publicly expressed by the paper's staff but surely shared by many: "But at least Rebekah Brooks has still got her job, Jesus!!!!"
Murdoch leaves his wife behind, and now looks basically annoyed. By the way, that paper he's holding is The Wall Street Journal, which he owns.
Charlie Beckett, a blogger on journalism and society at the London School of Economics, points out what an aggressive wrangling of power the shuttering of News of the World is. What more could Rupert Murdoch say?
This is one of the most remarkable public relations moves of modern times. To close a massive profit-making business because it has become a reputational black hole is both bold and a gamble.
It seems that Newscorp have finally caught up with the public mood and are trying to get a grip on the narrative of this crisis. … From the Newscorp point of view this is a sensible way to try to put this scandal into the past and to separate it from the BSkyB deal. It does not get to the bottom of the phone-hacking issue, however, leaving big questions against Rebekah Brooks. It does seem that Rupert Murdoch would rather shut a newspaper than sack his loyal lieutenant.
Apparently even the reporters at Fox Business, which he owns, are pressuring him for a reaction. Like Beckett said, News of the World was a profit-making machine, and aggressive as it may have been, killing the 168-year-old brand is sort of a concession to other newspapers, like The Guardian, who have hawked News Corp.
Just after news broke, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger released this statement that touts his own paper's coverage of the scandal:
James Murdoch's statement describes the crisis at the News of the World as eloquently as anything that has been written in the Guardian. He admits -- as we have been reporting for two years -- that the paper has been "sullied by by behaviour that was wrong … and inhuman." He concedes -- as we reported -- that the paper has misled parliament and that he was wrong personally to make the out of court settlements which the Guardian revealed in July 2009.
Mr Murdoch blames "wrongdoers" who "turned a good newsroom bad." He does not say who these wrongdoers were -- and that is the crucial question people will be asking, including those who are paying with their jobs and who are angry about the loss of a 168-year old newspaper title.
There are numerous outstanding unanswered questions -- over the behaviour of the police and the complete failure of the current News International management to uncover what had gone on inside the company. We welcome Mr Murdoch's belated statement of regret. If he and Rebekah Brooks had taken the Guardian's accusations seriously two years ago it is doubtful whether the News of the World would now be closing.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Murdoch's words will be matched by a genuine attempt to get to the truth.
The Guardian has also annotated James Murdoch's press release--it's definitely worth a read.