I have a bit of sympathy -- a bit, mind you -- for the people at The Wall Street Journal, and even Fox News, as they try to figure out how to talk about the apparent crimes that have been revealed at News Corporation, their corporate owner. There really is no good way to handle it from inside a News Corp. property. It's too much to expect for them to go all-out and investigate their own bosses aggressively, but if they ignore it completely, then everyone will assume they're just being cowardly.
But there's one really bad way to handle it, and that's what some parts of those organizations are doing now. The Journal's editorial page, always a redoubt of reasonableness and restraint, published this remarkable column in which it argued that everybody in England does this sort of thing, and even though Journal CEO Les Hinton, who ran the company's British newspapers at the time in question, has resigned, he's a great guy and he would never do anything untoward. And then there was this:
We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can't cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.
This now appears to be the main conservative talking point on the scandal: Forget about the hacking into thousands of people's phones, including murder and terrorism victims, and forget about the payoffs to law enforcement, what we really need to talk about is that other news organizations are meanies.
That argument showed up in this Washington Post story, which gave extended time to a representative of a conservative media watchdog group to claim that this is all a plot "to rid America of the Fox News Channel," and singled out NPR for having "a special financial interest in going after Murdoch's media properties." Right, because NPR has just been waiting for the opportunity to launch its own tabloid paper with topless Page 3 girls. Or something.
Are there people on the left who are all too happy to see Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. brought down a few pegs? Of course. But that's the weakest defense there is. Either the allegations are true or they aren't. Either Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton and who knows who else were directly involved, or they weren't. News Corp. is one of the biggest and most powerful media companies in the world, and the idea that this isn't an important story is absurd, no matter who it makes happy.
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