In the crisis-public-relations business, they often say you dump bad news to the media on a Friday afternoon. This apparently is also the case if the crisis is in the media, as some high-level executives have exited News Corporation in the continuing phone-hacking scandal. First, Rebekah Brooks, erstwhile editor of News of the World, resigned today. (Catherine Mayer, who wrote our cover story from London on the British-tabloid scandal, has a report on it.) Now comes news that Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton, who headed News International during many of the hacking offenses, is stepping down. As other wits besides me have said today, Rupert Murdoch—who has taken out an apology ad in British papers and retained crisis-PR counsel—is running out of executives not named Murdoch to sacrifice.
As I posted earlier, this is a tricky story to contextualize for American audiences. It’s a vast and shocking scandal involving a company with tremendous holdings here (Fox, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, &c.). On the other hand, it does not directly involve any of its American properties. With Hinton’s departure, the scandal has claimed an executive of an American media branch.
The question is: does this scandal actually start to affect American media—not just costing boldface names their jobs but actually changing the work and nature of News Corp’s American outlets? Will it affect American media consumers and the news that they get in any way? That’s definitely the effect in Britain, where the company may be pulling out of the newspaper business, and in any case is bound to be less politically influential; there may also be a reaction against the tone of British tabloids.
Here, any such fallout is a far sketchier possibility. (Even if, say, News of the World is found to have spied on Americans, that’s not a failing that will necessarily damage its corporate siblings in the States.) So far. The question is how far the damage spreads in the executive suites. If the scandal takes out Murdoch’s family heirs, or Rupert Murdoch himself, is Fox, or Fox News, or the New York Post, likely to be any different as an entity under a Murdoch-less News Corp.?
There are a lot of variables in that question. (Murdoch would not be around to use the company as a conservative bully pulpit, for instance, but that doesn’t mean a conservative-leaning Fox News and its ratings would suddenly be any less attractive a business enterprise.) But it’s a question that looks worth entertaining, as News Corp keeps making the kind of news you don’t want to make.