Murdoch and His Critics

Regarding the scandal that has roiled Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, a few things seem clear. The phone-hacking scandal in London is deplorable. Journalists have violated the privacy of ordinary citizens and, it is alleged, the law of the land in the United Kingdom. Tabloid reporters from the now-shuttered News of the World showed a reprehensible disregard for ethics as they pursued stories with little if any redeeming value. The culture of low-brow British journalism finally has come under intense scrutiny, and it’s about time.

All of the above is inarguable. But, of course, for some critics, the story is a good deal larger than all of that. For them, the story is about Mr. Murdoch. According to his critics, there is no evil to which he will not descend. The scandal at the News of the World has touched off nothing less than a media crusade against Mr. Murdoch, with the publisher’s oh-so-innocent enemies assuming the moral high ground as they attack not just the tactics of rogue journalists, not just the culture of British tabloid journalism, but the very character of Rupert Murdoch.

Please, spare us.  While it’s clear that many things were amiss at the News of the World, and while many questions remain to be asked of the relationship between British reporters (including those who don’t work for Mr. Murdoch) and Scotland Yard, it is simply wrong to assail Mr. Murdoch simply because of his politics. Yes, he was a part of London’s tainted tabloid culture, but that does not make him a symbol of that culture.

Rupert Murdoch has apologized, profusely and with genuine humility, to the family of Milly Dowler, the young murder victim whose phone was hacked into by reporters from News of the World. The family’s attorney said that Mr. Murdoch put his head in his hands as he expressed his grief. What more could he have done? How many publishers have apologized to families whose suffering has been exacerbated by media coverage? How many publishers would have closed a valuable property like News of the World? Mr. Murdoch did that, and more—he dropped his bid to purchase B Sky B, which was extremely important to him.

Mr. Murdoch clearly is one of the most powerful people on the planet. He is unabashed about his politics and he is willing to spend billions to underwrite media properties that reflect his world view. Those who disagree with it are free to read another newspaper or flip to another channel. Despite what you might have read or surmised from coverage of the scandal, Mr. Murdoch has no monopoly on news and opinion—in this country, in the U.K., in Australia, or on Planet Earth. Nevertheless, he is a big target for those who disagree with him—or who simply cannot compete with him.

They have piled on in recent days, with untoward enthusiasm. The scandal in Britain is a tragedy on many levels, for the Dowler family, for the families of journalists who are now out of work in a terrible economy, for the integrity of the Metropolitan Police in London  and surely for the Murdoch family. But there is no sense of sorrow in the tone of Mr. Murdoch’s critics. Instead, they gleefully insist that the scandal is a reflection of his personal failings.

Mr. Murdoch surely is not perfect. But he happens to be a world-class visionary who has revived dying newspapers (against the advice of his more-practical advisers), supported alternative vehicles for political and cultural criticism from Fox News to the Weekly Standard, and improved the readability of properties like The Wall Street Journal. He has been a staunch supporter of Israel and a crusader for education reform in New York.

Rupert Murdoch’s opinions are not to everybody’s taste. They are not intended to be. But New York newspaper readers should realize that there is a reason why this city is home to one of the world’s last newspaper wars, why there is greater diversity of opinion in this city’s newspapers than there was a quarter-century ago, and why politicians of both parties have had good reason to fear a phone call from the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal.

That reason is Rupert Murdoch, who came to New York in the 1970s and singlehanded revitalized the city’s newspaper landscape.

He has done this city a service. It is important to remember that as his critics seek to portray him as the media’s world king of darkness.