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Bernstein on the Watergate Analogy and the Culture of Lawlessness

If you think the Watergate analogy is hyperbolical or fanciful, don't forget it was first made by Carl Bernstein himself in The Daily Beast nearly three months ago

The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp. suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that routinely resulted in lawbreaking and unconstitutional conduct. Not to mention his role in the cover-up. It will remain for British authorities and, presumably, disgusted and/or legally squeezed News Corp. executives and editors to reveal exactly where the rot came from at News of the World, and whether Rupert Murdoch enabled, approved, or opposed the obvious corruption that infected his underlings.

And here he is, in a Guardian interview today where he makes the same point

The parallels with Watergate... Had to do with the culture itself that made this possible. In the Nixon Whitehouse Nixon was responsible for the sensibility that permeated the place, that had to do with unconstitutional acts with a cynicism about the political process and how it was practised, and a disregard for the law. And it became apparent to me, as I read more and more what was happening here, that really at bottom what this hacking furore is about, it's about a culture in the newsroom that has nothing to do with real journalism, real reporting (which is very simply put the best obtainable version of the truth) but rather has to do with serving up both the lowest common denominator of information and calling it news, and obtaining it through a methodology which is outrageous, whether you're talking about hacking or other kinds of invasions of privacy, and that the atmosphere in that newsroom is a product of the culture that Murdoch in the News of the World .


I've always said that Murdoch's Wizard of Oz like appearance before the House of Commons Select Committee this summer - the first time the most powerful man in my country had faced the people's elected representatives - was the crucial moment. Murdoch ruled by fear, by politicians self censoring and second guessing his movements. The revelation that he was a rather frail crank oldy man suddenly undermined the fear, and frankly did much to diminish his effective power. As Bernstein says:

I think his power as it were is diminished, because I don't think he's held - as a result of what we've heard and seen - in the same kind of awe by both his peers and those who feared. At the same time I think it's a mistake to oversimplify any of this. Is his power over? Is he all good or all bad. I think that's much too simple.

Let me state for the record. I have no personal opinions of Rupert himself. I've never met him. I've heard he can be a deeply loyal father and boss. However, the empire he has accumulated , the modal monopoly it deployed to create a 'market in news' which was corrupt, was used to game legislation, blackmail politicians, intimidate opponents and destroy the lives of innocent people through tabloid exposure using illegal mean...

That was unequivocally bad, and we should keep campaigning for that empire to be dismantled.

Quiet Intensity: The Raft of Ongoing Investigations

So, while things may seem to be quiet on the Murdoch scandal front, but with three police investigations ongoing in the UK (into phone hacking, computer hacking and payments to police), a public inquiry and two parliamentary committees, it won't stay like that for long in the UK. Like all criminal scandals, the onus on investigators is to compile evidence - and much more is coming to light.

Just this week it's been revealed the James Murdoch's senior PR advisor has resigned: one of the arrested journalists is joining Andy Coulson in suing News International; continued threats to Tom Watson who tirelessly campaigned on this issue in Parliament, the revelation of 11 million emails, and details of illegal practices in other Murdoch tabloid titles, apart from the now defunct News of the World.

So the culture Bernstein talked about extended to Murdoch's other titles. What is the chance it didn't extend to the US too?

As has been diaried before, there are now three prongs to the ongoing DOJ investigation into Newscorp: the most salient being the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (it's illegal to bribe foreign officials as Newscorp seems to have done with British police officers), rumours still of hacking victims on US soil, and by far the least known, but potentially the most deadly, an investigation into an old anti-trust suit from a few years ago, the Floorgraphics case, which could leave Newscorp vulnerable to RICO statutes.

U.S. investigators are looking into potential antitrust activities of Murdoch's News America Marketing Group, which specializes in producing in-store ads, coupons, advertising inserts and other promotional materials for supermarkets and retail outlets worldwide.

Investigators reportedly are seeking documents relating to a 2009 trial of a suit against News America by a New Jersey advertising company, Floorgraphics, which had accused News America of, among other things, hacking into its computer systems and lying to its customers. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum, and News America subsequently acquired Floorgraphics.

All told, News America has shelled out $655 million to settle suits against competitors alleging unsavory business practices

As Crains put it two days ago (hat tip to the ever watchful Ceebs)

Investigations of News Corp.'s illegal conduct initially involved just News of the World, which represented only 1% of annual revenue for the New York-based media company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal and operator of the Fox television networks. The marketing unit, which promotes products through supermarket coupons, accounted for four times that revenue and about 12% of profit for fiscal 2011.

Rivals of News America Marketing have claimed in court papers that it prospered by violating antitrust laws. It also hacked into a Floorgraphics password-protected website, one of its own lawyers told the jury at the 2009 trial.

“There is a pattern of anticompetitive behavior by News Corp.,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group. “We've seen it in Britain, and we've seen it in America.”

Remember, News America Marketing provides 12% of Newscorp profits. That's a really compared with the 1% provided by the biggest English language paper, the News of the World, before it was closed.

So though it seems quiet, that doesn't mean a lot isn't going on under the surface. Indeed the 'unnamed source' regularly talking about Newscorp affairs is either a whistleblower, or some desperate damage limitation..

Remember all the Presidents Men? The movie ends with Bernstein and Woodward filing more stories: it took two years before Nixon resigned, and another year or two after that for the final criminal indictments to be handed down.

Don't despair: watch this space

Crossposted on Motley Moose and on my own website

4:29 PM PT: Talking at a Guardian sponsored conference in London this evening, Bernstein makes the point there is no need for a smoking gun

Bernstein said that the important thing was not whether there was "a smoking gun" that could link Murdoch to "knowledge of phone hacking on a specific date" – just as it was not important whether Nixon knew that "the Watergate break-in would happen on a specific date".

Instead, he added, both events were "about a sensibility that corrupted a free institution" whose consequences in the case of phone hacking helped "drive the ever descending lowest common denominator of journalism that resulted in a diminution of reporting standards" across the British press.

Originally posted to Brit on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 09:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Moose On The Loose.

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