Mon, July 18, 2011
World > Europe > News Corp. in hacking scandal

Tables turn on Murdoch as scandal rocks his empire(2)

2011-07-18 03:44:29 GMT2011-07-18 11:44:29(Beijing Time)

But the British lawmakers who have traditionally supported Murdoch rather than risk being pilloried in the pages of his newspapers no longer seem to be in his corner because their fear of retaliation is fading. He will surely face tough questions Tuesday when he appears before a Parliament committee eager to grill him about the phone hacking and bribery allegations.

"All the powerful allies that used to help him, either publicly or behind the scenes, have faded to the sidelines," says Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters, a liberal group that frequently criticizes Fox News for what it says is biased and inaccurate reporting. "He is on his own, and he is in over his head."

Boehlert likens the crisis and widespread antipathy surrounding Murdoch to the unraveling of Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974 as details of the Watergate cover-up were revealed. Like Nixon then, Murdoch is in "free-fall mode. There is nothing he can do to stop this story," Boehlert says.

The lack of control over the situation seemingly bothers the notoriously autocratic Murdoch, who told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that he was "getting annoyed" with the media's unrelenting coverage of the scandal.

If the scandal widens, newspaper analyst Ken Doctor believes Murdoch eventually will have to step down as CEO, though he could still retain the chairman's title.

Disgraced newspaper publisher Conrad Black, whose former ownership of The Daily Telegraph turned him into a bitter Murdoch rival, thinks his old foe is more like another polarizing historical figure — French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Like Napoleon, Murdoch is a "great bad man," Black wrote in a column Wednesday for the Financial Times. "It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness."

Black, who was convicted of fraud in 2007 and still has some prison time to serve, wrote that it would be "astonishing" if Murdoch's British newspapers didn't commit crimes while "reveling in the climate of immunity that has been the group's modus operandi for decades."

Although he stopped short of calling him a crook, Black lambasted Murdoch as an "an exploiter of the discomfort of others" and "a malicious myth-maker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism."

The criticism exemplifies Britain's widespread antipathy toward Murdoch, says Porter Bibb, a former media executive and now managing partner of advisory firm Mediatech Capital Partners.

"The people who are gloating now are much more in the U.K.," Bibb says. "He's really browbeaten the competition, most specifically the politicians."

Murdoch also is despised by union workers who still remember how he used a new printing plant to foil a printers' strike in the gritty London district of Wapping in 1986 and 1987. Nic Oatridge, who lived in the area, recalls seeing police regularly harass and arrest picketers while making sure delivery trucks got into and out of the printing plant. That fed his suspicions that the police were in Murdoch's pocket.

"I'm pleased he's been exposed," Oatridge, 55, says. "Something we've always believed was going on 25 years ago is finally going to be visible."

In the U.S., much of the ill will toward Murdoch has stemmed from the belief that he uses his media properties, especially the Fox News cable channel, to promote a conservative political agenda. "There is essentially a partisan reaction against Murdoch and his use of right-wing politics," Doctor, the newspaper analyst, says.

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