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Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Murdoch’

When a scandal is broken open, like the one with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and, closer to home, the one involving the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, you expect to see certain developments.

Those developments usually include firings, resignations and sometimes criminal charges.

In the case of Murdoch’s News Corp. and its employees’ phone hacking, paying off police and compromising politicians who were intimidated by the powerful Murdoch dynasty, we’ve seen just that.

Two top Scotland Yard officials have resigned, including the Metropolitan police commissioner; two of News Corp.’s top executives — Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton — have resigned; and 10 people, including Brooks, have been arrested.

Today, New York Times’ media reporter David Carr wrote in his column that  “the flames of the scandal edge closer to Mr. Murdoch’s door.”

The dominoes are falling even though Murdoch hurried over to England from the U.S. and began apologizing all over the place. In a letter that was published in all British papers over the weekend, Murdoch said his company and its English subsidiary, News International, had not come to grips with its excesses promptly. “We are sorry,” his letter began.

It’s fitting, of course, that apologies are not enough. Murderers and corrupt executives apologize all the time, but most still go to prison, and some are ordered to compensate their victims.

But look at how it goes in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Bishop Robert Finnochio (I’d love to take credit for the name, but that goes to a friend who shall be unnamed) has apologized several times for failing to report to police, for many months, the fact that a parish priest had taken and electronically stored upskirt photos of little girls at a parish school in the Northland.

Bolstering the computerized evidence was the statement (more than a year ago) of a school principal who said that a parent had reported finding a pair of girl’s panties inside a planter in the priest’s back yard.

As I have said before, this is a true scandal — even though The Kansas City Star has not had the courage to tag it so.

Many Catholics in the diocese, particularly the parents of children who have been “exposed” to the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, the offending priest, are seething. A chorus of calls has come for the bishop to be prosecuted and to resign.

The bishop has apologized:

“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation.”

“I must acknowledge my own failings…As bishop I owe it to people to say things must change.”

“As bishop, I take full responsibility for these failures and sincerely apologize…for them. Clearly, we have to do more.”

Fine, but what about the loss of confidence in his leadership? How can he possibly be trusted to do the right thing in the future?

And, in the larger picture, what about the Catholic Church’s proven habit of overlooking priest sexual abuse in the hopes of salvaging clerical careers?

In his column, Carr, of The Times, quoted a lawyer for the family of a phone hacking victim as saying, “This is not just about one individual but about the culture of an organization.”

It seems to me that the lawyer could just as easily have been describing the Catholic Church in general and the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in particular.

And, still, life at the Vatican in Rome and at 20 W. Ninth Street in Kansas City go on the same as ever.

At the 20 W. Ninth building, which the diocese purchased last year, workers are finishing up Bishop Finnochio’s spacious and elegant living quarters on the third floor. He’s obviously not planning on going anywhere soon and not too worried about being kicked out of his job, which only the Pope can do.

Since he’s going to be with us for a while, I think he should direct the construction workers to install a very wide mirror in his bathroom so he can check out the end of his nose when he gets up every morning and before he goes to bed every night.

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While waiting for Congress to raise the debt ceiling, Rupert Murdoch to open a Sunday edition of the Sun (replacing his folded News of the World), and Greece to drag the Euro into the abyss…

A few tidbits:

Speaking of Greece, in this week’s edition of The New Yorker, financial writer James Surowiecki lays out one of the major reasons that the country is waiting on a handout from the other countries in the Euro zone.

Surowiecki

“According to a remarkable presentation that a member of Greece’s central bank gave last fall,” Surowiecki said, “the gap between what Greek taxpayers owed last year and what they paid was about a third of total tax revenue, roughly the size of the country’s budget deficit.”

The reason? “A culture of tax evasion” afflicts Greece.

“Greece, it seems, has struggled with the first rule of a healthy tax system: enforce the law. People are more likely to be honest if they feel there’s a reasonable chance that dishonesty will be detected and punished. But Greek tax officials were notoriously easy to bribe with a fakelaki (small envelope) of cash. There was little political pressure for tougher enforcement. On the contrary: a recent study showed that enforcement of the tax laws loosened in the months leading up to elections, because incumbents didn’t want to annoy voters and contributors. Even when the system did track down evaders, it was next to impossible to get them to pay up, because the tax courts typically took seven to ten years to resolve a case. As of last February, they had a backlog of three hundred thousand cases.”

Three hundred thousand…

Surowiecki went on to say that the new Greek government is trying hard to change things, but it’s going to be a tough slog. A successful transformation, he said, would require not only a policy shift but a cultural shift.

“Pulling that off would be quite a feat,” he concluded. “But the future of the European Union may depend on it.”

After reading that, I say thank God for the IRS and the willingness of a majority of Americans to pay their fair share of taxes. 

***

Speaking of The News of the World closing (Sunday was its last edition), Alan D. Mutter, a newspaper industry guru in San Francisco, had an interesting blog on July 5 titled “Why newspapers can’t stop the presses.”

“Fifteen years after the commercial debut of the Internet,” Mutter wrote, “publishers on average still depend on print advertising and circulation for 90 percent of their revenues. Stop the presses and newspaper companies are out of business. It’s just that simple.”

Noting that the Gannett newspaper chain laid off 700 employees last month, Mutter said the move was an indication not that the company was preparing to phase out any of its newspapers but that Gannett is “aimed at staying healthy long enough to build truly robust and sustainable digital publishing businesses.”

To succeed in the digital world, Mutter said, “publishers know they have to find bold, new ways to leverage the power of their brands, content-creation capabilities and large local sales teams…

“”Until those new initiatives achieve critical mass, however, print will continue to be the lifeblood of the newspaper business.”

Thin as the weekday paper is, I hope The Star keeps publishing every day for a long time.

***

Continuing with The News of the World saga, I’m sure you’ve read about the outrage over News of the World reporters and private investigators hired by the paper “hacking” into the cellphone voice mailboxes of relatives of terrorist-attack victims, a murdered 13-year-old girl (before her body was found) and others.

You may have wondered, like I did…Just how is that done?

On Thursday, The New York Times had a “sidebar” story explaining the techniques.

Hackers, wrote reporter Ravi Somaiya, “took advantage of default codes — like 1111 or 4444 — that cellphone providers in Britain gave users to retrieve their voice mail. Many customers did not change this standard number to a more secure code, allowing hackers to use it in one of two ways.”

In one method, a reporter would call the intended victim’s phone, engaging the line. Then, a second reporter, or person, would call simultaneously and would be directed to the voice mail system, where he would enter the default code, allowing access to the messages.

In the case of the missing girl, Milly Dowler, reporters or others went so far as to delete some messages when her cellphone mailbox was full to allow more messages, giving the reporters fodder for more stories and, more important, giving her relatives false hope that she was still alive.

Somaiya said that if any of the intended victims had changed their codes,” the hackers would resort to what they called ‘blagging’ — calling cellphone companies, pretending to be authorized users or company insiders, and requesting that the access code be reset to the default.”

Brooks and Murdoch

(As an aside, Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of News of the World, says she knew nothing about the hacking. Uh-huh. Despite a chorus of calls for her ouster, she has managed, through her good offices with Murdoch, to hang on as chief executive of News International, Murdoch’s British subsidiary.)

On the positive side, Somaiya said that Britain’s major cellphone companies have tightened their  voice mail access procedures since the early 2000s, “the heyday for phone hacking.”

This is a huge black eye for journalism worldwide; it gives the “dead-tree-journalism” cynics lots of fresh ammo.

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What a scandal in Britain.

Here’s the gist of it, in case you haven’t been following it closely. (And there’s a good reason that Kansas City area residents might not be following it closely. More on that in a minute.)

The revelations of cellphone hacking and police payoffs by reporters and editors at The News of the World, Britain’s top-selling newspaper, are probably going to bring down Prime Minister David Cameron.

Murdoch

Cameron is chummy with media baron Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. holdings provide a significant portion of the world’s flow of information, print and electronic.

Today, Andy Coulson, former editor of The News of the World (which is printed only on Sunday), was arrested in connection with allegations of phone hacking and paying police for sensitive information when he was editor of the paper.

The problem for the government’s Conservative Party, which is in power now, is that Coulson had most recently worked as chief spokesman for Cameron, the prime minister.

Anticipating Coulson’s arrest, a front-page New York Times story today said: “His arrest…would be a huge blow not just to Mr. Murdoch, but to the government and to Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party. The prime minister has always vouched for Mr. Coulson’s  integrity and said he believed Mr. Coulson’s assurances that he had cone nothing wrong (at The News of the World).”

This story is one that cries out for wall-to-wall coverage, and The Times is delivering. Today, it had five stories that covered more than two full pages.

The story has it all: corruption, outrage, political entanglement and, yes, an attractive and bodacious woman.

Brooks

The bodacity comes in with Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corp. Yesterday, rather than heed calls to fire Brooks, who was editor at The News of the World when a lot of the phone hacking was taking place, Murdoch and his son, James Murdoch, opted to close The News of the World.

(Sunday will be its final edition; its 200 employees have been cut loose to try to find jobs at other Murdoch papers or elsewhere.)

The Times’ coverage today of the scandal included a 48-column-inch story on Page A8 about Brooks. The story says, in part:

“Her closeness to Mr. Murdoch, who is said to regard her as a kind of favorite daughter (although he has four actual daughters), has protected her during the recent scandal engulfing the company, even as legislators called on her to resign.”

The story quoted an unnamed source as saying, “Rupert Murdoch adores her — he’s just very, very attached to her. To be frank, the most sensible thing that News Corp. could do would be to dump Rebekah Brooks, but he won’t.”

So, yesterday, when Brooks called a staff meeting in offices of The News of the World, many staff members assumed Brooks would be announcing her resignation.

“Instead,” the front-page Times story said, “she announced that she was to stay and they were to go.”

***

I mentioned at the top that there was a good reason that many Kansas City area residents might not be following this explosive story closely.

Today’s Kansas City Star devoted exactly one paragraph to the story, on Page A3. Here it is:

“Paper Folds: The Murdoch media empire abruptly killed off the muckraking News of the World tabloid Thursday after a public backlash over the illegal tactics used by Britain’s best-selling weekly newspaper to expose celebrities.”

Oh, my. Oh, my. I am ashamed for my former paper, which I still love in spite of its downhill spiral.

Is it any wonder people have been dropping the paper by the thousands for several years?

As a side note, I couldn’t tell what kind of coverage Thursday’s print edition gave the story because my paper was absolutely soaked from the morning rain, even though the paper was in a thin plastic bag.

Yesterday morning I went online to report a wet paper and was informed that I would get a replacement today, along with today’s paper.

Well, I got today’s paper, but yesterday’s was nowhere to be found…Patiently, I wait.

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Wednesday was a big day for journalism…I think.

News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of Internet services, rolled out “The Daily,” the first news application written and designed specifically for the iPad.

Let me make that clear: This is an online “newspaper” — consisting of six sections a day — written and produced exclusively for the iPad. It’s not copy and photos generated by Murdoch’s Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post or The Times of London (he owns them all) and repackaged for the application. No, it’s original content channeled directly to subscribers.

The subscription price is 99 cents a week, $40 per year, or — as Murdoch put it — “14 cents a day.” The first two weeks of The Daily will be free through a sponsorship arrangement with Verizon.

Among The Daily’s features are 360-degree photos, video clips and interactive timelines.

“Simply put,” said Murdoch, “the iPad demands that we completely reinterpret our craft.”

FoxNews.com said that News Corp. officials have been tight lipped about such things as how many subscribers The Daily will need to be considered a success, how many people have been hired to produce the content and how much money News Corp. has spent to develop the service.

So, what to make of this newfangled news product?

The New York Times, in an online story Wednesday, said Murdoch was aiming to “put his News Corporation front and center in the digital newsstand of the near future.”

My favorite journalistic blogger, Alan D. Mutter of Reflections of a Newsosaur, said The Daily “could be a captivating hit, a spectacular miss or something in between.”

“But one thing is sure,” Mutter said. “Rupert Murdoch, the last swashbuckling publisher of our time, will shake up the media world” with The Daily.

(Footnote: Today (Thursday), Mutter posted another blog entry saying The Daily’s debut was a flop. )

Murdoch and Cue unveiled The Daily at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, where Murdoch told an audience of reporters, employees and advertising partners, “There’s room for a fresh and robust voice” in the tablet era.

The target audience, said The Times, is “a generation of consumers who did not read national newspapers or watch television news, but did consume media.”

A News Corp. official said The Daily would produce up to 100 pages a day. While it will come out once a day, he said, the editors would be able to “break into the app at any time” to add breaking news stories.

In his post, published Monday, Mutter outlined several key factors in why The Daily might succeed…and why it might fail.

On the up side, he said, it can pull from the resources of all the Murdoch properties; it can be marketed on all those properties “every hour of every day, around the world and around the clock”; and it will have the full weight of the Murdoch financial empire behind it.

“With $33 billion in sales and $5.7 billion in operating profit, News Corp. is well positioned to subsidize the Daily for as long as Mr. Murdoch cares to pursue the project,” Mutter said.

On the down side, Mutter cited the fact that it’s not free; widespread competition from many well-established news brands; the finite market potential of the iPad; and what he called “the chasm challenge.”

Regarding the market potential, Mutter estimated that there would be about 40 million iPads in the hands of consumers by the end of this year. If 2 percent of those users subscribed to The Daily, he said, the project could generate about $40 million a year in subscriptions alone. But if only .5 percent of iPad users signed up, the project would bring in only $10 million in subscription sales, perhaps not enough to be viable.

Explaining “the chasm challenge,” Mutter said The Daily “will have to cross the chasm of anonymity and consumer indifference in order to amass the critical number of readers it needs to generate adequate subscription and advertising revenues.”

“The longer The Daily takes to break even, the more expensive the venture will be for News Corp.,” Mutter said. “While the 79-year-old Mr. Murdoch likely is prepared to underwrite many millions in losses, his patience and lifespan are not inexhaustible.”

My opinion? I don’t know what to say. I don’t have an iPad and don’t intend to get one anytime soon. I’m still yoked to the print product, although I’ve learned to navigate the electronic pathways, too.

One thing I will not do is dismiss the Murdoch initiative as folly. Shortly after I started this blog last year, I reprinted a speech that Arthur Ochs (Punch) Sulzberger, former publisher of The New York Times, made in Kansas City in May 1994. In that speech, he dismissed the fledgling Internet as so much folderol.

Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

“It is my contention that newspapers are here to stay. They are not going the way of the dinosaur – rendered extinct, in this case, by the wonders of a new technology that will speed us down an interactive information superhighway of communications.

“I’ll go one further. I believe that for a long time to come this information superhighway, far from resembling a modern interstate, will more likely approach a roadway in India: chaotic, crowded and swarming with cows. Or, as one might say, udder confusion.”

Ha, ha, Punch. Very funny…No, I won’t be making any jokes about The Daily.

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