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Tina Brown's Must Reads: Reckoning With Rupert

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, at center on July 15, after News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks announced her resignation. Speaking before British lawmakers yesterday, Murdoch said "This is the most humble day of my life."
Peter Macdiarmid
Getty Images
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, at center on July 15, after News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks announced her resignation. Speaking before British lawmakers yesterday, Murdoch said "This is the most humble day of my life."

Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, tells us what she's been reading in a feature that Morning Edition likes to call Word of Mouth.

This month, as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. reels from the News of the World hacking scandal, Brown, whose husband, Harold Evans, resigned from the Murdoch-owned London Sunday Times in 1982 after a much-publicized imbroglio with the magnate, selects a series of recent news and opinion articles that tackle Murdoch's falling empire from different directions.

Deep Inside The Cabinet

First up is "The Great Murdoch Conspiracy," written by Peter Oborne, a Daily Telegraph columnist who spent time as a lobby correspondent in the House of Commons. Oborne began his career 20 years ago under the assumption that the British Constitution worked the way he had been taught at school: that it ensured a representative democracy, with the country governed under the rule of law, Brown tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "But then he really began to understand that actually, this wasn't so, that he actually was working in a culture where there was this very uneasy collusion between the Murdoch tabloids and the system of government," Brown says.

Osborne, who was a reporter at the time but did not work for Murdoch, recalls in his article how News International executives would be seated behind the Cabinet during the Blair regime, as though they were their own branch of government.

"The first phone call that Tony Blair would make after the party conferences, which are like our Democratic and Republican conventions," Brown says, "would be to Rupert Murdoch."

Even though many senior members of the Cabinet at the time knew that Murdoch was on the verge of exposing them at all times, Brown notes that "they still found it absolutely just inadvisable and impossible not to fraternize socially with the Murdoch executives. It was like being part of the Stasi or something."

Uncommon Enemies

Other famously embattled media figureheads are coming out of the woodwork to respond to Murdoch: Brown points to a "wonderful, volcanic" article by former Telegraph Newspapers publisher Conrad Black, who himself was convicted of four counts of fraud obstruction of justice in 2007 and spent time in jail. In the Financial Times, Black calls Murdoch a "great, bad man":

"All his instincts are downmarket. He's not only a tabloid sensationalist, he's a malicious myth-maker and an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism."

Brown, who says she has "a great deal of admiration for Rupert for his business vision, and his willingness to take on big bets," concurs with the assessment.

"He was the first of the press barons to really go after the royal family and actually institute a culture where the royal family was constantly being trashed, and yet in the end of his career, he himself became a nepotistic, elitist figure," Brown says.

Yet she notes that Black, a convicted felon, lambasting Murdoch "is indeed the pot calling the kettle black."

By the same token, Hustler publisher, free-press defender and flagrant rule-bender Larry Flynt has also authored an editorial disapproving of Murdoch, this one in The Washington Post. Brown notes that in the old days, Murdoch might have chuckled at such a piece. No more. He's now the subject of an industry he created.

"There's no more corrupt cartel than Murdoch. I mean, in that sense, you know, that's the ultimate hypocrisy," Brown says. "He's really experiencing, in a sense, what his papers did, the tabloid bloodsport that he's really led for the last 30 years. He's now in the middle of it."

Standing By Murdoch

For all the Murdoch criticisms flying around the press, he still has defenders. One of them, Roger Cohen, praised him in The New York Times last week for "his evident loathing for elites, for cozy establishments, for cartels, for what he's called 'strangulated English accents.' " (Cohen once worked for The Wall Street Journal, but left that paper 15 years before Murdoch's News Corp. purchased it.)

Another defense comes in the form of an unsigned editorial published in The Wall Street Journal, his most prestigious newspaper in the United States. The Journal argues that the News Corp. investigation, if taken too far, threatens freedom of the press as the conversation begins to shift toward greater press regulation in Britain. Brown says that though this is a fragile moment for the media, she disagrees.

"I think there are enough serious, committed journalists and politicians now who feel liberated by this whole explosion to have a serious debate that will nonetheless fight for the freedoms," Brown says. "Somehow I feel good about the way it's going to come out, because I think there really has become a distaste for doing business this way."

Breaking The Story

Two such serious, committed journalists are Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, and his reporter Nick Davies, Brown says. In this week's Newsweek, which Brown edits, Rusbridger tells an account of how Davies broke the story of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal through dogged work, even when nobody else was interested in the story anymore.

"At a certain point, he felt so lonely and exposed with this story and so fearful in a sense, that without additional ammunition somehow they would get suppressed by the much greater power of the News International [the division of News Corp. that publishes papers in the U.K.] media, that he actually came to The New York Times and said, 'Let's partner in this,' " Brown says.

The dual investigation opened cracks in the case that prompted Scotland Yard "to understand that they themselves were being so tarnished by this with the corruption," and to finally reopen the investigation, Brown says. "I mean, bribing police officers is a major thing, and Scotland Yard had to clean up its own act."

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