NPR Leaps On Murdoch Scandal, Including One-Hour Talk Show That Turned to Fox News

Unsurprisingly, Fox-hating National Public Radio has eagerly embraced the nasty scandal of phone-hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid, which included dastardly deeds like hacking into the phone messages of abducted 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose parents thought she might be alive because a tabloid reporter was messing with her phone.

NPR was so excited by this scandal that they sent media reporter David Folkenflik to London, and he’s filed eight reports in the last week – and starred in a one-hour Diane Rehm Show devoted to the “Murdoch Tabloid Scandal” on Tuesday, in which the name “Murdoch” was used 70 times.

Folkenflik’s grand summary of the scandal for Rehm was that it demonstrates Murdoch had far too much power in British politics: “The politicians' ties to the Murdochs are so tight and so important, at least in their minds, to their being able to seek and obtain power here that, you know, the parliament doesn't have clean hands. The press, obviously, doesn't have clean hands. And it would seem that the police and the investigators don't either.”

Rehm was excited to move the story back to America, asking another guest, Rem Rieder of the American Journalism Review:

REHM: There were reports yesterday that some News of the World reporters had tried to get personal information about 9/11 victims from a former member of the New York City Police. So this scandal is certainly one that does not stop with borders.

RIEDER: No, it doesn't at all. And that certainly brings that point home. And Rupert Murdoch, while he's such a powerful figure in Britain, of course, is an extremely influential media presence in the United States. His creation, Fox News, has had a revolutionary effect both in the media world, in recent years, and in politics.

And he, not long ago, acquired The Wall Street Journal, one of the best papers in the United States, as well as his ownership of the New York Post, probably the clever -- one of cleverest tabloids around. So it's -- it will be fascinating to see how much of this spills over and ultimately what it means for Rupert Murdoch, media baron, in both countries.

A few minutes later, Rehm set up Rieder to explain how Murdoch has affected the American media landscape:

REHM: When you look at Rupert Murdoch himself, how do you think he has changed the media not only in Britain, but here in the U.S. as well?

RIEDER: Well, the most dramatic example is the creation of Fox News, which is a -- has been a -- whatever your politics -- is a stunning achievement, creating a fourth national network and, more significantly, one with a -- at least a chunk -- a good chunk of its broadcast, a very distinctive political point of view and has had an enormous influence as well on politics in the United States as very much a Republican and right wing partisan.

And that really is -- has had a spin-off effect on cable television, where we've seen the rise of MSNBC, a cable channel that tilts to the left. They've all had -- this has all had the effect of marginalizing, to some extent, CNN, the pioneer in this line of work, which has always prided itself on the news being straight down the middle and more in what we've thought of as the American tradition.

So it would be -- it's part of a phenomenon where we now have people who only get the news that reinforces their views. You have people who watch Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and listen to talk radio, people like Rush Limbaugh, and read the Drudge Report. On the left, you have people who watch MSNBC and go to the Huffington Post. So this is a really significant cultural shift. And it all -- it stems, in part, from the creation of Fox News by Rupert Murdoch.

Once again, liberals like Rieder pretend that CNN’s liberal bias marks the “straight down the middle American tradition” that Fox ruined. People never exclusively watched news that reflected their views until Fox News came along. So if liberals only watched PBS or only listened to NPR in the two decades before that, this was apparently a sign of their rationality, not their prejudices. As might be expected, the NPR listeners were letting the hate for Murdoch flow. From “Susan” in Fort Worth, Texas:

I haven't liked Murdoch for years. And, you know, I think he's a monster. But I really hope that this scandal brings down his little empire. The politics here in the U.S. were very civil until he got his hands on our news and our TV, our papers. And it's so divided now that we're to the point we can't do anything. We can't get anything done here in our country.

Rehm stepped in and asked “First, to David Folkenflik, could this bring Murdoch down? Folkenflik said "Well, I mean it would take a concerted effort by the corporate board of News Corp. and shareholders to do that, and it's been such a creature of him. It's hard to imagine that."

But it really turned humorous when Rehm suggested the caller that described Murdoch as a “monster” somehow was a guardian of civility: And to the other part of our caller's question, Rem. How much influence has Rupert Murdoch had on the development of incivility in our political life?”

Earth to Diane: you just read an uncivil E-mail. And, as Brent Bozell wrote, the day before you asked this, Charlie Cook was suggesting most Republicans want to break America’s china and burn the country’s barn down. So perhaps you should police your own program?

Rieder replied on the incivility question:

RIEDER: Well, Fox has certainly been a force in that. And a good point was made by Clive earlier, that, while it's been a force and has a revolutionary impact, it didn't arise out of nowhere. It clearly spoke to a large, large group of people who felt unrepresented in the media. We've heard, for years, about the liberal media that -- you could argue about that at length. And nevertheless, it struck a chord.

And, already, we'd had the development of talk radio, which was very successful in reaching out to many of the same people. So, you know, while Fox has been a very important -- and Murdoch -- a very important player in this, obviously, it tapped into something very deep in this country. I mean, and I hardly think, while he's a man of many achievements, we can give him a complete credit for creating the partisanship and kind of the sometimes ugly politics that we're encountering today.

Then Rehm read this doozy:

And here's the last email from Dean, who says, "One of your guests defended Murdoch by saying there's in no evidence now that Murdoch knew of the unethical practices at his papers. If I don't know my brakes have gone bad, I will be convicted of a major crime after I go through a stop sign and kill someone. In other words, there should be evidence that Murdoch knew everything since he's in control of the papers under investigation. There should be evidence, also, that he took steps to fix the brakes, so to speak, and get rid of the people involved." Clive?

Clive Crook of the Financial Times replied: “I think -- actually, I think that's about right. You know, he's the head of the company. The buck stops with him. Now, at one time, they were arguing that this is not -- was not a systemic problem in the company. It was like a couple of rogues. And at that point, I think, the line that, you know, you don't carry responsibility right at the top of the organization. That was at least worth a try. But, now, we're way beyond that. I mean, we're talking about 4,000 people getting their phones hacked.”

But perhaps the most egregious part of the program was when an e-mailer suggested that Murdoch’s competitors had more than the purity of journalism in their sights when they exposed unethical conduct at Murdoch’s papers. This question would also apply to NPR, after all their loathing of Fox News caused the Juan Williams firing fiasco:

REHM:  Here's an email from David in Port Charlotte, Fla., who says, "I do wonder how objective most journalists can be when talking about the scandal with News Corp. and News International when many journalists stand to benefit from the downfall of Mr. Murdoch's journalism empire. Should a journalist disclose if their employer is in competition with one of News Corp.'s companies?

"Let's not forget the scandal only broke because the Guardian, one of News of the World's biggest rivals, kept pushing the story. I'd love to hear your panel comment on this. For example, would it benefit The New York Times if The Wall Street Journal were to be dragged into the mud? What about CNN and Fox News, et cetera?" Clive.

CROOK: It’s avery good question, a very shrewd point. It's true. Everyone in this business who isn't working for News Corporation is in competition with News Corporation. The FT that I work for is in competition with The Wall Street Journal, so I hereby disclose that interest. Certainly, The New York Times is worried about The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch is on record as having said he has The New York Times in his crosshairs.

He wants to take The Wall Street Journal into The Time's market. And he will be delighted to crush The New York Times. So, yes, I would say. Short answer to the question is, do bear that in mind. We all have an axe to grind in this debate.

Rehm turned to Rieder, who changed the subject. Rehm did not explain, nor turn to Folkenflik to explain, the million-dollar grant NPR received from George Soros at almost the same time that Soros gave a million-plus to Media Matters for America to get cable operators to "Drop Fox." NPR should really try a fuller disclosure when it dives into scandals that please its liberal sugar daddies.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis