How the BSkyB setback to Rupert Murdoch will affect his legacy in the US
The news that Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, dropped his bid to take over the BSkyB network raises questions about his ability to maintain his influence in the US.
Media mogul Rupert Murdochâ€™s empire continues to shudder under allegations of illegal phone hacking and bribery of public officials with an impending summons to testify before the British Parliament.
But Wednesdayâ€™s news that the Australian businessman has dropped his bid to take over the lucrative BSkyB broadcasting network after closing the iconic tabloid paper, News of the World, raises questions about Mr. Murdochâ€™s ability to maintain his influence both in Britain and the US, where he has been acquiring media properties for years.
â€śHis business may survive,â€ť says Richard Levick, president of Levick Strategic communications, a global firm specializing in crisis management, â€śbut his legacy will not.â€ť
While Murdoch may be able to regroup the long-term strategy for his media empire predicated on acquiring BSkyB, the largest broadcasting network in Britain, he will not be able to downplay the magnitude of what are now mounting criminal charges, Mr. Levick says.
Calling the breadth of the downfall, â€śShakespearean,â€ť Levick points out that alongside his reputation for great business acumen, Murdoch was also known as someone who â€śalways saw himself as the little guy fighting against the Man, such as big government.â€ť
Now, however, Levick asserts, what Murdoch will be remembered for are the journalistic excesses that led to his empireâ€™s stunning setback: the scandalous, long-term abuse of the least fortunate among us â€“ â€śa 13-year-old murder victim, deceased veterans of foreign wars, and victims of the 9/11 attacks.â€ť
History will also mark Murdoch as the â€śmain engine behind the race to the bottom of the journalism barrel,â€ť says Levick. Murdochâ€™s key contribution to accelerating the â€śtabloidizationâ€ť of media, he says, was his uncanny ability â€śto monetize the salacious.â€ť
His steady acquisition of media outlets in the US parallels a well-documented rise in tabloid-style values across the US media landscape, â€śinfotainment,â€ť or â€śMcNews,â€ť as it has been called.
He points to what he considers one of many examples. â€śLook what happened with the New York Post, which used to be one of the leading papers. Just look at it today,â€ť he says, noting what he calls unfounded allegations about the hotel maid whose accusations led to rape charges being brought against former managing director of the International Monetary fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
â€śThe article called her a prostitute. They have no evidence for that, and she will sue and probably win,â€ť Mr. Cohen says.
When Murdoch launched Fox News channel in 1996, Cohen says, â€śhe brought over people all trained in the British tabloids.â€ť Cohen, who was paid to appear on the channel for the first five years of its operation, says he observed the Murdoch-inspired culture â€śup close.â€ť
Murdochâ€™s hands-on impact on the content was a hallmark, says Cohen. â€śIf you were a politician and Murdoch was against you, then the station went after you 24/7,â€ť he says, â€śand not in the opinion section, but in what was called the news.â€ť
Fox News and the New York Post did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Cohen points to the charges now coming out in Britain about Murdochâ€™s alleged dirty tricks against British politicians such as Gordon Brown, whose financial and family medical records were hacked and the information published in Murdochâ€™s papers.
However, Murdochâ€™s impact on what is arguably his most prestigious purchase, The Wall Street Journal, back in 2007, has allowed it to buck the declines suffered by the overall newspaper industry. It was the only newspaper among the nationâ€™s top 25 to increase circulation last year.
â€śMurdoch may not be a consummate journalist, but he is a consummate businessman,â€ť says Mark Tatge, Pulliam professor of journalism at DePauw University in Indiana.
Look at what he accomplished, points out Mr. Tatge. â€śPeople told him he couldnâ€™t launch a fourth TV network, and he did. People told him he would never be able to buy the Wall Street journal, and he did,â€ť he says.
The pressures to attract viewers in a fragmenting media landscape are much bigger than one person or outlet, he says.
â€śMurdoch may have brought his own special power to it,â€ť he says, â€śbut with or without Rupert Murdoch, the forces of tabloidization will continue to grow.â€ť