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Rupert Murdoch: His empire under attack, a media potentate stumbles

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Turning away from tabloid taste

Whether Murdoch's empire will topple, as some breathless prognosticators say, is unclear. Certainly, damage is done. As Milly's story went viral, Murdoch closed NotW after 168 years, making it a sacrificial lamb for his larger aim to take over the lucrative British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) satellite TV firm. But after all sides in the House of Commons opposed the 71 percent buyout, Murdoch withdrew his bid. And on Friday, he saw his trusted London lieutenant, News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, succumb to the mounting calls for her resignation.

Murdoch’s own behavior has done him no favors. He flew to London to take charge of the scandal but seemed uncharacteristically deaf to an angry public. While politicians made the Dowler home a pilgrimage, Murdoch's personal apology to the family on Friday appeared to come only at the last moment.

The extent of News Corp.'s criminality is the immediate question here. But the core of the story goes to a lowering of standards and what analysts call a cynical manipulation of emotions and tabloid taste hidden behind a facade of family values and British patriotism that have long defined the News Corp. approach.

News International broke the law "on an industrial scale," said former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the Commons, after revealing that his handicapped son's medical records were compromised. "In their behavior towards those without a voice .... [News International] descended from the gutter to the sewer."

In fact, News International is admired for the creativity and energy required to survive in the competitive London press hothouse. Yet it has long caused gritted teeth for adopting many creeds and attitudes of its boss, say journalists who have worked under News Corp. The Murdoch ethos of a do-whatever-it-takes-to-win attitude is prevalent. The 1990s NotW exposés on the royals and soccer stars seem tame compared with recent themes of shaming transvestites and pedophiles, unearthing medical horrors, and breaking into the voice mail of ordinary Brits.

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