The Wall Street Journal has accused critics of News Corp. of “Schadenfreude.” As I’ve argued, that characterization trivializes the issue, which is in fact a pretty clear-cut matter of justice. However, let’s indulge in a moment of speculation about one of the questions on everyone’s mind:
Is there any chance Murdoch goes to jail, or at least has to worry about it?
It seems unlikely; though investigations have touched high-level executives, presumably even in the culture of rampant law-breaking that clearly existed at News Corp, people will have had the sense to shield Murdoch from vulnerability to prosecution. But then it looks as if these people were surprisingly cavalier, or perhaps just felt invulnerable. Further, Geoffrey Robertson has suggested at The Daily Beast that:
As proprietor of the News of the World he could at least be expected to check any significant payments it was making, in order to ensure that his company was getting value for money. The evidence that he did so was the basis for ex–Labour Party leader Michael Foot accusing him of personal responsibility for an infamous defamation (“KGB: Foot Was Our Agent”)—namely, that he would personally have checked the payment made for the book serialization upon which the story was based. Several editors are on record confirming his routine practice of personally questioning their expenditures. That, after all, is what a good proprietor does or else delegates to a senior executive. Someone in authority must have asked what benefit was obtained from a six-figure payment to Glenn Mulcaire.
Both Rupert and James Murdoch appeared before Parliament today; however unlikely it is that anything explosive emerges from that, it may set the course for how Murdoch is going to play this and how convincing he can be.
As delightful as it is to imagine Rupert Murdoch spending some of his final years in the slammer, the best case scenario for him still offers some lovely Schadenfreude. There have been reports that he might be replaced as CEO by current COO Chase Carey; unnamed board members are denying those reports, but you have to figure the question is on everyone’s mind. Meanwhile, Felix Salmon suggests that News Corp could, at least theoretically, be the subject of a corporate takeover, likely one that would result in it being broken into pieces.
At a minimum, Murdoch is without the services of some of his most trusted executives, people who have worked for him for decades. His company will doubtless face years of lawsuits from the thousands of people whose phones it hacked, and payouts that may become costly even by the standards of a billionaire and his giant corporation. The politicians whose careers were so dependent on the favorable coverage they received in News Corp outlets will be afraid to be seen to be close to him, and careers like those of British Prime Minister David Cameron are sustaining real damage because of the scandal—because of Murdoch.
Even if he is never directly questioned by police, let alone arrested, big chunks of what Rupert Murdoch spent his life building will have been undone, and people he valued will have lost their careers and been arrested because of the work they did for him. As evil as he is, he’s still human and it has to hurt.
But for now, I’m not giving up hope on the jail time thing.