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FOX and the Sharks


Fox News haters are circling in the water so furiously that the sharks are calling their lawyers. The phone-hacking scandal that led to the closing of one of the world’s oldest papers, the News of the World, has shaken Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire, and the whiff of blood in the water is obviously exhilarating for his enemies.

So we’re visited by that rarest of events: an overseas news story receiving wall-to-wall coverage by domestic news outlets. Any American who hasn’t yet heard that the Murdoch-owned British tabloid hacked into people’s voice mails to gather juicy stories must not be watching MSNBC, listening to NPR, or reading the Daily Beast.

Why, you ask? The answer is simple, and came unsurprisingly from MSNBC’s premier breakfast show, Morning Joe. “Does this jump the Pond?” asked Mike Barnicle, one of the show’s regulars, on Monday. “Does this come to America?” Or, as another regular put it more directly: Will Murdoch properties in the U.S. such as the New York Post and Fox News be investigated?

Voila, the thing did jump the pond yesterday. No, there’s no evidence whatsoever that any of the revolting practices at Murdoch’s British media properties have found a home stateside. But that didn’t stop a handful of U.S. congressmen from calling for an investigation into the doings at U.S.-based Murdoch outlets, which include the Wall Street Journal (where I worked in pre-Murdoch days).

How revolting were the practices in England? Let’s get the horrific facts out of the way first. If the allegations are right, the criminals who committed these acts while working as “journalists” are repugnant, which is why Murdoch himself shut down the News of The World last Sunday. The vampires didn’t just seek salacious tidbits about the lives of Royals and soccer stars, and other celebrities who feed off media attention (not that that would be excusable). They went after non-public figures and hurt people who were vulnerable.

They hacked into the phone of a kidnapped — and, we later found out, murdered — girl. But because her voice mail kept getting full, these “journalists” deleted some messages, giving her parents false hopes she was still alive.

These were crimes. Stealing people’s private property, which is what hacking amounts to, is a crime. Bribing police, also alleged to have taken place, is a crime. It doesn’t matter the context. It’s similar to the futility of “hate crimes.” Hurting other people already is a crime, it doesn’t matter why.

In this case, it may be worse than futile if the result is diminished press freedoms in Britain, let alone here. Prime Minister David Cameron is already muttering darkly about “a revision of regulation of the press.”

More ironic is David Cameron’s promise to end the longstanding, cozy relationship between British politicians and the press by affirming that “the music has stopped.” The irony, of course, is that Cameron has absolutely no intention of pausing, for even a second, the most musical pol-press relationship of all: The government’s anachronistic subsidies for the BBC. After all, what is cozier than sending someone a check every other week?

Not ironic at all has been the reporting in this country. NPR and MSNBC are near giddy with excitement. NPR’s media reporter, David Folkenflik, was dispatched to London posthaste and is treating this story as the second coming of Watergate. Murdoch, like Nixon, must roll. So dizzy has NPR been that they gave full airing to what we now know was a false Reuters report on how News Corp does not pay taxes.

Folkenflik himself appears to have a longstanding Fox animus. His bio on NPR’s website starts oddly: “Geraldo Rivera of the Fox News Channel once described David Folkenflik as ‘a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter.’” Of course, NPR’s media reporter quickly adds: “Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, gave him a ‘laurel’ for his reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.”

Translation: Folkenflik wears attacks from Fox as badges of honor, right up there with accolades from that paragon of impartial and unbiased reporting, the CJR.

But it wasn’t just Folkenflik. Nina Totenberg, the NPR commentator and civility arbiter (who once wished AIDS on Sen. Jesse Helms’ grandchildren), opined on ABC this Sunday that the problem is with media consolidation into but a few hands (translation: Murdoch).

“It speaks to the need for a diversity. Has nothing to do with the politics of Rupert Murdoch. Has to do with a single view, a single person or entity owning everybody and everything.” Right.

If Totenberg et al. were truly concerned over the need for diversity in news (the one that matters — political diversity) they would be prostrating themselves before the News Corp building in New York. Before the advent of Fox, the entire nation was held hostage to one single view — that promoted over different networks by the likes of Harry Reasoner, David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, and others. They were all nice men, I’m sure, but liberal to the bone.

Diversity is, however, the very thing these commentators seem to hate about Fox. In unison they condemn its discordant voice for making “a significant contribution to the polarization of American politics, the erosion of reasoned debate, the debunking of reason itself, and the ensuing Washington paralysis,” as Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times this week. Or, as Rem Rieder of the American Journalism Review said on NPR on Wednesday, Fox is “part of a phenomenon where we now have people who only get the news that reinforces their views.”

Well, that’s the decision that people make when they shop around for news. At least now they have that choice. Given these comments, and many, many like them, one must doubt that it is diversity that News Corp’s enemies are after. And if they have their way, the choice in media you have now will be gone.

— Mike Gonzalez is vice president for communications at The Heritage Foundation.  You can follow him on Twitter @Gundisalvus 


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