Why I am rooting for News Corp. to fail

I’ll fess up: I’m rooting for the phone hacking scandal to be the downfall of News Corp.

I don’t take lightly a desire to see a company fail, especially one that employs thousands of people who, in turn, support families and communities. But the list of News Corporation’s sins against journalism, and society, is long, even if one overlooks the repugnant phone hacking. Instead of speaking truth to power, News Corp. tries bending truth to power.

Allow me again to state that I have no problem with political advocacy by news organizations or even by individual journalists, so long as that advocacy is the final point in a journey that begins with reporting and discovery of truth. I have a problem with political advocacy in journalism only when it represents the first step in the process, dictating the reporting and presentation of information to an audience.

That some News Corporation subsidiaries, especially Fox News, allow the political ideology of its leadership to direct its news gathering and presentation should not be disputed by any reasonable journalist at this stage. Fox News has subsumed the Republican Party power structure in the United States, to the point where GOP operative David Frum once said on ABC’s Nightline: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

Don’t mistake my opposition to Fox, and News Corp., as simple opposition to its political ideology. My argument is about power, and the danger of allowing a single entity assume too great a voice in our public discussion.

The abuse of power is an issue than can unite liberals and conservatives, and progressives and libertarians, within the journalism industry. I was inspired to write today by Howard Owens, who tweeted earlier this week: “There’s an aspect of the News Corp. scandal not being discussed — that bigness leads to things like this.”

For those of you who don’t know Howard, I don’t think he would dispute my characterizing him as a strong libertarian, and someone with whom I disagree on a great many political issues. But I believe that he and I agree on this one: Size breeds power – and power corrupts.

I would extend that thought: Power in journalism corrupts the truth, too.

Size and power become symbiotic, especially when an organization (or a bank account) grows beyond a certain tipping point. News Corp. long ago passed that point, in both Britain and the United States. News Corp.’s ability to command fear and favor from elected officials stripped its leadership and employees of fear of consequence for breaking the law. So, it appears in Britain and possibly in the United States, they did.

If someone’s not afraid of breaking the law, do you really believe that the ethics of responsible journalism and truthful news reporting are going to bind such people, either? Of course not. Anyone who dismisses the law for power will dismiss the truth to preserve their power, too.

Our loyalties as journalists ought to be to the truth first, our communities next and our industry after that. I know colleagues who have said that they feel a reflexive obligation to defend fellow journalists when they are attacked. The managers and employees of News Corp. do not deserve that support. To defend News Corp. now, after all this, is to deny our higher obligations to community and to truth.

The journalism industry, collectively, must speak with the authority to move our communities in a positive direction. But we fail that cause when we allow individual voices in our industry to gain such power that they can dominate the conversation for their own ends.

The investigations into News Corp.’s wrong-doing are not an attack on journalism, or on a free press. They are its needed defense. Yes, I’m rooting for the downfall of News Corp., and the people who run it.

And as a journalist, you should be, too. And telling your readers.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.


  1. says:

    this piece is the first that even approaches something I think all members of journalism profession should be saying publicly “I am ashamed for my profession and its service to the public good. What is wrong with the scope and implementation of journalism ethics that allowed this to start and persist, unexposed, for many years?”

  2. says:

    Thanks for the shout out and glad to inspire some deeper thought from a dashed-off tweet.

    And you get what I mean.

    My libertarian philosophy goes beyond just an opposition to big government. I oppose bigness is all its forms.

    Big corporations are as much a danger to individual liberty — as defined by the founders as our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as big government.

    You’re right, bigness breed corruption. It also breeds oppression and insensitivity. Nothing good comes from bigness.

    Screw scale.

    Howard Owens

  3. Would you all who inhabit the Ministry of Truth define “too big” for us rubes, please?

    Is Gannett too big? McClatchy? Time Warner?

    Or is it Rupert’s political persuasion that is really at the bottom of all this hysteria from you all in the journalism priesthood?

  4. says:

    As journalists, we should begin in objectivity, strive toward balance and arrive at either the truth, or enough disclosure so that our audience has all the information it needs to make up their minds.

    Once a journalist arrives at a demonstrated truth, there is no longer a need to be objective, but to find the courage to tell the story that must be told. The goal of objectivity is to pursue the truth. Once the truth is known, a serious journalist must tell it.

    It is not ‘objective’ at all to allow both sides in a debate equal time to lie to the audience. That is just lazy. True journalists check the facts and relentlessly hold all sides accountable to it. I’m talking to YOU, CNN.