WSJ: Don’t Be Mean to Us Like Fitz Was to Judy

Most sane people are outraged by the WSJ’s hacktalicious editorial calling for calm on the hack scandal.

As well they should: the editorial discredits WSJ as a paper.

But I was particularly interested in this bit.

In braying for politicians to take down Mr. Murdoch and News Corp., our media colleagues might also stop to ask about possible precedents. The political mob has been quick to call for a criminal probe into whether News Corp. executives violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with payments to British security or government officials in return for information used in news stories. Attorney General Eric Holder quickly obliged last week, without so much as a fare-thee-well to the First Amendment.

The foreign-bribery law has historically been enforced against companies attempting to obtain or retain government business. But U.S. officials have been attempting to extend their enforcement to include any payments that have nothing to do with foreign government procurement. This includes a case against a company that paid Haitian customs officials to let its goods pass through its notoriously inefficient docks, and the drug company Schering-Plough for contributions to a charitable foundation in Poland.

Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information, but the practice is common elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.

The last time the liberal press demanded a media prosecutor, it was to probe the late conservative columnist Robert Novak in pursuit of White House aide Scooter Libby. But the effort soon engulfed a reporter for the New York Times, which had led the posse to hang Novak and his sources. Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

This is structured as an appeal to other media outlets, warning them that if they pile on, it might well hurt them too (this structure continues to the rest of the editorial).

This argument ends with the Scooter Libby argument–the claim that the NYT, because it purportedly “led the posse to hang [Bob] Novak and his sources” (including, among others, Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby), ended up getting embroiled in the Libby case (in spite of the fact that NYT discredited itself by protecting Libby for a year after they had published his name as Judy’s source).

Fair enough. The NYT–and especially Judy Miller–was exposed to be as hackish as Novak was (and, as another outlet who published bogus leaks in the Joe Wilson pushback, the WSJ) when its laundering of government leaks was made clear.

So the WSJ is rightly reminding other media outlets that they are as hackish as it is. Perhaps they have specific incidents of hackishness in mind?  Maybe the rest of the press should worry that a focus on how corrupt our press has gotten will reflect badly on them too. It appears, for example, that the WaPo is worried about just such a thing.

Then, oddly (working backwards from the Judy Miller issue), the WSJ warns that if other media outlets pile on, it’ll criminalize payments made in the course of news-gathering–with a claim that such a horror would only matter for British tabloids. Only, that’s not exactly true, is it? And that’s before you consider the number of “consultants” TV stations pay for their “expertise.”

Then, in the first part of this passage, the WSJ rails against what is probably one of its biggest worries–it’ll be held liable in the US for the fairly well-established bribery it engaged in in the UK (even assuming no such bribery were discovered here in the US). It suggests that a poor helpless media company would never bribe a government for something real–like a contract. Putting aside the appearance that Murdoch’s minions bribed the cops.

Except at the heart of this scandal is Murdoch’s attempt to get full control of BSkyB. Not to mention Murdoch’s fairly well-established pattern of trading political support for Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, and David Cameron in exchange for political favors.

This is bribery every bit as much as Halliburton’s bribery to get Nigerian contracts was bribery. A satellite concession is every bit as tangible a goal as is a contract. But it attempts to couch decades of Murdoch’s ruthless business practices in First Amendment hand-wringing. It suggests that whatever meager journalism Murdoch’s minions do, it should excuse his illegal business practices.

This WSJ editorial is a damning exhibit in outright hackery.

But I suspect its audience–other hackish media outlets–finds it a persuasive read.

Update: With this editorial in mind, I wanted to point to a few paragraphs of Alan Rusbridger’s description of how the Guardian broke this story. A key part of it, he describes, was in partnering with the NYT to break the omertà among British papers.

Big story? Not at all. Not a single paper other than The Guardian noted [a $1 million settlement against News of the World for bullying] in their news pages the next day. There seemed to be some omertà principle at work that meant that not a single other national newspaper thought this could possibly be worth an inch of newsprint.

Life was getting a bit lonely at The Guardian. Nick Davies had been alerted that Brooks had told colleagues that the story was going to end with “Alan Rusbridger on his knees, begging for mercy.” “They would have destroyed us,” Davies said on a Guardian podcast last week. “If they could have done, they would have shut down The Guardian.

If the majority of Fleet Street was going to turn a blind eye, I thought I’d better try elsewhere to stop the story from dying on its feet, except in the incremental stories that Nick was still remorselessly producing for our own pages. I called Bill Keller at The New York Times. Within a few days, three Times reporters were sitting in a rather charmless Guardian meeting room as Davies did his best to coach them in the basics of the story that had taken him years to tease out of numerous reporters, lawyers, and police officers.

The Times reporters took their time—months of exceptional and painstaking work that established the truth of everything Nick had written—and broke new territory of their own. They coaxed one or two sources to go on the record. The story led to another halfhearted police inquiry that went nowhere. But the fact and solidity of the Times investigation gave courage to others. Broadcasters began dipping their toes in the story. One of the two victims began lawsuits. Vanity Fair weighed in. The Financial Times and The Independent chipped away in the background. A wider group of people began to believe that maybe, just maybe, there was something in this after all. [my emphasis]

News Corp would have destroyed the Guardian, Rusbridger and Nick Davies say, if they had had the dirt to do so. Such threats are presumably how News Corp enforced the omertà on the story.

Now look at the editorial. It appears, first of all, to be an appeal to precedent–a similar kind of appeal often made when pointing out that an espionage prosecution of Julian Assange will criminalize newsgathering.

It argues that a prosecution of News Corp under the FCPA would be a bad precedent, equating contracts with–well, I”m not sure what News Corp is admitting to here, as its media interests do amount to a contract. It then suggests–the logic is faulty–that such a prosecution would also criminalize the news gathering of those who pay for stories. This seems to be an implicit threat directed at those who do pay for stories (note that this editorial doesn’t say News Corp, including Fox TV, doesn’t pay for stories, just WSJ), perhaps an attempt to silence TV news.

But then, after having already impugned newspapers that, like the Guardian and NYT, gave “their moral imprimatur” to WikiLeaks, the editorial levels a threat clearly directed at the NYT, noting how the the newspaper’s purported efforts to go after Novak’s sources ended up backfiring on the NYT.

Not long after Rusbridger described the omertà that helped News Corp forestall consequences in the UK, Murdoch’s mouthpiece here in the US issued a veiled threat against the NYT.

I’m betting that Murdoch thinks the NYT will be easier to destroy than the Guardian.

34 replies
  1. Brian Silver says:

    So the WSJ wonders why everyone is braying at Murdoch papers. Well Murdoch is the bully on the block. Really a land onto itself — Murdochistan — in which it writes all the rules and breaks the rules that others are governed by. They just have too fucking much money and too much control of the media, especially in the UK.

  2. jjohannson says:

    David Carr at the NYT seems unconcerned by NewsCorp threats tonight, training the spotlight on Paul Carlucci, publisher of the New York Post (don’t bother looking him up in Wikipedia, he doesn’t even have a placeholder…). It seems NewsCorp had paid out hundreds of millions out-of-court settlement money to keep Carlucci’s handling of NewsCorp’s coupon business, News America Marketing, from seeing the light of discovery.

    Nice guy, this Carlucci fellow, by the way —

    “News America was led by Paul V. Carlucci, who, according to Forbes, used to show the sales staff the scene in “The Untouchables” in which Al Capone beats a man to death with a baseball bat. Mr. Emmel testified that Mr. Carlucci was clear about the guiding corporate philosophy.

    “According to Mr. Emmel’s testimony, Mr. Carlucci said that if there were employees uncomfortable with the company’s philosophy — “bed-wetting liberals in particular was the description he used” Mr. Emmelt testified — then he could arrange to have those employees “outplaced from the company.”

    “Clearly, given the size of the payouts, along with the evidence and testimony in the lawsuits, the News Corporation must have known it had another rogue on its hands, one who needed to be dealt with. After all, Mr. Carlucci, who became chairman and chief executive of News America in 1997, had overseen a division that had drawn the scrutiny of government investigators and set off lawsuits that chipped away at the bottom line.”

    [Long live Emptywheel!]

  3. klynn says:

    Oh the Bancroft family will be sickened by this editorial.

    To have a WSJ write any editorial on this subject is stupid. It appears Murdoch is desperate to save himself in the US through media psych-ops.

    I imagine the structure unfolding in GB is the same Murduch method of information sweeping he uses in the US. There is no reason for him to change his approach just because it is the US. I hope we find out how deep his reach happens to be here.

  4. merkwurdiglieber says:

    The response by the WSJ reveals a trace of temper, it must be getting close to revealing the Murdoch pattern regardless of geography. If his Saudi cash dries up the old man’s leverage could weaken and people might talk. The Brooks bust isolates the Murdochs before testimony, good move.

  5. klynn says:

    That is quite a bit of hubris, if Murdoch is thinking the NYT’s would be easier to destroy than the Guardian.

  6. emptywheel says:

    Oh, I think he might be right, klynn.

    Consider just the things Murdoch presumably knows from Judy about how the NYT works? Or the things he knows from the Dick Cheneys of the world.

    My guess is that the Guardian, bc of its ownership structure, hasn’t made the same kind of capitulation to power that the NYT has. If Murdoch were to go after NYT, there’d be plenty of ammunition to destroy their credibility.

  7. merkwurdiglieber says:

    Murdoch bought the WSJ for the purpose of controlling business journalism and to replace the NYT any way possible. Judy Miller showed just how weak the NYT really is, the run up to Iraq was easy with the NYT on board… the Washington hysteria/psywar op spread to NY very easily after 9/11.

  8. William Ockham says:

    If I have the timeline right, the Guardian approached the NYT about the same time that the WSJ started their New York local edition. I am sure that made Keller a little more receptive.

  9. orionatl says:

    this is a beautifully argued written rebuttal, similar to the wittes rebuttal.

    but the simplest argument to be made is that this wsj editorial was an editorial that was MANDATED by the fact that rupert murdoch and his family

    bought, own, and control

    the wall street journal,


    control the editorial and news decisions of the putative editors and managers of the wall street journal.

    the wall street journal writer and the wsj editor responsible for this bit of mandated, self-serving sophistry should be laughed out of their jobs and out of respectable journalism.

    instead their point of view will likely become the subject of numerous “serious” newspaper columns and teevee pundit group shit-fests.

    in a land of media fools, the con man is king.

  10. Bob Schacht says:

    Good golly, Miss Molly, I step away for a few days to take care of business, and when I come back, Emptywheel has moved! Took me a while to track you down! This, and this commenter’s format, will take getting used to. I miss all the formatting helps.

    Bob in AZ

  11. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    WSJ editorial = one more effort at damage control.

    Given the continuing arrests and resignations, this is already burning out of their control.

    Everyone should read the NYT link above by jjohanson; about hacking computers and putting competitors out of business.

    IIRC, the News Corp shares have dropped about 20% in two weeks, and I think they’ll go a lot further before the dust settles. (However, I’d need to double-check to be accurate.) Kind of suggests that the neofeudalist economic model is not really all that viable, over time.

    Part of what we are seeing, IMVHO, is how important corporate ownership structures are to the functioning of an organization.

    (Wouldn’t want to be Cameron today.)

  12. radiofreewill says:

    Imvho, it probably doesn’t matter that the WSJ is laying down smoke and firing wildly at its ‘competitors’ with threats of mutual destruction, because the Murdoch brand has gone toxic – there’s no ‘saving’ anything he’s got his hands on.

    So, the competition can afford to just stand off – with the best seats in the house – and watch a corrupt media empire implode and disappear…

  13. Bob Schacht says:

    And how do I reply to a comment?

    I’m interested in your take on the recent non-appointment of Elizabeth Warren to head her CFPB, and instead appoint one of her top staffers? I view this appointment as possibly the next best thing to appointing Warren. But now, what is next for her? Run for Senate in MA?

    Bob in AZ

    • bmaz says:

      Warren was never going to be appointed. Never. And my take on Cordray getting the nod is that it is an intentional gambit by Obama and Geithner to see to it that there is no head of CFPB because, next to Warren, Cordray is the most unconfirmable person at the primordial CFPB. If Obama wanted someone that at least stood a chance of being confirmed, he would have selected Date. But he does not. Not that the Republicans are going to allow anyone to be confirmed to start with understand you. This is just a continuing dog and pony show; Obama and Geithner do not want a robust CFPB any more than the Republicans or banksters do.

  14. orionatl says:

    jjohannsen’s comment at 11:57 above cites a nytimes story that illustrates what rupert murdoch, his family, and his closest business associates are all about:


    obtaining power in any way possible;

    using that power in any way desired.

    “journalism” is of no serious interest to murdoch men and women. it is just the means to acquire and use power.

  15. klynn says:

    Replying to EW:

    While I agree with the points you make about RM being able to take the NYT’s down, I agree with RFW, that he’ll take himself down in the process.

    Oh McClatchy, help us out!

  16. SaltinWound says:

    The Journal editorials have always been terrible, predating Murdoch. Very different from their news gathering, which can be pretty good.

  17. Gitcheegumee says:

    RE: Paul V. Carlucci-wonder if he is related to Frank Carlucci,anyone remember him? LOTS of info on Wiki about THAT Carlucci,and how.

  18. matthew carmody says:

    Please, if there is a higher power out there, let the shit hit the fan here and let it thoroughly cover John Ellis.

  19. Gitcheegumee says:

    Here is a case of past being prologue:

    Fox News Knocks Down Brain Room Claim – Mixed Media – › … › Business Blogs › Mixed Media – CachedSimilar
    Jan 10, 2008 – Has Roger Ailes been keeping tabs on your phone calls? A disgrunted former Fox News producer claims he has the capability thanks to a secret …

  20. Katie Jensen says:

    No…I guess rehab didn’t take and he was in bad shape physically. He did know alot however, and he did blow the whistle and he is surely dead.

  21. EoH says:

    It is odd, isn’t it, that the police can claim “not to know” how Sean Hoare died and in the same breath claim that it did not appear to be under “suspicious circumstances”?

    Police and the press often seem to spin newsworthy deaths in advance of the facts in order to fit a preconceived editorial position. Corrections, after all, are easy to make it someone develops contrary facts and they emerge into the light of day – two separate processes.

    And what are “suspicious circumstances”? I assume it means anything other than natural causes, such as cancer or old age, and perhaps demonstrably uncontrovertible “accidents”. The scope for making accidents happen is considerable and needn’t include spiking tea with nuclear isotopes.

    Suicide, on the other hand, would be suspicious. It is usually illegal and against the tenets of established religions. Its occurrence has numerous legal, religious and social consequences, from frequent denial of life insurance proceeds to denying the deceased to buried in consecrated ground. So any suicide or suspected suicide would be suspicious. Same again for anything smacking of negligent homicide or intentional attack or death incident to another felony, such as arson.

  22. EoH says:

    Mr. Hoare, it is alleged, committed “suicide”, a conclusion even the tabloids are wary of accepting at face value, but which they also characterize as “not suspicious”. Given the timing and context of his death, that strikes me as an absurd, naive characterization.

    One would think that a police force independent of the Met should be called in to investigate a death so convenient to Andy Coulson, Ms. Brooks, Rupert Murdoch, David Cameron, and the Tory and former Labour governments.

  23. Lex says:

    So, um, is the WSJ saying that if the investigation continues Judy Miller could go back to prison? Because, honestly, that would rock. ;-)

  24. Lex says:

    [[It is odd, isn’t it, that the police can claim “not to know” how Sean Hoare died and in the same breath claim that it did not appear to be under “suspicious circumstances”?]]

    Not really. Typically, when police say that, all it means is that there are no *obvious* signs of trauma or other indicators of a possible unnatural cause of death. It doesn’t rule out poison (suicide, accidental OD or otherwise), say, or other unnatural causes that would be identified only after an autopsy and possibly lab analysis.

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