John Yates of the Metropolitan Police is one of several high-ranking officials and managers who have been forced to resign over the Murdoch phone-hacking affair at the ‘News of the World’ tabloid newspaper. When he was questioned yesterday by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament about his role in facilitating the employment of former Murdoch staff and of their family members, his answer was:
“I have done nothing wrong. I was a post box for a CV from Mr. Wallis’s daughter … I passed on that email and the CV to the director of human resources in the Met … It happens all the time. I know that a number of Members of Parliament employ friends and family … I simply acted as a post box for an application.” (own highlighting; read full transcript here)
Yates’ answer sums up the essential feature of this whole affair—and of how the Murdoch Empire works.
The answers of Rupert and James Murdoch as well as of Rebekah Brooks were not that different. None of the company’s executives knew what was going on. None bears responsibility. They were all simply engaged in passing on information or delegating tasks, and unfortunately they trusted people who were not trustworthy.
In case you watched yesterday’s hearings—broadcasted live by the BBC—you probably realized how ‘sympathetic’ poor Rupert was: old and frail, having trouble understanding the questions, but still sturdy enough in his old-fashioned patriarchal style to occasionally interrupt his son’s more elaborate talk (and blurb) to give crisp and clear answers that basically boiled down to being very sorry—and, “this is the most humble day of my life.”
The crowning of it all came when he was attacked by a militant protester with a plate full of shaving foam. His wife, Wendi Deng, a volleyball player during her school days, rose to the moment to protect her Rupert with a left-hand hook (absolutely worth seeing!). That was it! The match was basically decided at that moment. MPs were embarrassed in the proper English manner and began to apologize. Murdoch was no longer a villain. His explanations (or rather non-explanations) suddenly rang true. Of course he knew nothing. How could he know anything? Big organizations (like big governments) are simply difficult to operate. Mistakes happen.
I fell for it—shortly 😉
Think about it. These are rich and/or powerful people. Their decisions impact on how administrations, corporations, and the market work. Yet they supposedly bear no responsibility for harm done because of the complex and intricate character of information flow.
What nonsense! (Bollocks as the British would / should say).
The Murdoch ‘not knowing’ syndrome—the equivalent at lower management levels of ‘I was a post box’—is systemic. That is how responsibility is intentionally diffused and ultimately negated. Murdoch does not know because he so chooses. When you work for a Murdoch company, you know you can play dirty. You just should not be caught. If you are, Murdoch will pay your legal fees (that much emerged from yesterday’s hearings), but he will not have known what you were up to; and of course, he did not authorize anything. You cannot authorize if you don’t know. Got it? Damn simple.
This approach to corporate governance also explains the over-reliance of the Murdoch companies on out-of-court settlements. The company has apparently no procedures for monitoring journalistic ethics but it does have a compensation fund. Moreover, it hardly ever initiates internal investigations, but it does cooperate with the police fully when wrong-doing becomes public in the course of civil trials.
Towards the end of the hearing, both Murdoch and Brooks were asked whether in view of the recent events they would re-consider their sensationalist approach to journalism. Only James came out with something about the industry (not his company!) having to re-think journalistic ethics. Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks did not yield one inch. No, the freedom of the press justifies it all—so Brooks; and as for sensationalism, that is a matter of taste—so Murdoch.
Both are convinced they have done more good than bad for the country. It must be the secret of the post box culture.