Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Juxtapositions: Cap't Bob and the Digger

In the early 1970s, Robert Maxwell lost out in his attempt to buy the News of the World, which was purchased by Rupert Murdoch, who went on to create a newspaper empire in the UK. At the same time, Maxwell was castigated by UK financial authorities as someone unfit to run a public company, a charge that dogged him for the rest of this life. As it turns out, he was correctly categorized as 'unfit' when, many years later, he perpetrated one of the biggest financial frauds in UK history. In the intervening years Maxwell and Murdoch 'battled' each other for media supremacy but, in reality Maxwell was never a match for Murdoch and, this was confirmed when Cap't Bob 'fell' off the back of his boat as his media empire was crashing down around him.

Murdoch on the other hand played aggressively and seemed to have won hands down when he finally acquired the newspaper jewel he had long sought in the Wall Street Journal. At the time, the triumphalism that accompanied this huge media purchase knew no bounds, especially when it came to the fate of the New York Times. Murdoch and his revamped WSJ would 'destroy the Times' or so the pundits - and the Digger himself - suggested. The Times didn't help matters with a rapidly falling share price and a seemingly confused electronic strategy. And, the company was even 'forced' to take a loan from a Mexican.

Well, how times change: Murdoch won't be falling off his boat but, he may be out of a job when it becomes clear that the phone hacking at the News of the World wasn't so much the rogue activities of a small group of reporters but a significant element in the business strategy at News Corp. In my view, the phone hacking will be prevalent at other UK newspapers but it seems likely that nowhere else was it so embedded in their operations than at NewsCorp. For that, it will be easy to show NewsCorp as a company out of control and without a moral compass and, for that, the boss will have to go.

And, about that loan from the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim that the New York Times got so much heat about? They just paid it back early. The Times may not be out of the woods yet, but I bet things don't look so bad from eighth avenue at the moment.

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