The News Corp. scandal reflects the human condition

Watching the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal unfold makes me both happy and sad.

My first response was satisfaction. Rupert Murdoch’s relentless drive to dominate the news industry on three continents, his well-documented ethical compromises in pursuit of his corporate goals, his creation of the disingenuous and destructive Fox News Channel: Watching the leader of this ethically corrupt enterprise being called to account, at last, gives me grim pleasure.

But after that satisfaction came sadness. Murdoch’s modus operandi epitomizes the greed, selfishness and sense of entitlement that underlies 21st-century global culture. It’s the same me-first focus that led to the 2008 financial crisis and has since blocked any real reforms, the same want-it-all worldview that has widened the chasm between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of society over the past 30 years, the same screw-your-neighbor ethos that ends in suburban sprawl.

The refusal of both Rupert and his son James to take responsibility for the company’s wrongdoing is achingly reminiscent of George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s refusals to stand behind their aides and take responsibility for the errors and falsehoods that led the invasion of Iraq.

What really makes me gloomy is knowing that selfishness, greed and self-preservation are fundamental elements of the human condition, elements that more often than not triumph over grace and generosity. Greed ain’t one of the seven deadly sins for nothin’.

“I-I-me-me-mine,” the Beatles sang. That song remains the same.

Occasionally, a leader’s call for justice and sacrifice sounds above the eternal din of greed. Jimmy Carter was such a leader—and he was basically laughed out of the White House. He went on to lead by example in his post-Presidential life, but has any president since 1980 called for, or demonstrated, personal sacrifice?

It’s at this point that I shake myself and say, “Stop wallowing.” I’m essentially an optimist, and though greed may rule in the halls of power, goodness thrives elsewhere. I think of humanitarian aid workers. Social workers. Teachers. Nurses. Poets.

And journalists.

The journalists I know try to make the world better and fairer by showing how things really are. The few News Corp. journalists I know work at The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and Fox News Latino, and the same impetus drives them. The journalists I know aren’t in this demanding career for the money (hah!) or for social status, to mingle with politicians or to bribe the cops for information. I can’t speak to the reporters, editors and producers at Murdoch’s British newspapers, the New York Post or Fox News Channel; I don’t know any. But I imagine that many, probably most, are responsible people who somehow ended up at News Corp. properties. After all, Murdoch owns an inordinate concentration of news outlets. (Blogger Robert Niles writes trenchantly about News Corp.’s  abuse of power here. And for a clear explanation of how phone hacking works, see David Strom’s July 19 post here.)

So another sad thing about this scandal is the stain it throws on the honest and ethical journalists who, I believe to my core, are the majority in the profession.

Plenty of food for discussion with my journalism classes in the fall semester, just a few weeks away.

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