To discuss the phone-hacking scandal engulfing the Rupert Murdoch media empire from Britain to the United States, Democracy Now! interviews longtime journalist Sarah Ellison, a former veteran reporter who spent ten years working for the Wall Street Journal. She has chronicled the changes at the publication after Rupert Murdoch acquired the newspaper in 2007 in her new book, War at the Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle to Control an American Business Empire.
Commenting on Murdoch denying responsibility for the scandal, Ellison says, "It's even more difficult to really believe that when you know the way that his news organizations work... There's a sort of myth that we all know about Rupert Murdoch, that his editors know what he wants without him even having to tell them. And so he creates a culture in which everyone is of one like mind ... It's difficult to imagine that some of the responsibility wouldn't lie at his feet, given that it is his organization."
DEMOCRACY NOW!'S AMY GOODMAN: As the transition happened from the Bancroft family to the Murdochs, tell us what took place. You were in Rupert Murdoch's employ for a couple of minutes.
SARAH ELLISON: Well, what happened--you know, my introduction to that story was that when he bought the newspaper, I was actually working as a media reporter for the Wall Street Journal and was covering the story for the Wall Street Journal, so I had the pleasure of writing about the Wall Street Journal for the Wall Street Journal for some time.
What was apparent when he bought the newspaper is that he had the New York Times in his sights immediately, and he looked to the New York Times as something that he really wanted to bring down. The New York Times, for him, was like the British upper classes in the U.K. He really resented it. He thought that the organization was too self-important. He didn't understand why the rest of the country took its cues from the New York Times. And he wanted to wrest that position from the newspaper. Previously, the Wall Street Journal had been the premier business newspaper in this country, but it really didn't cover the arts and politics the same way that general-interest newspapers did. Rupert Murdoch really changed that entirely, so he could go after the New York Times and, I think, establish a sort of conservative counterweight to the New York Times, which he has now effectively done.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, he wanted the position in the United States that he has in Britain. I mean, isn't today's parliamentary hearing--well, we'll play more excerpts of it tomorrow, with David Cameron. Cameron wanted Rupert Murdoch at 10 Downing, and so he gets Andy Coulson, despite all the warnings of all of the papers, including the editor of The Guardian saying, "Do you know what Andy Coulson is responsible for?"
SARAH ELLISON: Exactly. I mean, it's sort of astonishing when you look at it now, that he would--that a potential prime minister would ignore these red flags and put someone in his employ who had already resigned from a position in disgrace over this scandal. And he was informed, as you mentioned, by the editor of The Guardian, that this kind of--this kind of criminal activity had gone on.
I think what that speaks to is the perceived power and the real--the real and perceived power that Rupert Murdoch had in the U.K. And I think what one of the most important things you can see in Britain right now is how much that image has been punctured. The image of his infallibility and his power has really fallen away because what people--one of the things that gave him his power was the belief that he had it, was this sort of implicit threat that he could uncover any sort of secret from a politician that they might have, any sort of dirty laundry they might have. And I think that people now are really feeling emboldened. I've said before that this seems like the British version of the Arab Spring, where people feel like the police, politicians and the media have been lying to them and all sort of in cahoots with one another, and I think that that's feeding some of the response that you see now.
AMY GOODMAN: Could an embattled Murdoch empire bring down the British empire--or, at least, David Cameron?
SARAH ELLISON: Well, David Cameron is certainly now very much at risk. I mean, you see this morning Ed Miliband, the opposition leader, is saying an apology isn't enough, and hindsight isn't enough. And you could very well say the same thing to Rupert Murdoch, which is that now all of these apologies, without any real admission of any responsibility, isn't satisfying people, because I think they want to know that this won't happen again. And they don't--they don't trust the people who are telling them that it won't happen again, because they were the people who actually perpetrated it in the first place.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened at the Wall Street Journal. Explain the transition, what took place, what happened to the newspaper you worked at.
SARAH ELLISON: Well, one of the first things, during the actual negotiation for the deal, Rupert Murdoch had to set up an editorial independence agreement and an editorial independence committee, which involved a number of directors who were supposed to be there for oversight in case he tried to intervene with the newspaper in any way for his commercial interest. It took four months after that deal closed for Rupert Murdoch to force out the editor, Marcus Brauchli, whom he had sort of contractually promised that he would not interfere with. And he put in his own editor in that position. That was Robert Thomson, who is now the editor of the newspaper. Marcus Brauchli resigned without informing the editorial independence committee.
And so, the changes that Rupert wanted to make came much more easily after that point, and you saw a lot of people leaving who were part of the sort of old guard. And even to this day--so, in the paper, you see stories became shorter. They became more of a general interest, covering politics, and they launched a Greater New York section, a metro section, which was a clear dart at the New York Times, trying to take over the New York Times's dominance in this city.
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