The Empire Strikes Back

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Kurtz

The inquiry was grinding on, and Rupert Murdoch looked exhausted when he had trouble remembering what he'd said when he appeared with his loyal aide Rebekah Brooks. "I walked outside my flat," Murdoch said, "and I had 20 microphones stuck in my mouth."

That, of course, is the kind of hot pursuit his tabloids routinely employ against elusive celebrities. In the twilight of his career, Murdoch has gone from the hunter to the hunted, brought low by the crass culture he helped create.

And yet even in his apologetic testimony, the 80-year-old mogul couldn't resist a shot at rivals with "dirty hands" for trying to "build this hysteria." That theme has echoed across News Corp.'s many media outlets as it tries to turn the corner on the phone-hacking scandal. The empire, it would seem, is starting to strike back.

Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman and longtime Murdoch confidant who speaks to him regularly, believes the company should go on the offensive, say sources familiar with his thinking. Ailes argues it is foolish for News Corp. not to highlight unethical conduct by other organizations rather than passively watch Murdoch being crucified.

One Fox host, Steve Doocy, chided critics for "piling on," while another, Bill O'Reilly, accused The New York Times of "running wild" with "vicious stuff" on the scandal for "ideological" reasons. A cartoon in Murdoch's Times of London--headlined "Priorities"--showed an emaciated Somali child saying, "I've had a bellyful of phone-hacking." And the editorial page of Murdoch's Wall Street Journal took an everyone-does-it stance by decrying "the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a single media company," and ran a series of similarly defensive columns.

That directly contradicted the official strategy of contrition--sources say Journal editorial chief Paul Gigot did not coordinate with his corporate bosses--and signaled the emergence of a two-pronged approach in which Murdoch will stick to a conciliatory script while others punch back on his behalf. …