Murdoch Enters the Ring

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Giglio

The News Corp. mogul vows to keep The Sun afloat even as the phone-hacking crisis threatens to spread to American soil.

Last Friday, Rupert Murdoch traveled to Wapping, in east London, to visit the unhappy newsroom of his cherished tabloid, The Sun. Senior journalists from the newspaper had been arrested on suspicion of making payments to public officials, as part of an investigation that arose out of the phone-hacking scandal that brought down Murdoch's News of the World last summer. Murdoch vowed that The Sun would survive the crisis. He even doubled down on his support--lifting the suspensions of the arrested journalists and announcing his intention to open a Sunday version of the paper. "I am staying with you all, in London, for the next several weeks to give you my unwavering support," he said in a memo to staff.

The proclamations were seen as a bold bid to regain the upper hand in what some observers have described as a "civil war" within Murdoch's news empire--one that has prompted questions of how much control the mogul retains in the midst of a crisis that refuses to die down.

This summer, Murdoch scrambled to put together his own team to clean up the mess at News Corporation, the U.S.-based media behemoth worth tens of billions of dollars, and its U.K. arm, News International, run by his son James. Murdoch appointed former New York City school reformer Joel Klein to oversee an internal investigation, which the company has painted as an effort to get to the bottom of its employees' alleged misconduct. But what has made the arrests particularly galling for Sun staff is that they are apparently being driven from within its Wapping headquarters. Investigators from the internal inquiry have been pouring through hundreds of millions of emails and passing information to police, and many journalists feel like they are collateral damage in the fight to save News Corporation's skin. "It's a horrible combination of people trying to protect the Murdochs and the company, and the Metropolitan Police trying to restore their reputation," one senior News International journalist tells Newsweek.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, Britain's foremost media lawyer, says Murdoch has created an "ethical crisis": "They sent in these commercial lawyers to hand over raw data from journalists' hard drives to a police force that they've allowed to camp in the newspaper's offices," he says. "This is unprecedented in modern journalism."

Yet some observers saw The Sun arrests as evidence of a power struggle within the company. Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff, writing in The Guardian last week, called the company "a set of warring, every-man-for-himself, fiefdoms," with people like Klein staking out territory of their own. "People are saying that it's one way of pushing Murdoch out, of getting rid of Murdoch and his British operation," says a source close to the family. Others believe that Murdoch is ill at ease with where the internal investigation has led. One source close to the situation at The Sun describes the paper as Murdoch's "family jewel" and notes that Murdoch has had long relationships with some of the arrested journalists, such as chief reporter John Kay.

The source speculates that the inquiry has escaped Murdoch's control. "It's [quite a] position for Rupert Murdoch to be put into, to choose between Joel Klein and the board members running News Corp., and his closest team ... these people who got arrested are sort of family."

Last week, Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh, who is known to be close to Murdoch, caused a firestorm when he penned a scathing piece on the arrests. Alluding to the company's own investigation, Kavanagh said the "witch hunt" raised a "sensitive ... issue within the News International 'family' which we cannot ignore." He wrote: "It is important our parent company, News Corp, protects its reputation in the United States and the interests of its shareholders. …