After the revelation that newspapers owned by the Murdoch family’s News International division had hacked the phones of everyone from members of the British royal family to the victims of the bombings of London’s subways on July 7, 2005 in pursuit of stories, it was inevitable that the company—and the family—would suffer consequences. News of the World, the paper most deeply embroiled in the scandal, closed last summer after it became clear that advertisers wouldn’t continue to support the publication. And now, James Murdoch, News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch’s son, has resigned from his position of executive chairman of News International. He’s transferred to New York where, as Rupert Murdoch explained, “James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay TV businesses and broader international operations.”
In other words, it sounds like James Murdoch will do penance for the hacking scandal by going to work on Fox News. While both channels have clear conservative slants, neither has committed journalistic sins as grave as the phone hacking scandal. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been free of ethical slips. In 2008, Fox and Friends ran clearly doctors pictures of New York Times reporters in what seemed to be retaliation for the Times writing an unflattering piece about the network’s ratings. And in 2009, the network twice aired misleading reports about the size of crowds at a rally organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann and a book signing by former Gov. Sarah Palin. In both cases, the network suggested the choices of footage were errors rather than an intentional attempt to mislead audiences about the success of those events. The culture may be conservative, but it’s not one of rampant law-breaking and privacy violations.
It’s not necessarily clear what James, whose career has been marked by a mixed record and persistent charges of nepotism, will bring to News Corporation’s American pay television business. But given that he started out in business by backing Rawkus Records, a hip-hop label that helped launch Mos Def and Talib Kweli (it was later acquired by News Corporation), maybe James can help the network get over its paranoid fear of rap music. Whether Fox Nation is referring to Obama’s birthday party as a “hip-hop BBQ,” or suggesting that the sight of Colin Powell with hip-hop stars mean he’s on the verge of endorsing Obama, Fox loves pulling out references to hip-hop to suggest that Obama is unacceptably black. It’s the least of Fox News’ problems, but it’s one way James Murdoch could make a substantive contribution to the company—unless his father wants to send him back to running record labels News Corporation can use to subsidize their other businesses.