Rupert Murdoch Tries To Calm Fears At 'Sun'
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News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch returned to the London newsroom of one of his favorite papers today. The Sun is the second Murdoch-owned tabloid to find itself mired in scandal. And he was there to reassure staffers fearful for its future.
As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, Murdoch says he is doubling down on newspapering, despite growing legal troubles.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The good news for The Sun first: It will stay in business, and it will soon be joined by The Sun on Sunday – a new tabloid for the weekend. Simon Jenkins used to work for Murdoch as editor of The Times of London.
SIMON JENKINS: He needed to come to re-establish morale of what was a desperately depressed headquarters.
FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch toured The Sun newsroom with his older son, Lockland, like visiting royalty, according to those present; spending a few hours meeting with small groups of employees around the office. He'd sought to quell a brewing newsroom insurrection. People there had been reeling from an internal investigation that led to the arrests of 10 Sun journalists on suspicion of bribing public officials.
Murdoch lifted some spirits by putting those who were arrested back on the payroll, offering to pay legal fees and lifting their suspensions, at least until they face actual criminal charges.
There's only The Sun on Sunday because News Corp shut down its tainted Sunday tabloid News of the World last summer, after the eruption of the phone hacking scandal. Arrests have reached the top tiers of executives for the company's British newspaper division.
But Simon Jenkins suggests a second motivation for the 80-year-old press baron's announcement today.
JENKINS: He is determined to show he still in charge. He's not the rather daughterly old man who appeared at the parliamentary inquiry a few months ago.
FOLKENFLIK: Yet, for all of his rallying the troops, Murdoch also stood by the company's internal investigation, saying illegal activities simply cannot and will not be tolerated. Earlier in the week, Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh had angrily denounced the extent to which that inquiry had shared material with the police.
TREVOR KAVANAGH: This police operation is wildly disproportionate with what might be the potential offenses that may or may not have been committed. You have 171 officers who were involved in three separate operations, and this is the biggest single police operation in the history of British policing.
FOLKENFLIK: Even reporters at Murdoch's prestigious newspapers share those concerns. At The Times of London, an incident of computer hacking by a reporter is under investigation. Two distinguished British lawyers are preparing a possible legal challenge, saying the company's collaboration with police was stripping journalists of their right to protect their sources and methods.
But Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff says this new investigative tact into bribery could prove far more damaging, than being query into hacking into phone voicemail messages, itself initially dismissed as an isolated case.
MICHAEL WOLFF: This is corrupting the system. So, we're beyond rogue reporters. We're beyond even countenancing rogue reporters. We're into a level in which we take a business and we say, it's going to undermine law and order.
FOLKENFLIK: Among those also arrested over the past week were an active duty member of the British armed forces, a police officer, and an employee of the Ministry of Defense.
Publicly traded American companies can be criminally prosecuted for bribing public officials abroad. Defending the paper makes it harder for News Corp executives to prove to British and American authorities that they're taking those allegations seriously. Hence, Wolff says, Murdoch's dilemma.
WOLFF: Of all the executives, I think, there's only one person who really steadfastly, in his heart wants to maintain The Sun and the British operation, and that's Rupert Murdoch. I think for everyone else, it would make their lives so much easier, not to mention it would make this company so much more valuable, were he to walk away from the British operation.
FOLKENFLIK: News Corp's future lies in television and entertainment. But for years, the British papers, and especially The Sun, served as a power base and a driver of profit.
Notably absent from today's visit to the London newsroom was News Corp's chief executive over the U.K., Europe and Asia. That would be James Murdoch, Rupert's younger son, and until recently his presumed heir apparent.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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