Paul Holmes 17 Jul 2011 // 2:25PM GMT
If I was going to give News Corp a grade for its crisis communications efforts during the first week of its phone hacking crisis—during which it insulated those responsible for the ethical lapses from any consequences while making sure innocent rank-and-file employees were sacrificed—it would have been an F. The company didn’t start the second week much better, although alarmingly it seemed to think everything was going swimmingly. In midweek Rupert Murdoch provided the News Corp owned Wall Street Journal with an exclusive press release/interview in which he graded his own performance. The company had handled the crisis "extremely well in every way possible," he told stenographer/reporter Bruce Orwall, although he did concede a few "minor mistakes." Evidence that Murdoch did not believe his own bullshit, however, became clear when The Holmes Report’s Arun Sudhaman was the first to report that News Corp has brought in Edelman to help it through the crisis. There’s no way to know whether there was a cause-and-effect relationship, but there’s also no question that by the end of the week there were indications that the beleaguered media giant was getting its public relations act together. First, it accepted the resignation of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, editor of The News of the World at the time it was hacking the voice mail of a dead teenage girl, who is reportedly—as I write this blog post—under arrest in London. Then the company issued a frenzy of apologies: Rupert Murdoch made an apology to the family of the teenaged girl, while James Murdoch announced that the company would be running ads in the UK Sunday papers saying sorry for “serious wrongdoing.” And finally, the two Murdochs reversed their initial obstructionism, announcing that they would attend a parliamentary select committee looking into the company’s crimes. It is obviously far too early to say that News Corp has turned the corner. For one thing, it seems almost certain that there are more damaging revelations to come. Rival media, politicians, and law enforcement agencies are now all pulling on the thread that The Guardian started to unravel, and there’s clearly the potential for the crisis to spread to other markets. For another thing, the News Corp executives currently in custody will be under tremendous pressure to roll over on their bosses. And next week’s hearings have the potential to produce a Murdoch “Jack Nicholson moment.” Like Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men, Murdoch will be asked whether he authorized the illegal behavior at his UK titles—in which case he’s responsible—or whether he lacked the ability to control his “troops,” in which case his reputation as a strong, authoritative leader will be left in tatters. Meanwhile, I can’t help wondering when the brightest spotlight is going to shift from News Corp to the Metropolitan police. After all, a corrupt newspaper is a scandal, but a corrupt police force is a genuine threat to liberty and democracy, and stories like this leave little room for doubt that London’s police force was corrupt to its core. That may be the most helpful thing the media giant has going for it.