Rupert Murdoch's biggest worry? Money, not politics
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To understand the ethical and moral morass facing the Murdoch empire, skip Fox News Channel and take a walk to your local supermarket or pharmacy.
Be it the produce or dental hygiene aisles, you'll find why the mess is not just a one-off at a 21st Century Fox subsidiary with a wayward culture and apparently long-dormant human resources department. Look closely at ads all around those places, be it frozen foods, jams or cottons balls and shaving cream.
As NPR's David Folkenflik writes (and expanded on during an email back-and-forth), "There is a quieter scandal hiding in plain sight — rife with allegations of computer hacking, accusations of fraud, questions of political interference and payouts totaling more than $900 million — all which centered on a relatively anonymous Murdoch enterprise called News America Marketing."
That makes the payouts so far in sexual harassment and other disputes at Fox News look meager. And it all initially turned on Princeton, New Jersey-based Floorgraphics Inc., a small rival to News America Marketing. The latter "delivers advertising, coupons, sampling, merchandising and other promotions that can influence shoppers along the path to purchase," as the Murdoch firm puts it.
Murdoch is very big in direct marketing to consumers in retail outlets. Litigation has long followed him and Folkenflik assembles interviews and new details about those incidents, including the 2016 payouts of $280 million to actual Murdoch clients who felt they were being ripped off on pricing.
When it came to the New Jersey upstart, Murdoch's minions went out to crush them. There was evidence of hacking into the small rival's computer system to learn what it was charging clients like Smucker's
Hacking? It's synonymous with the Murdoch scandal that prompted the demise of his giant News of the World newspaper.
The settlement with that small rival now pales by comparison to others, including $500 million to a big rival and the $280 million last year to Murdoch clients such as H.J. Heinz and Dial.
So what's a connection among the advertising nastiness, the News of the World demise and the Bill O'Reilly-Roger Ailes saga at Fox News?
They all underscore a thesis propounded in a 2003 Atlantic piece by James Fallows. It argued that politics were rather less important to Murdoch than business. "He is principally a businessman, of conventional business-conservative views, who vents those views when possible but not when they interfere with any important corporate goal."
Fallows was gracious when I recalled the piece, though I do wonder why I recall that and not scores of my kids' soccer and baseball games over the weekend. And I agree with his nostalgic recollection to me of a time "when we thought that Dick Cheney was about as bad as American politics could produce."
Murdoch has a regulatory challenge in Britain with a proposed $14.6 billion deal to take a majority interest in European broadcasting giant Sky. He wants to clear the decks of some Fox-related questions, which in part may explain the belated farewell to O'Reilly.
"Why didn't the Murdochs deal with Ailes before the scandal came to light?" Folkenflik wrote me. "Or O'Reilly? One answer is that each man made them a lot of money."
It's why the NPR media reporter and former Baltimore Sun stalwart believes Roger Ailes and O'Reilly aren't any "one-off." Ditto the British hacking scandal.
Rupert Murdoch let Ailes create a culture that was only reined in when its outrages could no longer be publicly avoided. And, when things get too close for comfort, he takes out his checkbook.
"He's got strong ideological beliefs, but Murdoch has no values above profit, loyalty and pragmatism," said Folkenflik. "And that means, of course, he most values whoever is able and willing to advance his journalistic outfits so they can advance the political figures he happens to support so they can make decisions to benefit his business holdings."
Remember that next time you're in the dairy or frozen food sections of your nearby grocery.
The price of corporate failure
"Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Marissa Mayer is set to make some $186 million as a result of the internet company’s sale of its core business to Verizon Communications Inc., according to securities filings." (The Wall Street Journal)
Again, the outrages in our midst are often what are perfectly legal.
So much for adverse media attention
"Preorders for Samsung's new Galaxy S8 smartphone set a new record for the company previously held by its predecessor, the S7, as customers seem to have moved past the battery issues that caused the Note 7 to overheat and sometimes explode." (The Street)
Headline of the day
"In midst of custody battle, Alex Jones reveals that at 16, ‘I’d already had over 150 women.’" (Austin American-Statesman)
Thanks to Jonathan Tilove, the paper's chief political writer, for deciphering and essentially decoding a bizarre video issued by Jones.
"Jones’ assertion that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was, or may have been, a hoax, is probably the most off-putting conspiracy theory he has put forward in a career of conspiracy theorizing – the one that more than any other a lot of people can’t forgive him for," he writes.
But that's just the start. If you are totally forlorn, and have several hours to waste today, check out some of the video.
The Venture Reality Fund
"HP is putting on its headsets. One of the world’s oldest technology companies is investing in the fledgling virtual reality market by becoming an investor in The Venture Reality Fund." (Upload)
The Venture Reality Fund? Here it is. "The exact amount wasn’t disclosed. But HP Tech Ventures, the new corporate venture arm of HP, has joined as an investor in The VR Fund, which has become one of the most active investors in VR, augmented reality, and mixed reality startups. It is HP’s first move into VR investments."
"Tonight, several developing stories as we come on the air," David Muir intoned last evening. Earthquake? Rumors of Rex Tillerson returning to Exxon Mobil? Another North Korean missile test? No. "Donald Trump, the first 100 days."
Well, it's presumably developing since, uh, there are four days left before the 100-day milestone. There was also the alleged specter of a possible government shutdown, as well as "what voters told me" during a trek to assess popular sentiment. There was melodramatic heralding of "flood emergencies," or what seems ABC's nightly saga of meteorological disarray, and an utterly banal plug for the new book by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, who sits on the board of ABC's parent, Disney.
NBC's Lester Holt turned faux ESPN anchor by likening the White House to "a team trying to put more points on the board before the quarter ends" (as opposed to a team not trying to do same?). And informing that none of its plans "are easy lay-ups." A rhetorical strikeout.
It did good pieces on the French elections (in partly relying on Laurence Haim, frontrunner Emmanuel Macron's spokesman and, until recently if unmentioned, a longtime Washington journalist) and black market drugs. And then was its global exclusive interview with Faye Dunaway about the Oscars mix-up. There'd be more, he promised, on "Today" Tuesday.
CBS News and Scott Pelley were more systematic on Trump promises vs. reality and the funding for a border wall. It also reminded that there's a bigger world out there, looking at a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and allegations of Russian aid to them. Like its rivals, it found a reason to regurgitate two-day-old video of the American Airlines flight attendant going wacko.
"Vice News Tonight" on HBO dispensed with that video and opted for a deadly anti-government uprising in Venezuela, the French election (without glorifying Macron), the interesting history of a drug improbably used in executions (Midazolam) and an organization training scientists to run for political office.
But it won't avoid the media's "100 days" convention, promoting a Friday night special edition on just that topic.
If you do want to watch the White House dinner...
Per usual, C-SPAN will air the entire Trump-less White House Correspondents' Association Dinner Saturday as Trump himself holds a competing event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Samantha Bee holds her own in Washington (to be aired on TBS).
I remember a Northwestern professor telling me about showing "The Social Network" and being taken aback that students didn't care about the sloppy ethics of Mark Zuckerberg. I'll send him this:
"New Survey: most millennials both pay for streaming services and use pirate streams when content isn't legally available." (TechDirt)
Watching Death Row
Two were executed by the state of Arkansas last night. Who's next? It's Arkansas again in two days. Check The Marshall Project's "The Next to Die."
A Comey-Clinton postscript
The New York Times offered a well-considered postscript to its cataclysmic campaign story that inspectors general had requested the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation "into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled sensitive information via her private email server while secretary of state."
The pushback was vigorous and prompted an initially defensive Times to issue two corrections and an editor's note. Now its own weekend disclosure, in a piece about FBI Director James Comey and the campaign, underscores that things could have been far, far worse for the Clinton campaign, as The Washington Post's Erik Wemple details fairly and well. In sum:
"Now we know that the New York Times was understating matters. A look-back investigation published over the weekend...brings forth a stunning fact that frames the cataclysm over The New York Times’s exclusive: About two weeks before the paper’s scoop triggered such a backlash, the FBI had opened a criminal investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information, under the code name 'Midyear.'”
Wemple asks Dean Baquet, The Times' editor, if there might now be another clarification some sort and he responds, "good question. It was, in fact, a criminal investigation. From the very beginning."
Better news at The Times
The New York Times' new "The Daily" podcast, "which serves up a daily blend of reporting and headlines with a narrative twist, has been a hit. On April 14, less than three months after its February debut, The Daily had been downloaded and streamed a combined 20 million times. It's rocketed into the iTunes stratosphere alongside competitors including 'Up and Vanished,' 'Stuff You Should Know' and 'The Bernie Sanders Show.'" (Poynter)
A BuzzFeed modus operandi
Recode details how a 12-person BuzzFeed squad cranks out pieces like “26 Useful Gifts College Grads Will Actually Want” that "are crafted exclusively to drive sales to partners like Amazon and other retailers, from which BuzzFeed earns a cut of the sale through so-called affiliate links."
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" praised Trump for being "flexible" in not insisting money be found by Friday for a border wall (and reveled in a mediocre Washington Post review of Elizabeth Warren's new book), while CNN's "New Day" asserted he'd blinked in the face of a possible government shutdown and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" offered polling to suggest he's "swimming upstream," as Joe Scarborough put it on free trade, immigration and health care.
Will the wall ever happen? Veteran D.C. reporter A.B. Stoddard, now of RealClearPolitics, suggested on CNN that it probably won't. Will Fox's "flexibility" morph into surrender?
"Trump promises government will continue to fund all essential Mar-a-lago staff during shutdown."
David Muir, Lester Holt, Scott Pelley and Vice all missed this. Knock on wood that The Onion did not, even if real news this morning includes the State Department yanking a Mar-a-lago promotion from its website.