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September 30, 2014

Schadenrupe: Murdoch Woes, Others' Joy and What the WSJ Editorial Misses

Let’s call it Schadenrupe. Yes, when we explore the Middle and Old High German roots of Schadenfreude, we know that is linguistically wrong. The Schaden is the adversity, the Freude is the joy. But, Freudenrupe doesn’t sound as good. And schadenfreude is the word of the day, as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page points out that “the Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.”

Most of the Schadenrupe is subterranean, more spoken than written, with Robert Niles Online Journalism Review piece a clean argument for “rooting against News Corp.”  Comeuppance, a good, old English word befitting an English scandal, works as well.

On a business level, it’s almost Biblical, reaping what one has sown. In getting the better of his business partners over the years, and by making promises of editorial independence that he knew to be hollow, he’s survived and prospered by wily wit, abundant capital and the kind of sheer arrogance that can make both great and grotesque journalism, both of which he can now claim.

You play rough, you get hurt occasionally. You play really rough, heedlessly rough, leaving your own editorial arrogance unbounded, and you get run over. News Corp is now getting run over, as everyone from Scotland Yard to P.M. James David Cameron (correction; it’s that whole Fox/Avatar/Hackgate complex!) to worldwide media pile on. Piling on; that’s what media does, as any News Corp publication, even the Wall Street Journal, should know.

In its astounding editorial this morning,the Journal page showed it had failed to get the Edelman memo, as that p.r. company advises on repairing the damage to News Corp. Contrition (“We are sorry“) was the talking point of the day, not condescension and name-calling. While it glossed over a few of the apparently massive illegalities exposed, including pervasive police bribery leading to the forced resignation of the head of the Yard and top counter-terrorism chief. It also intentionally and disingenuously blurred the bright line between the influence all media exercise — “The idea that the BBC and the Guardian newspaper aren’t attempting to influence public affairs, and don’t skew their coverage to do so, can’t stand a day’s scrutiny.” – and the buying of influence and execution of crimes in its pursuit.

The Journal did make a number a fair points:

  • The scandal shouldn’t be used as a blank check to regulate the free press.
  • Others did some (phone hacking) as well, though, apparently, to nowhere close the extent.
  • Politicians are not to be trusted.
  • The Journal has gotten significant investment and stabilization, as other newspapers have cut more, because of News Corp’s coffers and Rupert’s drive.

All good points, but ones that have to made by others at this point, not as would-be deflection shields for the Journal’s parent company.

The Journal itself, with its publisher gone in a heartbeat, wouldn’t be hurt with a little contrition either. It is, unmistakeably, owned by News Corp and run by Rupert Murdoch. As such, it should distance itself from what anyone would think is wrongdoing, and use its space, to defend its own Journal standards – long-held standards (no matter what nasty things the Journal editorialists want to say of the Bancrofts, its former owners) that we hope have been strongly maintained in the three and a half years since News Corp bought the paper. With its own editorial oversight committee feeling compelled to issue a statement, however wan, yesterday, it’s time for the Journal to take off the gloves in this matter and give a hand to making sure its own readers’ trust is rewarded.

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