Michael Woolf on The Family with a whole lotta scruples:
In my biography of Rupert Murdoch, I referred to News Corporation as Mafia-like, provoking the annoyance of my publisher’s libel lawyers. I explained to them that I did not mean to suggest this was an organized crime family, but instead was using “mafia” as a metaphor to imply that News Corp. saw itself as a state within a state, and that the company was built on a basic notion of extended family bonds and loyalty.
But just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t mean it isn’t the real thing, too.
Well-sourced information coming out of the Department of Justice and the FBI suggests a debate is going on that could result in the recently launched investigations of News Corp. falling under the RICO statutes.
RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, establishes a way to prosecute the leaders of organizations—and strike at the organizations themselves—for crimes company leaders may not have directly committed, but which were otherwise countenanced by the organization. Any two of a series of crimes that can be proven to have occurred within a 10-year period by members of the organization can establish a pattern of racketeering and result in draconian remedies. In 1990, following the indictment of Michael Milken for insider trading, Drexel Burnham Lambert, the firm that employed him, collapsed in the face of a RICO investigation.
Among the areas that the FBI is said to be looking at in its investigation of News Corp. are charges that one of its subsidiaries, News America Marketing, illegally hacked the computer system of a competitor, Floorgraphics, and then, using the information it had gleaned, tried to extort it into selling out to News Corp.; allegations that relationships the New York Post has maintained with New York City police officers may have involved exchanges of favors and possibly money for information; and accusations that Fox chief Roger Ailes sought to have an executive in the company, the book publisher Judith Regan, lie to investigators about details of her relationship with New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik in order to protect the political interests of Rudy Giuliani, then a presidential prospect.
Partly, the company has escaped legal scrutiny because this is a boys-will-be-boys sort of story. News Corp.’s by-any-means aggressiveness has become so much a part of its identity that it seemed almost redundant to find fault with it. Everybody knew but nobody—for both reasons of fear and profit—did anything about it; hence its behavior has become, however unpleasant, accepted.
And partly, it’s because the fundamental currency of the company has always been reward and punishment. Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.) Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”
Similarly, the Post and Fox News heap praise and favors on partisans, who in turn do them favors (the police, in New York as well as London, receive and return the favors).
This reward and punishment has translated into substantial political power, both in terms of regulatory advantages and, too, in the ability of the company to shield itself from the kind of scrutiny that it has taken a perfect storm of events to have it now receive.
It’s all about the organization. It’s an organization all about doing what Rupert wants you to do, or doing what you imagine Rupert wants you to do, or doing what you imagine your boss imagines Rupert wants done. There are few companies as large as News Corp. that are so devoted and in thrall to one man. There are few companies which, over so long, have so assiduously hired the kind of people who would be in thrall to one man. Indeed, News Corp. can be quite a disorganized and scattered company, and yet its driving premise, what unites and motivates this oft-times gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight enterprise, is to do as Rupert would have you do.
“You don’t get it,” Rupert’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud, the infamous London PR man, told me almost a year ago. “If there was a conspiracy in the company, the conspiracy was to keep Rupert from knowing.”
Freud’s convoluted formulation answered a question I hadn’t asked and suggests that 10 months before the Milly Dowler revelations and the bottom falling out of the scandal, Murdoch intimates were sensing how close this could come to the center and essence of their lives. Indeed, it’s not clear why you would have to conspire to keep someone from knowing what he did not know, nor why you would, unprompted, make admitting to a cover-up a main thesis of your defense.
You wouldn’t—except if you understood (and Freud is one of the people within the company to have a gimlet-eyed understanding of it) that everything that happens at News Corp. is systemic, that this is an organization predicated on a certain view of the world that fosters a certain behavior (that might turn weaker stomachs), that its nature runs from the top to bottom and bottom to top. And that the necessary and desperate and ultimate strategy has to be an effort to protect the man at the center of it all. Because there is nothing without him.