Chief executive of News Corp Robert Thomson (Image: AAP/David Crosling)

Just days after a Federal Court judge heavily criticised the journalism of News Corp’s Daily Telegraph over its Geoffrey Rush “scoop”, the company’s CEO has let loose at The New York Times for a “hatchet job” on the Murdoch family published last week.

He dismissed the Times’ 20,000-word opus, which pulled apart recent developments in the Murdoch empire, as a “rancid hatchet job” that was “distant from the truth”.

“Smearing Sir Keith, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch was multi-generational, muck-spreading in which the facts were incidental, if not accidental, and the journalistic jaundice and corporate self-interest were fundamental,” Thomson said, apparently without a hint of self-awareness about the bile spread by his newspapers — especially tabloid The Sun in the UK and The Daily Telegraph in Australia.

It could also be seen as an accurate description of some of the Murdoch hatchet jobs in the various papers over the years (not to mention the UK phone-hacking scandal).

On Thursday last week, Justice Michael Wigney found that the Tele had defamed Rush in what he called “a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind”. The Tele had tried to defend the case on the basis the imputations made out were true. Wigney ruled that Rush was entitled to aggravated damages of $850,000, above the statutory cap for defamation payouts, because the Tele was reckless as to the truth or falsity of the imputations, and that they “failed to properly inquire into the facts before they published”.

When the story ran, even Melbourne sister paper the Herald Sun refused to run the story. At least one paper in the empire run by Robert Thomson showed judgement. It’s a pity the CEO didn’t show the same self-awareness in his remarks last night.

The New York Times series outlined a split between Rupert Murdoch’s sons Lachlan and James, and suggested the family took partisan political stances in the US, UK and Australia. That’s a line that isn’t too controversial given the one-sided coverage of President Donald Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and Australian politics generally in the anti-Labor stance the mastheads take.

The more damaging revelation in the story was that James and sister Elisabeth wanted Lachlan to buy their interests in the Murdoch Family Trust (which controls the voting shares the Murdochs continue to use to dominate News Corp and the slimmed-down Fox). Lachlan refused to buy them out even though Rupert wanted the deal done. The reason is unclear but the belief is Lachlan could not have afforded the US$5 million-plus asking price for the two, even after the cascade of wealth from selling part of Fox to Disney.

Thomson also used his speech to criticise the “mob mentality” of digital media, and lack of regulation for the big technology companies — a common theme for News Corp in recent years. “That we live in times in which everything from change to reputation to controversy is digitally amplified, with the volume often turned up to ten, has been obvious for years, or at least should have been obvious,” he said. “As a result, we have institutionally ingrained some seriously bad behaviour and have dominant digital companies culturally ill-equipped to cope with the contemporary challenges.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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