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If I could have lunch with Rupert Murdoch

The drama of the phone-hacking hearing in Parliament that starred Rupert Murdoch and his son has me wondering what I might say to the elder Murdoch if I had the chance. The main thing: Ethics matters, not just legality.

By Janet Lewis Saidi / July 20, 2011



London

What would an American journalist tell Rupert Murdoch if she could lunch with him? I pondered that and other questions from London, having crossed the pond this summer to teach a class on international journalism to American students.

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Journalists here are calling the phone-hacking drama that played out at yesterday’s parliamentary panel hearing Shakespearean in its proportions. Was it "Richard III," "King Lear," or "Much Ado About Nothing" – this elderly gentleman experiencing the most “humble day” of his life, apologizing deeply to the victims of phone hacking, and being attacked by a foam-pie thrower?

For investigators, politicians, and police, there were few answers or revelations other than the very human drama unfolding between a man, his son, their famously “flame-haired” editor, and a media empire. As a journalist though, one had to watch searchingly for clues – into the mind of the man, and the mogul – about how things got to this point, and what lies ahead.

The British, it turns out, are skeptical of the spectacle. Analysts wondered, was the “humble” act an actual PR strategy? Is this broken-man stunt for real? Will the real Rupert Murdoch please stand up? But for many, the brokenness was believable.

And in the human aspect of the drama, there were other revelations. In all the conversations about journalism, society, and ethics that have been posed here during this crisis, shockingly yesterday it was Mr. Murdoch himself who offered an impassioned statement about what journalism means. He told members of Parliament of his father’s pioneering of the family business. He made the point that the diversity of media “voices” in a society and the competition it creates makes society stronger, and leads to greater transparency.

A funny feeling that was, listening to a media mogul whose outlets – whether with News International newspapers or Fox News – are blamed on both sides of the Atlantic for polarizing civic discourse. And here he’s talking “transparency” and diversity of “voices” in the press – using the very words we use to describe what we try to do in the newsroom of the National Public Radio affiliate where I work in Columbia, Mo.

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