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Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking scandal: US connections grow

In London Saturday, Rupert Murdoch issued full-page apologies for the phone-hacking scandal that has hit his media empire. Critics say his free-wheeling and politically conservative approach may have affected US journalism as well.

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On Friday, Murdoch lost two of his top executives tied to the continuing scandal.

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Rebekah Brooks resigned as chief executive of Murdoch's British newspapers. Hours later, Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton – who had overseen those newspapers when the voice mail hacking is alleged to have occurred – resigned as well.

All of this has raised questions about Murdoch’s US business entities (which include Fox News and the New York Post) – especially the Wall Street Journal.

ProPublica and the Guardian report that “a number of key members of the family which controlled The Wall Street Journal say they would not have agreed to sell the prestigious daily to Rupert Murdoch if they had been aware of News International's conduct in the phone-hacking scandal at the time of the deal.”

"If I had known what I know now, I would have pushed harder against" the Murdoch bid, said Christopher Bancroft, a member of the family which controlled Dow Jones & Company, publishers of The Wall Street Journal.

It’s been a difficult time for Wall Street Journal staffers.

“In the last week and a half, reporters and editors at the august Journal have had to come to terms with the fact that they share corporate DNA with publications that have paid police for news, paid large settlements to keep phone-hacking victims quiet, and provided Parliament with incomplete information, among other sins against journalism,” writes Newsweek senior writer Nick Summers in the Daily Beast.

Questions have been raised about the Journal’s coverage of the scandal, including its interview with Murdoch in which the questioning seemed anything but aggressive.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera – who back in 2007 wrote approvingly of Murdoch’s takeover of the Wall Street Journal – takes a tougher line, charging that the Journal “has been Fox-ified.”

Under Mr. Hinton’s direction as publisher, Nocera writes, “Soon came the changes, swift and sure: shorter articles, less depth, an increased emphasis on politics and, weirdly, sometimes surprisingly unsophisticated coverage of business.”

“Along with the transformation of a great paper into a mediocre one came a change that was both more subtle and more insidious. The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line,” Nocera writes. “The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner’s conservative views.”

That may seem unduly harsh, a reflection (as Nocera writes) of his own mea culpa.

But there’s no doubt that Murdoch’s influence in the United States has been considerable.

“Over the past decade, Murdoch and his company News Corp. have spent close to $50 million sowing the seeds of goodwill here in America through well-heeled lobbyists, seven-figure political donations, and large charitable contributions to key nonprofit groups,” writes Daily Beast reporter Laura Colarusso. “Murdoch’s money trail can be traced deep into the halls of Congress and the powerful federal agencies overseeing the industry that has made him wealthy.”

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