Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rich Are Always With Us, Sad Aussies, And So Sadly On

So, here are two paragraphs on the Murdoch Fam/hacking-corruption-general-suczzy-malfeasance story. Try to find some overlap, and good luck. The first, from the New York Times' Monday rundown on the story:

Evidence indicating that The News of the World paid the police for information was not handed over to the authorities for four years. Its parent company paid hefty sums to those who threatened legal action, on condition of silence. The tabloid continued to pay reporters and editors whose knowledge could prove embarrassing even after they were fired or arrested for hacking. A key editor’s computer equipment was destroyed, and e-mail evidence was lost. Internal advice to accept responsibility was ignored, former executives said.

Now, the New York Times does not like Rupert Murdoch -- which is fine, many people don't: he's a gnarled, ultra-cynical raisin of a human being who has smeared the vilest, greedheaded anti-human poop on the discourse of several nations for generations. But they also wouldn't have run that paragraph if they couldn't hang with a lawsuit on some component of it, because that lawsuit would come if any of it was weak. Ditto for The Guardian, which has been on the general scuzzy malfeasance at Murdoch's British newspapers -- and their creepy-crawly, creepily familiar spooning with Britain's power elite -- for years. That there's quite a bit to these allegations is, at this point, seemingly not under dispute. We're quite nearly past the "what did X know and when did s/he know it" phase as well, it seems. We're nearly to the the how-did-this-happen/how-can-it-be-prevented/how-to-punish-the-malefactors stages. Which is great. It won't undo the decade-plus of creepery on News International's part, but if it prevents it from happening again, that would be great. And, honestly, if it makes Rupert Murdoch sad... well, the easy way around that was not to create a breathtakingly ugly and patently lawless corporate culture. But that last bit -- how it makes Rupert feel, and how that makes us feel -- is the sort of thing you'd have to be a blinkered, misprioritized creep of world-historic proportions even to care about. Meta-backlashery inna Murdoch Agonistes stylee can wait a few generations, or it can wait forever, but it's also maybe something to save for a while, given all the actual and astonishing wrongdoing being discussed, right? Okay, here's the second selection, from the New York Observer's unsigned editorial "Murdoch and His Enemies."

While it’s clear that many things were amiss at the News of the World, and while many questions remain to be asked of the relationship between British reporters (including those who don’t work for Mr. Murdoch) and Scotland Yard, it is simply wrong to assail Mr. Murdoch simply because of his politics. Yes, he was a part of London’s tainted tabloid culture, but that does not make him a symbol of that culture.

Rupert Murdoch has apologized, profusely and with genuine humility, to the family of Milly Dowler, the young murder victim whose phone was hacked into by reporters from News of the World. The family’s attorney said that Mr. Murdoch put his head in his hands as he expressed his grief. What more could he have done? How many publishers have apologized to families whose suffering has been exacerbated by media coverage? How many publishers would have closed a valuable property like News of the World? Mr. Murdoch did that, and more—he dropped his bid to purchase B Sky B, which was extremely important to him.

So, there's also that. It is simply wrong to condemn this guy for his politics or nauseous anti-ethics, but it is (apparently? it's barely addressed) complicatedly wrong to weasel into the voicemail of a teenaged murder victim or suborn payoffs to police officers. As Choire points out at The Awl, the Observer has a long, proud history of astonishingly poor rich-people-thing editorials. He pointed this out after I sort of freaked out about this editorial (see above, or see here), which probably wouldn't have affected said freakout much. But while I'm as offended by the fatuity of the Observer's full- and weird-throated defense of The Embattled Mogul, the real reason it got to me -- beyond my own misplaced priorities -- is... well, it's the same reason I got all het up about the similarly fatuous post-partisan rich person's political party No Labels last year, and why I tend to read too much into sports lockouts (and other sports lockouts). And that all comes back to the discursive problem that extreme wealth presents, and how poorly our discourse has navigated it.

To take a well-thumbed page from the President's book, this would probably be the place where I mention something about Not Having A Problem With Rich People and hoping that everyone gets rich and so on. And I suppose that's true, and I suppose I do. But between the uniquely American problem of reverse engineering great merit into great wealth -- which is a bummer, of course -- and the fact that our discourse often seems run by and for rich people who have come to believe all that happy noise about themselves, it would seem that we're all in a pretty tight spot. Or, if you prefer a more metaphorical metaphor, we are all in a gold-plated echo chamber, going deaf while billionaires innocent of self-consciousness and self-restraint (and occasionally guilty of quite a few things) blast compliments to each other through platinum megaphones and periodically discuss whatever's on their minds, from the deficit to running McKinseyan sensitivities on a public school system they don't use. Oh, and outside the echo chamber everything is on fire. It would seem that way, sometimes, if you look at it too long.

Or, option three, without any metaphor: great and greatly terrible decisions are being made by greatly fatuous people too rich to feel their consequences; those consequences are being absorbed by people too far from power to influence the aforementioned decisions. And it really, really isn't working.

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