Today's guest post is by Peppercommer (and UK citizen) Carl Foster.
Let’s ignore the fact that Murdoch-owned News International has ignored the standard PR crisis modus operandi of ‘tell it all, tell it early’. When an investigator working for Britain’s largest selling Sunday newspaper, The News of the World, was jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royals and celebrities, the News International hierarchy must have known that this was just the beginning. Coming clean was never on the agenda though and the level of institutional obfuscation, with thousands of deleted emails, is only now becoming apparent. For News International, and its parent company, News Corp, ‘tell it all, tell it early’ became ‘tell nothing and circle the wagons’.
Anyway, back to the here and now. Much was made of Murdoch flying to London to take charge of the crisis, a crisis that has ballooned from hacking the phones of celebs to that of a murdered schoolgirl, families of soldiers killed in Iraq and possibly even the families of 9/11 victims. So, when Murdoch’s plane touched down you’d think it would be an ideal chance to make a short statement about sorting this mess out. But no. Instead, the evidence of his presence in Britain was a sneaked snapshot of him driving away from the airport looking like the man from Del Monte.
Next, Murdoch went to his Mayfair apartment to meet Rebekah Brooks, the editor of NOTW at the time of the alleged hackings and now chief executive of News International. Murdoch and Brooks are close; according to The Economist they share an almost familial bond. It is understandable they would want a tête-à-tête before heading into the breach, but the meeting was badly managed.
First, they met in Mayfair. In the British version of Monopoly, Mayfair is the last place on the board before you collect your £200. Nothing like reinforcing the image of being an elitist.
Second, when they emerged they were dressed with all the gravity of a Sunday afternoon game of bowls in Henley-on-Thames. When an investigator working in your name hacked into the cell phone of a missing schoolgirl and deleted messages, which gave hope to her parents that she was alive when in fact she was dead warrants at least a tie, don’t you think?
Third, they are smiling! Bloody smiling!
Fourth, and this is the clincher, with thousands of people all over Britain wondering what intrusion might have occurred in their worst moments of personal tragedy, Murdoch was asked what his top priority was. Punishing those responsible? Giving what compensation might be possible to those affected? No. His answer? ‘This One’, referring to Rebekah Brooks.
This story has got a long way to run. Some are calling it Britain’s Watergate. Whatever the case, News International should try and avoid making matters worse for itself with poor public relations.