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Wow! If you care about the media, and specifically the dangers of media concentration, today's news that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is shutting down its News of the World is huge news. The fact I had to use the word "news" four times in a single sentence tells you just how huge.
The scandal has been brewing in Britain since 2007, when a private detective hired by an employee was convicted of hacking into the private voice mail of cellphone users to gather material for stories. In the past week or so, the full extent of that hacking was finally revealed: thousands of people were targeted -- celebrities, politicians, members of the royal family, relatives of troops killed in battle, and crime victims. The latter category includes people killed in terrorist bombings and, most shockingly, a 13-year-old kidnapping victim whose voice mail was hacked -- and tampered with -- before her murdered body was found.
If News Corp. had set out to offend the British sense of propriety, it couldn't have done a better job. The News of the World, which routinely sold 2.6 million copies each Sunday, was hit with a massive reader and advertiser boycott. James Murdoch, Rupert's son, heir apparent and deputy CEO of the British division, decided to cut his losses and kill the troubled brand.
Murdoch's motive shouldn't be seen as totally principled and altruistic; most people expect the Sun, another News Corp. paper, to quickly launch a Sunday edition to fill News of the World's niche. Most also suspect the main motive is to save Murdoch's multibillion-dollar bid to acquire BSkyB, Britain's leading satellite carrier -- a bid that was facing strong opposition but that the Conservative cabinet had informally approved.
Officially approval had been expected within weeks. With the latest revelations, the government has decided to put it off at least a couple of months. Expect popular and political opposition to grow exponentially in the meantime.
I wonder how Murdoch's Fox News is handling this story? Not enough to actually turn on Fox News, but I still wonder.