In a BBC interview today, James Murdoch was all regrets and apologies, but he continued to stand up for Rebekah Brooks, who was News of the World editor when Milly Dowler's phone was hacked and now serves Murdoch as chief executive of News International. Brooks, it should be noted, is one of Rupert Murdoch's favorite people on the planet. To believe the young Murdoch, he, his father, their company, and Brooks are the victims of the phone-hacking crimes, not the sponsors. "She has a good standard of ethics and her leadership is the right thing for the company," he said of Brooks.
What rot. As this Guardiantimeline of statements made by Murdoch executives over the past four-and-a-half years reveals, the company had ample notice that "wrongdoers" were running amuck inside its newsroom as well as the executive suite. "All of these irresponsible and unsubstantiated allegations against News of the World and other News International titles and its journalists are false," the company claimed in July 2009 in response to Nick Davies' first phone-hacking report in the Guardian. "The Guardian coverage, we believe, has substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public," wrote Brooks that same month.
The torching of News of the World by Rupert and James Murdoch is a confession, but of what? Surely it is not a confession of personal guilt or even corporate guilt. As James Murdoch told News of the World staffers, the current staff isn't responsible for the "mistakes" and "egregious behaviour" as he calls them, committed by the company and the paper. "I can understand how unfair these decisions may feel," he told the staff without ever explaining why he was punishing them for something they didn't do.
Like all reverse-ferret maneuvers, the closing of News of the World is designed to scatter and confuse the audience. It looks like the sacrifice of something very special to him, seeing as it was his first U.K. newspaper acquisition in 1968. But it's not. It looks like atonement, but it's not. It's supposed to change the subject, but it's too late for that. The most shocking thing to me about the paper's closure is what an empty gesture it is. I expected much better from the genocidal tyrant.
The tricky thing about the reverse ferret is that unless you nab the beast the moment it bursts out of a pant leg, it can be impossible to apprehend. From the way News Corp. is acting, it looks to me as if the Murdochs have lost control of their precious ferret. If I were Rupert Murdoch, I'd start wearing my socks over my cuffs. Ferrets will eat anything that looks and smells like meat.
Now if the Murdochs closed Fox News Channel in an act of expiation, I would be more receptive. What Murdoch operation should Rupert close next? Send ideas to email@example.com. If Murdoch shuts Fox News, I shut my Twitter feed. Also, in a contest between the honey badger and the reverse ferret, which would win? Email me your views on that, too. (Email may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)