Having run out of friends that he bought (see David Cameron run!), Murdoch must purchase new ones. But whom? Nobody will want his money in the short term, not even policemen who were pocketing News of the World payoffs. The police officers and government officials whom Murdoch has systematically co-opted over the years must tread softly. If they're too tough on him, he'll happily dump his dossiers on them. And why not? They have reputations to defend. He has none.
It will also fall to Murdoch's advantage if the public begins to echo calls for increased government regulation of the press. Other publishers hate Murdoch, but not so much that they're willing to be punished for his sins. They'll have to cash any rhetorical checks he issues on this topic.
Today, Reuters Breakingviews spotted another landmine the old man must defuse: Its reading of the powers of the "special committee" appointed at Dow Jones after Murdoch bought it (including the Wall Street Journal) in 2007. The sellers, the Bancroft family, worried that Murdoch would turn the newspaper into a whorehouse, so the special committee was given powers to investigate not just Dow Jones shenanigans but News Corp., too. "[I]f the committee of five chooses, it can hire investigators, lawyers and accountants to conduct their own investigation, with full access to News Corporation's books, records and people," Breakingviews contends. The special committee embarrassed itself when Murdoch ignored it and pushed out Journal editor Marcus Brauchli, so Murdoch should be wary, lest it assert itself.
One thing out of Murdoch's control is the snowpack of resentment against Murdoch that is now melting. Everybody who ever had a grudge against Murdoch for his journalistic crimes, his battles against unions, his acts of political skullduggery, and his brilliant business innovations has sharpened and fixed bayonets to oppose him. He's getting the treatment his newspapers routinely meted out. As the smart guy wrote last fall, this is Murdoch's Watergate.
Olly Grender of the New Statesman has a dozen pearls of advice for how Murdoch might have better handled things, and he seems to be belatedly acting on a couple of her suggestions. In the coming week I expect a tour de force performance out of Murdoch as he replays the Watergate drama but avoids resignation and the trip to San Clemente. He sends James into exile, elevates Lachlan and Elisabeth, pretends to play the emeritus role, and waits all of the bastards out.
Believe me as I say it once again: Murdoch is enjoying this. "Rupert Murdoch is probably at his best when he is cornered or when he does have great adversity going against him," former News Corp. executive Barry Diller is quoted in Lanchester's London Review piece. "And maybe it's his moment of greatest pleasure."
* Correction, July 16: This article originally stated that Conrad Black is currently in prison. He is out on bail after serving 29 months but will return to prison in September to serve 13 more months. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Thanks to the Twitter hordes who have kept me up on Murdoch news: @buddhawisdom, @mediaguardian, @Reuters, @murdochgate, @BrianCathcart, @ MatthewWells, @arusbridger, @Edgecliffe, @ericuman, @DRoseTimes, @dansabbagh, @felixsalmon, @jeffbercovici, @tunkuv, @MayneReport, @nytjim, @newsbrooke, @MarionManeker, @amonck, @rafat, @dvnjr, @sarahlellison, @alexmassie, @MichaelWolffNYC, @AntDeRosa, and many other, including @lizzieohreally for giving me the strength to go on. Don't bother sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Just tweet something with @JackShafer in it and let Twitter do the rest. (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.)
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