In a theater on the lot of Fox Studios in Los Angeles, about a hundred investors in News Corp assembled to hear Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants defend being criminals and thieves. There was a certain beauty in this charade taking place in the guts of a fantasy factory, in the shadow of Hollywood.
Murdoch delivered his well rehearsed monologue about how strong the business is and how bright its future, on the same day that their PR department announced that they were paying $4.8 million dollars to compensate the family of a murdered schoolgirl for having hacked into her phone and misled her parents and the police as to her fate. Today we know that there were perhaps hundreds of others whose privacy was violated, including politicians, celebrities, and royals. And yet Murdoch is comfortable declaring that “I’m very proud of the culture we have at this company.”
Murdoch had the gall to assert that most of the information authorities have now about the phone hacking and other scandals came from News Corp itself. That statement defies belief considering that the company has done nothing to punish any of the wrongdoers associated with the criminal acts. The scandal goes back a decade, all the while being covered up by editors and executives. It was reporting by the Guardian’s Nick Davies that broke the scandal wide open. Since then fifteen News Corp employees have been arrested, top executives have resigned, and one former journalist, Sean Hoare, was found dead in his home. Hoare was the first person to allege that former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson (who later became a press aide to Prime Minister David Cameron), knew about the hacking.
The shareholder’s meeting provided an opportunity for critics to voice their frustration with the company’s management. There were proposals to slash the pay of the Murdochs, to mandate a separation between the chairman and the CEO, both positions currently held by Murdoch. And an unprecedented number of investor groups and advisers publicly advocating that the entire board of directors not be reelected.
British Member of Parliament, Tom Watson, flew in to confront Murdoch and inform shareholders that the worst is yet to come. He revealed that investigations are proceeding on allegations of unlawful surveillance beyond those of phone hacking. But there were Murdoch defenders in the audience as well. One of whom identified himself as a Fox employee and said that in his years of service he has never been asked to do anything unethical. Of course not. As a Fox employee you don’t have to be asked, it’s expected.
By the end of the shareholder’s meeting it was learned that the Murdochs had retained their board seats. And despite Murdoch saying that the vote results would be released in a couple of hours, News Corp. declined to announce the vote tally, saying it would release the figures early next week. Analysts say that if even 20% of votes are cast against the Murdochs, it would be a victory, because that would be nearly half of the 53% of votes unaffiliated with the family. So what are they hiding? Apparently they have reason to want to keep the results out of the news cycle.
Outside the studio, about 200 people gathered to protest the greed, domination, and manipulation of News Corp. Participants included OccupyLA, FreePress, Common Cause, MoveOn, Avaaz, Change to Win, Brave New Films, and more. The media was there in force as well. Representatives from every local TV station showed up, along with the Associated Press, CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera.
This is irrefutable evidence of the Occupy movement’s success. It has grown from a curious rabble ignored by the press, to a powerful voice for the people. It has earned the enmity of dullards who can only resort to childish insults that the protesters are unfocused, unclean, and unpatriotic. But most importantly, it has changed the public debate from one of a phony debt crisis, to one that addresses the real concerns of Americans: jobs, economic disparity, and the destructive influence of corporations on politics and policy. And it’s only been one month.