Rupert Murdoch came before a House of Commons committee investigating the misdeeds of his company’s British newspapers with his heart on his sleeve. He called the day of his testimony, July 19, “the most humble day of my life.”
Humbling or not, he left the hearing unbowed.
Murdoch’s explanation of what his firm’s reporters and editors did in pursuit of flashy, trashy stories was disjointed and disingenuous. Moreover, he was defiant. “No,” was his one-word answer to the question of whether he, the boss, was responsible for any of the disreputable actions of News Corporation.
That he reached the ripe age of 80 before experiencing his most humiliating day is both lucky and pathetic. Lucky in that he reached 80 before having it; pathetic in that he reached 80 before having to finally answer for the smut, smears and slop he’s profitably peddled on three continents for over five decades.
The latter says much about the former. It’s not that Murdoch avoided his bad day for so long because of wealth or political connections — although he has buckets of both from his native Australia to his adopted America.
No, his Teflon came mostly from the sensational dirt his company’s newspapers dug up or bought, then dished, on enemies. Little wonder British prime ministers kissed his pinky ring and lined up to hire his staffers. They were buying protection from Murdoch’s Fleet Street bullies, not professionalism.
They got protection, all right, and bushels of rotten baloney.
No one in American journalism should get too smug over Murdoch’s mess. While our brand of reporting may not be as cheeky or cheesy as the British tabloids, we’ve published our share of inky and electronic stink bombs, too.
The fast, awful smear of U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod comes to mind as one of journalism’s many print-first, report-later moments.
GIPSA. Another is the ongoing, orchestrated smear of J. Dudley Butler, administrator of USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.
From the Colorado offices of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to Senate and House hearing rooms on Capitol Hill, nearly every reference to Butler and his agency’s proposals to update GIPSA’s rules contains a flat lie: that on Aug. 7, 2009, Butler publicly proclaimed a rule that would not be published in the Federal Register until June 22, 2010, “a trial lawyer’s dream.”
How did Butler pull off that incredible feat of clairvoyance — offer commentary on a rule that was more than 10 months from birth?
The giant meatpackers, who are spending millions to defeat the rule, have never said.
The U.S. senators who repeat the lie have never said.
The House Ag Committee members who repeatedly repeat the lie have never said.
But that hasn’t stopped the lie from being embellished and repeated in public and in print. On July 15, BEEF magazine again breathed life into the lie by posting a column by a contributing editor that contained a fancy version of it.
The contributor, Troy Marshall, whose bio says he was a market analyst and now is a rancher, wrote, “For instance, GIPSA head J. Dudley Butler’s comments about the new rule being a trial lawyer’s dream were deemed to be so damaging to the rule’s prospects that proponents tried to claim the meaning was taken out of context.”
Which proponents? When and where were the claims made?
Marshall doesn’t say because he cannot: Butler never — couldn’t — comment on a rule that didn’t exist and video, audio and transcripts of the August 2009 remarks prove it.
But proof won’t slay the lie and its peddlers. Like baloney, they add just enough real meat to make it appealing. Anyway you slice it, though, it’s still pure baloney.