News Corp. PR mistakes in the phone hacking scandal

by Brian on July 31, 2011

News Corporation phone hacking scandal has damaged the reputations of the corporate empire and its many media affiliates, owner Rupert Murdoch, and resulted in the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid newspaper.

Revelations that the journalists at the News of the World had illegally accessed voice mails and gave bribes to law enforcement officers has resulted in a continuing drop in the company’s value, caused the company to withdrew a bid to acquire British Sky Broadcasting, led to Murdoch, son James Murdoch and several News Corp. employees to appear before Parliament. During his testimony before Parliament, Rupert Murdoch said, “This is the most humble day of my life.” In the US, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller has called for an investigation amid questions that News Corp. may have tapped the phones of victims of the September 11 attacks. Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed that the FBI is investigating.

News Corp apologized for its behavior in full page ads on July 15, 2011 with the headline “We are sorry.” In the open letter signed by Rupert Murdoch, the letter stated that the News of the World failed to hold itself “to account” and they are “deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected.” Murdoch promised to take concrete steps to “resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused.”

Author Jeff Jarvis decried Murdoch’s and News Corp.’s public relations as “against the public” in a column on The Huffington Post. He wrote that the Murdoch’s testimony exposed the corrupt “cozy, closed ties between institutional journalism and institutional government.” The problem is hiding the truth from the authorities and the public. “Transparency would be true public relations. Transparency would have cured News Corp’s crimes years ago. But it didn’t.”

Robert Wynne of Forbes wrote that News Corp.’s public relations efforts have been a disaster and outlined three blunders committed by News Corp.: blame the media, downplay the crimes, and defend the tainted. “At this point, the best defense isn’t a good offense. Going on the offensive has backfired. In this public relations situation, the best defense is a good defense.”

Erick Wemple of The Washington Post argued that those who are defending Murdoch and News Corp. risk their reputations and may be seen as apologists. “Be careful before you stick your neck out for this company.”

Mark Borkowski in a special to, wrote that Murdoch was shaky, hesitant, frail, and did not look like the chairman of a media empire during his testimony before Parliament. He “looked out of touch and ignorant of his own corporation” and “clearly does not understand how personally bound up he is with his company in the popular perception.” He stated that for News Corp. to recover, it needs to “divorce” Rupert Murdoch’s “image from the image of the business.”
The Economist also called for Murdoch’s head.

Nona Willis Aronowitz, Associate Editor of Good Media, offered the following advice solicited from a number of experts. First, hire an ombudsman or a public editor hired outside of the company to serve as a mediator between the outlet and the public. This person would handle ethics breaches to angry letters. Second, use the UK/USA culture clash to its advantage regarding the “looser way of reporting and writing news media” that occurs in the UK. Holdings in the United States should make clear that they don’t follow the tactics used by the UK tabloids. Third, read the industry or company ethics codes. Fourth, make concrete steps rather than grand gestures and “keep your nose to the grindstone.” Dramatic announcements or public firings too often look like public relations stunts.

Jay Rosen asks if Edelman PR might be risking its reputation by counseling News Corp. and telling its side of the story. David Weinberger writes that Edelman should agree to work with News Corp. only if it is “satisfied to a reasonable degree that NewsCorp was ready to tell the truth” and that they are ready to make large strides to increase transparency.
Gini Dietrich writes that communication professionals must counsel clients to tell the truth. “Not to spin a lie. Not to make themselves look better.”

Background source

Tenore, M. (2011, July 19). Explainer: your five-minute guide to the News Corp. phone hacking scandal. The Poynter Institute. Retrieved July 31, 2011 from

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