If I were a stockholder of News Corp. (NYSE: NWS), I would be concerned about what has been happening to our company lately. The stock is up nearly 10% year to date, though it's trended down nearly 3% in the past month, apparently because so many questions still abound.
The integrity of our journalism has been besmirched by phone hacking charges against trustworthy journalists, some 49 of whom are already under arrest. Not to mention charges of surreptitious payoffs to the police, perverting the course of justice.
Our encryption business is under a cloud, charged in a BBC documentary and an Australian financial newspaper investigation with engaging in industrial espionage and pay TV piracy, selling of smart cards and encryption codes to shady Websites, catering to people who want to watch pay TV without paying... The swine!
Our once heir apparent to the company throne has been dragged through the parliamentary slime for the third time this week, even though he has already been sacked and sent to Coventry (New York), where his duties have been relegated to the equivalent of having lunch, but no longer getting the best tables in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons.
And now our chief executive Rupert Murdoch has gone before Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson, ordered by the prime minister to have a look at the cesspool that is the British newspaper business, and denied he has any influence in politics.
What, I would think, is happening to our company?
Our chief executive on Wednesday stood, or sat, before the very tough Judge Leveson and claimed his primary purpose in heading a $60 billion media empire that owned 40% of the newspapers in the UK was to set a model of ethical behavior in that empire.
It was unthinkable that he should try to influence the selection of a prime minister. Others may curry favor with him, but the favor is not returned. True, after the upset victory by the Tory John Major over Labour's Neil Kinnock in the 1992 election, The Sun headline read: "It Was the Sun Wot Won It." But Murdoch chewed out the offending editor.
Some would think that a man who published more papers in English than anybody in the world and controlled media on six continents would at least have some impact beyond his dedication to the truth.
He is too modest, by half.
Ask those who have seen the chief come into a newspaper city room and roll up his sleeves, rewrite headlines, the stories, and the editorials, throw out the front page -- and then throw out the editors.
Ask Sir Harold Evans, the editor of The Sunday Times of London, who wrote a whole book (Good Times, Bad Times) about the chief's attempt to influence the UK's most distinguished newspaper, even after assuring the monopolies commission he would never do such a thing.
Could this be our leader, the powerless power broker obsessed with setting ethical behavior in his empire? Has he become as "unbalanced" as he accused Gordon Brown of being -- the former Labour prime minister who blamed the truth-seeking media mogul for the media campaign against him?
Is he showing his age? Or could he unknowingly be the media's Manchurian Candidate on some kind of truth crusade?
Stockholders expect him to throw his weight around. That's the secret of the success of News Corp. Murdoch always had the reputation of being a fearful media mogul. Why, when he first invaded the United States in 1972, Time magazine had a picture of him as King Kong on top of the Empire State Building.
The company especially needs that Rupert in its next big battle at Ofcom, the "independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries." The UK media regulator has launched an investigation into Sky News, a channel run by British Sky Broadcasting Group plc (LSE: BSY) -- more commonly known as BskyB -- following its admission that it hacked emails of individuals suspected of criminal activity.
The regulator is now enquiring whether News Corp. is a "fit and proper" owner of a broadcasting license, raising the possibility that watchdog Ofcom will force News Corp. to cut or sell its stake (39.1%) in a highly profitable pay TV operation.
Rupert the nice guy, the truth seeker. Well, that's his story, and he is sticking to it. At least this week.
But as a stockholder I would remind him of what Winston Churchill said in the early days of World War II, after Adolf Hitler claimed to have shot down 151 planes that day, when the Royal Air Force actually lost 13. If these claims continue, Churchill warned, "the Fuhrer's reputation for veracity of statement might be seriously impugned."