The Name Murdoch

It is impossible for the Murdochs to be voted off the board of News Corporation at the company’s annual meeting to be held at the end of the week on the Fox lot in Los Angeles, as several of the most influential shareholder advisor groups have advocated. With their own shares and those shareholders who have committed to voting with them, the Murdochs have the wherewithal to re-elect themselves, and their cronies, to the board.

And yet I don’t know anyone who is closely engaged with the company who believes that this heretofore impregnable voting majority can actually protect the Murdoch family—there is an inexorability to what has engulfed this company.

Chase Carey, the company’s COO, has even taken to using the line, “My name is Carey not Murdoch.”

The end is less in question than the timing of the end and the nature of the end. There is in fact quite a sense of awe about what is happening here.

Certainly, the dynastic inevitability has been dashed. The overwhelming consensus within the company and among News Corp. and Murdoch partisans is that the whole mess is on James Murdoch. It’s his fault, and good riddance. He’s the fall guy. He mishandled the situation. He will not become the CEO of News Corp.—not now, not soon, not ever.

And then there is the foreboding. Of all the people who have been arrested and who face personal ruination—many of them deeply woven into the fabric of the company and the Murdoch family—one of them, if not all of them, will invariably spill. And then the lawsuits. Of the more than 4,000 phones that were hacked, how many $700,000, or $1 million, or $2 or $3 million (that’s what the family of the Milly Dowler, the murdered girl whose phone was hacked, has gotten) settlements can the company shoulder? And prosecutions in the U.S.: One view inside News Corp. is that the only thing that can stave off the Justice Department is a Republican victory in 2012—on the other hand, it is this prospect that is also galvanizing the DOJ’s movement of the case.

A mood of sheepishness, embarrassment, and incredulity permeates News Corp. It is also a mood of they did it, not us. That is, there is the vast company that had no part of the British newspaper tabloid business, and then there is the part that did—the Murdoch part.

And if the blame falls on James, a sense of something like pity has coalesced around Rupert—or, even, a sense of tragedy: All of his accomplishments will be brought down by this.

And now these shareholder advisory groups: Their’s is a simple, powerful, and catchy message—vote the Murdochs down. What is being created is an ecosystem of delegitimization.

It’s all tainted.

News Corp.’s Murdoch-led push into the education business has been largely stopped in its tracks because education businesses need support of local and state politicians—and the Murdoch name makes politicians shiver.

This week a minor circulation deal by The Wall Street Journal’s European edition of the dubious kind made by newspapers everywhere became a headline-grabbing scandal—because its dubiousness, however minor, is attached to the Murdochs.

Friday’s annual shareholders meeting will unfold in a scripted sense—albeit with Rupert looking ever-more pained and uncomfortable. The Murdoch family and its allies will vote their shares and re-elect the Murdochs to the board. It will all go as planned.

But for the last time.

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