Jacob Heilbrunn

The Destruction of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's wealthiest men. Wikipedia indicates that he's worth some $6.3 billion (though that figure may be a fraction lower due to events of the past few weeks). He's also been named one of the most powerful people in the world, number 13 by Forbes in 2010. He's routinely referred to as a "media titan."

All of a sudden, however, the old boy has lost his nimbus of power. At the very apex of his career, on the verge of transferring authority to his son James, in the hopes of creating family dynasty, Murdoch has been humbled. The most potent sign of his loss of influence came in the exchanges yesterday in parliament between Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Edward Milliband. Milliband could barely contain his glee as he administered what amounted to a horse-whipping to his counterpart. Cameron, acutely aware that he must detach himself from the crumbling Murdoch empire, agreed with everything that Milliband said about the perfidy of News Corp., while pleading that their main focus should be the victims in the affair. Essentially, Cameron didn't simply throw Murdoch under the bus; he hurled him in its direction. The scandal has already cost Murdoch control over British Sky Broadcasting Group. The costs could be far higher in coming weeks.

To some degree, Murdoch's comeuppance may have its sources in British dislike for an upstart, an outsider, a provincial. Murdoch, after all, got his start in Adelaide as a newspaper man, not on Fleet Street. An Australian was viewed as a coarse creature, barely fit for polite society for many decades in England. That has changed. But Murdoch belongs to an older generation. There can be no small amount of schadenfreude in the U.K. over his demise.

For demise is what is occurring. Oh, Murdoch may retain a chunk of his media imperium. But his reputation has been irrevocably tarnished, if not destroyed. Perhaps his son can sweep up the scattered shards and try to make a fresh go of it. But News Corp may well be in for a further pounding. In America, both Democratic and Republican legislators are calling for inquiries into Murdoch's actions to determine whether shenanigans similar to those that took place in England transpired here as well. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, wants to investigate reports of 9/11 hacking by Murdoch's goons. There is little reason to assume that they did not. Murdoch's problem is that the events in England were not an isolated event, but a direct product of the ethos he inspired.

Murdoch and his dauphin have been requested to appear before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday. They are refusing to testify, though suggest they might appear at another time. This is sheer impudence. MPs are now using the power of summons to try and force them to appear. The vile Rebekah Brooks has agreed to testify, but made it clear in advance that she will impart nothing of significance,as the Telegraph reports:

In her acceptance of the invitation, Ms Brooks warned that although she "welcomed the opportunity" to give evidence, she might refuse to answer detailed questions about allegations of phone hacking by the newspapers because it might prejudice the ongoing police investigations.

She wrote: "Given that we are in the midst of an investigation, and we do not want to prejudice it, I hope you will understand why we feel it would not be appropriate to respond to such questions at present in order to be consistent with the police's approach, and that as a result this may prevent me from discussing these matters in detail."

The question, I suppose, will be at what point she decides to try and save her own skin by turning on the Murdochs. Will Brooks babble? But the shamelessness of the Murdochs has already been patently apparent. Murdoch is a character out of a Trollope novel—a bounder, grasping and avaricious, brought low by his own rapacity. As Britain's version of Watergate unfolds, he may end up taking Cameron down with him. And he may be about to discover that a business empire, like a country, can crumble almost overnight.