Rupert Murdoch has a problem. His organisations seem to lack a moral centre. Perhaps it is the nature of the businesses he runs. Perhaps it is the nature of the people he hires. Perhaps it is something deeper, an organisational malaise.
Five years ago he said in the wake of the phone hacking scandals he had faced his most humbling day. In response to the criminal investigations and civil claims, he closed the News of the World newspaper which had been at the centre of the phone hacking.
In the ensuing Leveson inquiry we learned more about his organisation. More to the point, we learned more about UK journalism’s moral ethos. To say that it was riven with deceit, betrayal, bullying, would be to put it mildly. At the centre of it, perhaps the king of it, was Rupert Murdoch’s papers in particular the News of the World. It pushed the boundaries. It took the risks. It had the highest circulation of any UK newspaper. Their business model: to harvest misery, misdeeds, and moral failures of others; succeeded for it allowed the public the vicarious experience or audience and judge. The public could consume moral turpitude and enjoy the frisson of moral superiority. Murdoch’s papers habituated the public to what was base and avoid that which was noble for anything could be made tawdry, cheap and nasty. Yet in all this moral torpor, the focus never turned to the immoral heart within the newspaper or its parent organisation.
We know that the News of the World senior management team were bullies. The Employment Tribunal ruled they had bullied an employee who suffered from mental health issues. Yet that was not enough for the Editor in charge to be disciplined. It would seem it is the cost of doing business. The employment ethos is the survival of the fittest. The strong rule the weak and if you are weak you need to leave before you are forced to leave.
Recently we have heard the news that alleges that Roger Ailes sexually harassed women over the past thirty years. After story broke, more women came forward to describe similar experiences. Fox Media appears to be sympathetic if not tolerant to behaviour that would encourage men to harass women. Some might excuse the behaviour as light hearted erotically charged banter. The banter makes an on camera partnership sparkle, which draws viewers. Such a view overlooks the deeper organisational abuse of power.
In the two organisations, we find endemic abuse of power. The organisation indulges such behaviour as the appropriate power dynamic. If you are powerful, you can say or do, what you like without fear of consequences. The ultimate organisational power is impunity. Fox News might argue that all complaints are investigated and they have robust policies. Yet, that begs the question. If the policies are robust and complaints investigated, why do they recur? Perhaps, the place to look is at the moral malaise at the top.