Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Did British Investigators Prosecute Only the Murdochs When Everyone Was Doing It?

From the press coverage of the British tabloid hacking scandal, it seemed that only News of the World engaged in dirty tricks. All other British tabloids were clean as the fresh driven snow. This struck me as rather suspicious, and I wrote so at the time.

I knew that British tabloids compete against each other fiercely. If only one uses sleazy techniques to get juicier stories, the others would lose out in the competitive struggle.

As an economist, I posed a hypothesis: If only the Murdoch papers (News of the World and the Sun) used underhanded and illegal methods to get news scoops, their share of the tabloid market would be rising over time. Only they had the really salacious stories. Other tabloids would be boring in comparison.

British tabloid circulation statistics do not support the hypothesis. Both News of the World’s share of Sunday tabloids and The Sun’s share of daily circulation remained stable against a backdrop of declining overall tabloid circulation.

This statistical fact tells me that “everyone did it.” But why were only the Murdochs being investigated? I guess no one likes their power and politics.

Well, it looks as if the truth is finally coming out. According to a news report, a suit was filed against the Daily Mirror and covers the time when Piers Morgan was the editor. Morgan, CNN’s replacement for Larry King, previously denied involvement in phone hacking activity, but this scandal is spreading from Murdoch to the Mirror Group. The Associated Press reported late Monday: “Four alleged phone hacking victims have filed suit against the publisher of Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper, a tabloid once edited by CNN’s Morgan, prominent lawyer said late Monday.” An actress, a former nanny to David Beckham’s children and two sports figures are seeking damages due to alleged phone hacking.

It is rather late for the British public to learn that “everyone did it.” News of the World is gone. The Murdoch media empire has been under constant assault, while his likely-equally-guilty competitors have gone about their merry way.

I might also note that the fact that “everyone did it,” is not making headlines. In fact, the story is buried and will likely remain so.

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