This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The thing to think about amid the escalating legal attacks on the Murdoch empire is what precedents are being set in respect of infractions of the law that may have been committed by other newspaper companies. We do not suggest that the precedents are clear. We do suggest that the speed with which things have moved from accusations against the News of the World to calls by the Labor Party to curtail press freedom in the realm ruled by the mother of parliaments, well, this speed is breathtaking. As is the fact that so few newspapers are voicing alarm at the way this is being turned in to an attack on the right of a privately owned publishing combination to continue operating in Britain.
The arrest of the former editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, suggests we’re in for a melee. In an interview with the London Observer, the Labor Party leader, Edward “Ed” Milliband, has now called for what the Guardian characterizes as a “cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has ‘too much power over British public life’.” It’s been but days since Mr. Murdoch folded the News of the World. Suddenly, writes Terence Corcoran in savvy column in the National Post of Canada, journalists all over the world, including here at America, are “portraying the closure of a newspaper as something of a victory for media freedom.”
What in the world are they thinking? The evil that will come from government action in this case is far greater than the damage, if any, that has been done by the Murdoch papers. We say “if any” because a certain skepticism obtains in these columns in respect of all the claims to victimhood by the targets of the Murdoch press. We are, and always have been, against the methods one heard of so often from Fleet Street; we’re against paying for information; we’re against wire-tapping and hacking phones. No doubt some of the victims have been hurt. But the melodrama from figures like Prime Minister Brown is not only unconvincing but has an air of fakery.
What are the Guardian and the New York Times going to say if the fires ignited around Murdoch are caught by a different wind and, say, touch the tinder of the vast accumulation of documents purloined by someone and made public via Wikileaks, with an assist from the Guardian and the Times? As recently as last month subpoenas were surfacing in connection with a grand jury investigation into Wikileaks. We’re not suggesting that there are no differences between the kinds of things at the center of the Murdoch controversy and the kinds of things the Times and the Guardian have done in Wikileaks. We are suggesting that when the winds turn, the conflagration may turn these distinctions to ashes.
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The Wall Street Journal today carries an important editorial, in which it begins to push back against any suggestion that practices in one corner of the News Corp. realm infect the whole empire. Those who came up through the Journal system know that there is no more ethical set of journalistic standards than that it has long imposed on its staff. We would add that one of the great things about the Journal over the decades is that it never got snooty or holier than thou about its high practices. It has always understood that the First Amendment wasn’t there to protect the responsible press alone. It is often the more marginal, racier, and radical organs that have established the great precedents in our country. Press freedom means little if it fails to comprise the freedom to make errors of judgment. The fact is that if the great broadsheets fail to defend the tabloids when they are under fire, who is going to be there to defend the broadsheets when the government starts coming after them?