Wall Street Journal Defends Staff, Ethics in Wake of Scandal

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(Editor's Note: In an effort to stem the tide of criticism mounting against its owner Rupert Murdoch and Dow Jones company, the Wall Street Journal has published a tough-minded defense of its journalists, their ethics and way of doing business. Here is the piece, published in the WSJ on July 19, 2011...)

When News Corp. and CEO Rupert Murdoch secured enough shares to buy Dow Jones & Co. four years ago, these columns welcomed our new owner and promised to stand by the same standards and principles we always had. That promise is worth repeating now that politicians and our competitors are using the phone-hacking years ago at a British corner of News Corp. to assail the Journal, and perhaps injure press freedom in general.


At least three British investigations into phone-hacking and payments to police and others by the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid are underway, with 10 arrests so far. News Corp. and its executives have apologized profusely and are cooperating with authorities. Phone-hacking is illegal, and it is up to British authorities to enforce their laws. If Scotland Yard failed to do so adequately when the hacking was first uncovered several years ago, then that is more troubling than the hacking itself.

It is also worth noting the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a single media company, when British tabloids have been known for decades for buying scoops and digging up dirt on the famous. Fleet Street in general has long had a well-earned global reputation for the blind-quote, single-sourced story that may or may not be true. The understandable outrage in this case stems from the hacking of a noncelebrity, the murder victim Milly Dowler.

The British politicians now bemoaning media influence over politics are also the same statesmen who have long coveted media support. The idea that the BBC and the Guardian newspaper aren't attempting to influence public affairs, and don't skew their coverage to do so, can't stand a day's scrutiny. The overnight turn toward righteous independence recalls an eternal truth: Never trust a politician.

Which brings us to Friday's resignation of our publisher and CEO, Les Hinton, who ran News Corp.'s British newspaper unit during the time of the alleged hacking. In his resignation letter, Mr. Hinton said he knew nothing about wide-scale hacking and had testified truthfully to Parliament in 2007 and 2009. We have no reason to doubt him, especially based on our own experience working for him.

In nearly four years at the Journal, Mr. Hinton managed the paper's return to profitability amid a terrible business climate. He did so not solely by cost-cutting but by investing in journalists when other publications were laying off hundreds. On ethical questions, his judgment was as sound as that of any editor we've had.

In the specific case of Singapore, he allowed the company to defend one of our journalists against a defamation claim through the appellate stage, despite the historically faint prospect of success. This is more than can be said for other British and American publications. In doing so, Mr. Hinton forced the Singapore judiciary to address significant changes in the law protecting honest journalism elsewhere in the former British commonwealth that the judges could have otherwise ignored.

Our readers can decide if we are a better publication than we were four years ago, but there is no denying that News Corp. has invested in the product. The news hole is larger. Our foreign coverage in particular is more robust, our weekend edition more substantial, and our expansion into digital delivery ahead of the pack. The measure that really matters is the market's, and on that score Mr. Hinton was at the helm when we again became America's largest daily.

Rest of the piece appears here