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Going down hard

The Guardian has just broken a new story about News International: Wall Street Journal circulation scam claims senior Murdoch executive: Andrew Langhoff resigns as European publishing chief after exposure of secret channels of cash to help boost sales figures.

To quote a little bit of the extensive — and hair-raising — article:

One of Rupert Murdoch's most senior European executives has resigned following Guardian inquiries about a circulation scam at News Corporation's flagship newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.

The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation.

(Go read the rest.) To put this in perspective: it's dynamite — not as emotionally loaded as the Milly Dowler phone bugging horror, but from a business standpoint it may be considerably more damaging.)

What does it mean?

For those without a background in publishing, the reason they might want to do this is that audited circulation figures are the bedrock on which advertising revenue is based — the higher the ABC figures, the more the publisher can charge advertisers per inch of paper. Note that for many newspapers or periodicals, advertising accounts for up to 80-90% of revenue; you, the reader, are merely there as a draw for the real customers, the advertisers, who will pay more for pages that are seen by more eyeballs.

This kind of circulation ramping looks like bare-faced fraud.

What's significant about this revelation it that it comes from the opposite end of the organization — advertising and circulation — from the previous allegations — of journalistic and editorial corrupt practices — that shut down the News of the World and got Rupe up in front of a Commons Committee. Previously, NewsCo could maintain that it was just the misdeeds of a few bad apples in the news side of the business. With this latest revelation it looks as if the whole organisation has out of control, to the point of committing what looks very like circulation fraud.

And while the large corporate advertisers might be willing to put up with dirty tricks aimed at the readers, this is something else. (I expect a collapse in NewsCo's advertising revenue, not to mention an imminent FBI investigation ...)

Personal interest note: this may eventually afflict HarperCollins, a rather large book publisher that publishes these imprints and which just happens to be owned by News Corporation. My sympathy to any of the (innocent) novelists who may find themselves in the firing line ...

88 Comments

1:

Finally. The thing is that when an organization tolerates a bunch of petty lies, it's because they're too worried about the lies that are going to cost them. The kicker, from the article: " Senior executives in New York, including Murdoch's right-hand man, Les Hinton, were alerted to the problems last year by an internal whistleblower and apparently chose to take no action. The whistleblower was then made redundant."

Popcorn, anybody?

2:

Popcorn, anybody?

With anchovies, please - and a ring side seat. This one's gonna be a douzy.

3:

Bye Rupert.

It wasn't fun and it went on for far too long. I hope they're brave enough to have you and the other crooks it increasingly appears you surrounded yourself with serve out long periods behind bars.

4:

My favourite bit so far is this brilliant bit of British understatement:

On 12 July 2010, one London executive emailed that "some elements of the deal do not fit easily within best practice, brand guidelines and company policy".

5:

Um, holy crap. The WSJ playing circulation scams? That's not just a fire cracker in the outhouse, that's a suitcase nuke going off in the Manhattan main trunk sewer. Everyone on the island is going to either get their butt steamed or showered in crap. Or both.

Makes me wonder how far the rot goes in the WSJ. Political coverage is a given, but perhaps...financial reporting? The trouble with loss of trust is it can avalanche, and a lot of bystanders can get swept away. I second Charlie's note to about all the authors (in all fields, not just SFF) who could get caught by the financial side effects of this mess.

6:

Interesting to note that no action was taken by News International on the back of the Milly Dowler revelations for weeks, until a twitter campaign resulted in major advertisers pulling ads from NOTW. Within 48 hours of the campaign NOTW was shut down.

7:

Oh to be a fly in the wall of executive meeting rooms...
As advertisers either flee the paper, or negotiate drastically reduced advertising rates, one can only imagine the ass kicking circle that is currently forming.

8:

We're not talking about merely shutting down the NOTW; the affected group is Dow Jones. NewsCo sold 90% of their stake in the business to CME Corp in February 2010, very shortly after this scheme ran into trouble.

People are going to start wondering if the Dow Jones indices have been rigged in any way.

Yes. Someone just detonated a nuke on Wall Street.

9:

I'm trying to dial down the schadenfreude over the Wally St. Journal crashing and burning... I've found their editorials odious (and absurdly wrong to boot) for years, and this WSJ isn't your fathers' WSJ. Yet to see what was once a pillar of American journalism topple like this is a bit terrifying, even if it couldn't fall on a better person.

(Be it resolved: Rupert Murdoch makes Charles Foster Kane look good by comparison.)

-- Steve

10:

And it continues to become more obvious that the depth of corruption in the Anglosphere is just as pervasive as in the rest of the world -- the Anglo worlds feelings of cultural superiority has just been a propaganda game.

My question has always been, who actually believed these myths?

11:

My question has always been, who actually believed these myths?

Nobody who read and understood Chomsky. But to those who didn't ... when you swim in a sea of hypocrisy, it's really hard to see the water.

12:

It's not just the mythology, it's the accounting. If company values have been messed with (more than they usually are), that gets ugly. We're back in the unregulated 1890s it seems. Lot of people lost their shirts back then, and it wasn't just the rich.


13:

Speaking of accounting, this professor of finance at UW has applied Benford's Law to a database of corporate SEC filings. Guess what she found?

Yup, she found a statistically significant deviation from Benford's Law in filings by finance companies, peaking in ... 2008! Even Sarbanes-Oxley only retarded the deviation for a short period.

14:

Oh dear. They can be sued for that, by advertisers, shareholders, and the State of New York.

Also ABC - the 'ratings agency' for circulation figures - begins to look like S&P and Moody's.

15:

Pity about the poor sod who blew the whistle on the whole thing. Proof that once again, no good deed goes unpunished.

16:

So far in the US news I haven't seen any mention, but it's early. Also, since the story only involves the European edition (so far?), it may not be considered a big story here. CNBC is all about Slovakia right now.
The thought of one of the most conservative newspapers in the US getting its ass handed to it does bring a smile.

Who wins the prisonyard fight: Murdoch or Madoff?

17:

... but... but... I thought the New World Order Illuminati Jewish Masonic Conspiracy was infallible?
Oh... wait a sec... they WANTED this to happen, and poor old Maxwell, er... Murdoch, has been set up. The bastards! David Icke will hear of this!

18:

If they have been doing this for the WSJ, they may have been doing for other titles too.
I have been offered "free" papers in places and wonder how many of them count in circulation, even if no one takes any.

19:

I just wish I could be bothered to look up the correct spelling of schadenfreud.

20:

It's hit Gawker. I agree though: it's early, and don't forget that they waited three weeks on the Occupy Wall Street protests.

21:

Now it's hit the NY Times (http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/dow-jones-european-executive-resigns/), as well as the Hollywood Reporter and Huffington Post. Expect it to show up at a venue near you for dinner.

22:

Totally OT so feel free to delete, but I had to share this great example of the old saw "the best way to predict the future is to invent it":
http://waxy.org/2011/10/apples_1987_knowledge_navigator_only_one_month_late/index.shtml

23:

That's SoP for newspapers.

Crikey caught Fairfax out locally artificially inflating their circulation numbers by counting newspapers that were dumped free of charge at schools. News Limited are guilty of pulling the same stunt.

24:

Charlie, I have to quibble here, but it is a gigantic quibble. Yeah, that makes it not a quibble, but I'm not objecting to the main point.

I am objecting to the pernicious implication that corruption in North America and Western Europe is the same sort of thing as, say, the corruption in Mexico that lets hitmen run assassination rings from jail and removes the ability of the investigative police to break up crime rings. That kind of corruption has enabled the violent deaths 40,000 people since crime started spiralling upwards.

Yes, corruption is pretty bad in America. And it seems to be getting worse. But it is not worsening in the direction that takes you towards Mexico and Russia, and that is a distinction well-worth preserving.

In short, corruption in the Anglosphere is nowhere near as deep as in the rest of the world, the "myth" happens to be very true, and I see little point in rhetorically blurring the difference. All you need to do, in all seriousness, is walk across the Rio Grande to see the difference.

(As an aside, the most important market indices are not produced by Dow Jones. This is a big deal, and a Good Thing for those of us who used to rely on the pre-Murdoch WSJ news pages, but not as big as you might think.)

25:

Oh, yes --- prohibition has also enabled the violence, but it did not cause it. Otherwise northern Mexico would have been a violence and extortion ridden place before 2006, and it was not.

Apologies for the aside, but Anura's comment got under my skin. Mexican-scale corruption is enabling a lot of death and suffering at the moment; if it existed in Western Europe or the U.S. our problems would be far far far worse.

26:

...corporate SEC filings...a statistically significant deviation from Benford's Law...

Oh, my. That's not good at all. I hope folks in the financial sector are looking at that very skeptically; I'm not one of the people who investigate that.

The Wall Street Journal story may actually be less dangerous to the global economy, although it's much more immediate. It's certainly disappointing and hits with the characteristic sound of something unpleasant impacting a running fan.

Am I the only one who remembers folks hoping that this would not happen when the Murdoch bought the Journal? The old WSJ always seemed to take seriously its job of reporting facts, delivered with a stick up the arse and no sense of humor - which, for its target market, was just the way they wanted it. More than one person worried that Murdoch would not be so devoted to its mission of reporting facts, and it seems that was correct.

27:

I have to agree with you. We've got corrupt practices, bent coppers etc, but nowhere near the scale of some countries.

When I lived in Delhi 15 years ago, I remember seeing the police do their weekly trawl down Paharganj Main Bazaar with a couple of trucks. Every shopkeeper handed over a bundle of notes, or had their stock seized and chucked into the back of the truck.

I've seen street people beaten to a bloody pulp by police with lathis while passers-by didn't bat an eyelid -it happens in the West but it isn't accepted as normal.

I've bribed a policeman with a pack of cigarettes to get out of a hotel search - just to avoid the hassle, I had nothing to hide. Those that did escaped arrest but lost all their money.

I met someone who had cannabis planted on them by a Goa policeman, and had to leave his young son with the cops while he went to the bank for a bribe. I sat next to someone on the flight home who'd been beaten by the police so badly he was deaf in one ear, blind in one eye and had to walk with a stick.

Out of date and anecdotal, but that sort of thing's considered normal in many countries.

Mind you, glad to hear Murdoch's in more trouble. As Warren Ellis tweeted during Murdoch's appearance in front of the Commons inquiry: "I so want the next question to be "Are you carrying any weapons, Mr Murdoch?" & the old man sadly producing a scabby knife".

28:

The WSJ had, I kid you not, the best news of what it covered in the USA. The Ed Page was to make rich people feel better after one of their buddies went too far. Nobody that was real paid any attention to it. I stopped reading it after your Prince of Darkness got his hooks into it. This is Illuminating

29:

the most important market indices are not produced by Dow Jones.

And none that I know of are opinion oriented. You can calculate them yourselves if you want to set up the spreadsheets. Most firms who engage in any kinds of index trading or hedging do their own calculations. Many times continuously.

30:

Yes, I'd agree about nuke on wall street. I was just making the point that once advertisers disappear so does the company. I realise this is much bigger than News Corp.

31:

Living in Italy now, I hear a lot of schadenfreude (with an 'e', Dirk) whenever UK/US corruption gets reported in the press. As if, somehow, it makes the local corruption OK. It's so depressing. You should see the way science and academia are run around here, it would make your hair stand on end.

32:

My gods, I've been asking questions about the News Corp. circulation figures for years over here in .au.

Admittedly, most of my questions have been along the lines of "are they really that high?" because I had a lot of trouble believing that so many people would fall so hard for their rubbish. Lately they've been along the lines of "are they really that high?" because quite honestly, I'm just not seeing the evidence for the sales they're claiming - there just isn't the evidence of the range of buyers they're claiming.

In fact, there's better anecdotal evidence for more people not buying News Corp. products than there is for people actually purchasing them. It's just that nobody's counting the folks who aren't buying.

Which goes back to one of my contentions about the News Corp. "mix", and the generally undesirable nature of the thing, combined with a long-standing complaint that when your only options on the shelves are either salt-and-vinegar flavoured crisps or vinegar-and-salt flavoured crisps, it's very hard to measure the demand for chicken flavoured crisps. But everyone's been so cowed by the News Corp. circulation figures, particularly in the Australian media scene, that what we've wound up with is three different brands of salt-and-vinegar crisps - so to speak - and no other flavours on the market. Learning that these circulation figures come from the same location as some of their more sensational "stories", and that indeed, those circulation figures may be just as much of a story as the so-called "news", is almost refreshing. Maybe there's a chance of something different!

33:

So, how's Fox News reporting this?

34:

Funny you should ask that. Here's the link:

http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2011/10/11/wsj-europe-publisher-langhoff-resigns-following-ethics-concern/

Nothing to see here, just some house cleaning. Move right along, please.

35:

The "quality" Murdoch broadsheet downunder, The Australian, does this sort of circ stuffing all the time. If you get an intercity flight in the morning, they'll have massive piles of free copies of it lying around at every gate. They do similar stuff at universities and the like too.

36:

I'm surprised you're surprised.

Means, Motive, Opportunity - Given these figures are largely dreamed up by those who benefit from their inflation, and few are checking, then in an era where circulation is dropping fast it's no surprise at all that the figures are being massaged/faked/invented. In fact the surprise would be if they are not. That particularly goes for the Murdoch empire where the law is seen as a speedbump, not a bollard.

This might hasten the removal of the Murdochs, and maybe tighten the spiral of newsprints decline slightly - but it's more a matter of timing than destination.

37:

If there is any lesson to be learned from the last ten years worth of corporate crime sprees, it's that white collar crime among the powerful is hardly ever punished by anything more than a slap on the wrist. It's hopelessly naive to think that even this scandal will inflict a death blow against NewsCorp's position. Elites stick together to exploit the public; they will not turn on one of their own.

38:

My first job out of college in the late 80's was as a programmer for Dow Jones, working on a system called Circulation Inventory where I basically counted WSJs (and other DJ publications) to report to the ABC. I ended up leaving because I kept getting asked to fudge the numbers -- just a bit.

I don't think at that point there was any intent to either inflate circulation reported or to commit fraud; it was ego and OCD. But it was more than my conscience would let me live with, so I left.

39:

Obviously that's why Enron's still around, and Bernie Madoff's not in jail...

When the rich are getting burned, they're just as unforgiving as we are.

40:

I'm hoping they'll all get the same treatment as international media baron Conrad Black did and that Murdoch will end up as a guest of his majesty in Wormwood Scrubs.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/the-rehabilitation-of-conrad-black/article1629289/

41:

The WSJ is putting this spin on the situation.

If the Guardian is correct, this will be very damaging to the WSJ, although I expect the US edition will be firewalled from the EU edition.

On a positive note, I hope this means that the US edition of the FT gains more traction as the reputation of the WSJ continues to suffer under Murdoch's hands.

42:

Can you imagine what the Chaser boys are going to make of this next week on the Hamster Wheel???

43:

Reading that Grauniad article... lots of "oh wow"... a contract, of all the stupid things...

But what really sticks out to me is this:

"The affair will add weight to the fears of shareholders in Murdoch's parent company, NewsCorp, that the business has become a 'rogue corporation', operating outside normal rules."

I've seen this a lot the last few months, this idea of a rogue corporation. Its very obviously a strenuous attempt to set "them" apart from "us" (criminal Newscorp from ordinary, good businesses).

And the thing about it is... I don't believe it. Not that its happened (and happening), no. I don't believe that Newscorp is alone. I just cannot see them being a rogue. People move from business to business at breakneck speed these days. Corporate culture is no longer local to each company. Small quirks, sure. But general operating procedure, and the ideas of right and wrong? Those "normal rules"? No, they're shared. Otherwise you get someone new each month who bumps into Newscorps "rogue"-ness and goes to the media; which notably hasn't happened.

So what I want to know is just how much of the business community at large operates in a similar way; despite all the blood-letting being done (and yet to come) with Newscorp, just how many OTHER executives in other corporations do just the same things?

44:

Elites stick together to exploit the public; they will not turn on one of their own.

They already have.

Rupert Murdoch terrorised the British political classes -- all parties except the Lib Dems, who his organs deliberately ignored -- for 30 years. When they finally got the balls to turn on him, it was spectacular.

What's interesting about this latest finding is that if the FBI are looking into allegations of bugging, they've now probably got what they need to fire up RICO.

45:

Alain @ 42
No
R. Murdoch might/would end up in a USA jail, but his son James might do time over here, since he does have UK nationality.
The sooner they're all in the slammer, the better, unless RM does us all a favour, and imitates Maxwell ....

Charlie @ 44
We all know Tony B. Liar crawled to M. But Camoron is no better - look at this business with Liam Fox.
He doesn't seem to make a very good choice in whom he associates with does he?

I'll quote from another bloger, who puts it very succinctly, and it applies equally to the NewsCorp scandals.
Werrity is the sort of name Dickens would come up with. Magwitch and Werrity, dealers in hooves and glue, perhaps. Fox is too obvious a tag for an ambitious politician; Dickens would have used a derivative of vulpine. Wulpine, possibly. Werrity and Wulpine, then, dealers in hooves and glue, with a stinking yard in Bow from which the rendering chimney spews its greasy smoke over a widow's flower garden. Something like that.
However crawlingly Fox grovelled yesterday, however ready to lay down his partner for his political life, and whatever mock sincerity the Prime Minister pretended to evince, this was just more sleaze in the public's mind, reinforcing the popular view of Parliament as the place where little men come to get rich. We don't know what Wulpine got from Werrity; chocolates on the pillow, little splits of Moet or amusing cufflinks all seem possible. But over all hangs the stench of the glue works.

However, there is one matter, mentioned right at the beginning, which I happen to think matters.
It wasn't just Milly Dowler, it also appears that 7/7 victims' phones were hacked.
They made a repeated habit out of battening on the murdered dead - for money and power.
Sometimes, I wonder if a public flogging would be appropriate, sometimes.

46:

Addendum
The WSJ, pushed by M, and their very rich friends (can anyone spell "Koch"? ) consistently campaigned against AGW, and were responsible for many dirty tricks in this field.
Interesting, in the Chinese sense.

I wonder what will happen to Faux News?

And HarperCollins, though I expect them to be sold-on, or sold off.
We can hope.

47:

Interestly it doesn't seem to have reached BBC-world yet. Probably there is a certain amount of schadenfruede being privately expressed over further troubles for NewsCorp.

48:

Noel (#25) and Phil (#27),

You are right. what you've seen in Mexico and India is first-order corruption. It is terrible; people get beaten up and killed.

The NewsCorp corruption is second-order. The immediate consequence is that NewsCorp makes super-normal profits that allow it to acquire more platforms and extend its influence. A flow-on from this is the influence can be used in tight political races. A Bush gets elected instead of an Gore or a Kerry. We can imagine a counter-factual world without NewsCorp that sees fewer people being beaten up and killed in interrogations and wars.

So yes. Corruption outside the Anglo-sphere is more directly damaging. But second-order corruption is arguably and indirectly damaging too.

49:

The relevant legal phrase may be malum in se, which is usually translated "evil in itself". The corruption in Mexico involves acts which are clearly malum in se, such as murder. Bribing a policeman not to investigate phone-hacking is a lot less clear.

This is one reason why, in many common law jusrisdiction, murder is never closely defined. Using this principle, it doesn't need to be.

On the other hand, there's a huge amount of statute law on fraud, but some of the old phrasing would seen to fit this very well. How about "uttering a false instrument to obtain pecuniary advantage"?

Incidentally, I can see how a company in the foreign country might buy so many copies of the WSJ, to distribute to the local financial industry. They would be charging the end user for the speed of delivery, and they might buy 1000 copies to sell 800 while still making profit. And I'm not sure how an audit could practically pin down the difference.

50:

I'd claim a second lesson - that white collar crime is important enough to damage our entire society. You could probably calculate a higher casualty rate due to reduced medical cover in the US for white collar crime than for murder.

51:

You could probably calculate a higher casualty rate due to reduced medical cover in the US for white collar crime than for murder.

No, you could probably calculate a higher casualty rate due to reduced medical cover in the US for white collar crime than for WAR -- including the other side!

52:

I took a quick look at the major players this morning (Thursday) and there's nil about it. A couple of blogs mention it but none of the major news networks have it on their main pages. Even NPR doesn't mention it. Could the story be wrong, I wonder?

53:

Have you read the Guardian report?

If it's wrong, they just published highly libellous allegations in a major newspaper. They could be sued into a smoking crater -- this is the UK, remember. And I reckon NewsCo would love nothing better than a chance to extract a fat settlement and a juicy apology from the Graun, who are a persistent thorn in their side (beside being the main independent left-wing newspaper in the UK).

So that article didn't make the front page without going past a screen of lawyers first ...

54:

There is no honor amongst thieves, or so they say -- and in this case it happens to be true. I suspect that examples of apparent clemency between warring elites are primarily examples of bribery when they aren't examples of individual personal loyalty for some other reason; class/caste solidarity is arguably damned near nonexistent except when the class as a whole is under attack, as you can probably see from the daily business-section orgy of screwing-over that all the various and sundry large corporations perpetrate on each other more or less continuously. In a system where dominance is determined by the ability to play a zero sum game inbetween the moves of an ostensible positive sum game, the 'elites' are more vicious toward each other than they are toward other classes: you would have to squeeze out thousands of middle-class types to get the same quantity of juice you can get from offing one upper-class type.

55:

Since the WSJ in the US has an article about it (see Alex Tolley's comment #41 above), which basically says that everything in the Grauniad's report is true but that there's nothing to worry about, honest gov, and would you like to buy this bridge?, it seems unlikely that the story is wrong in any significant way.

56:

I have to chip in with the folks who have pointed out that this is pretty standard practice among newspapers.

The New York Times gets a big circulation boost by being handed out "free" at a lot of hotel chains - and you get a copy whether you ask for one or not. For that matter, during slow seasons, you'll find bundle after bundle of yesterday's unread newspapers in the recycle bins of many large hotels.

Even local papers pull this sort of stunt.

57:

Right. This is too well researched and apparently impressively documented (mentioning specifc sources which the guardian "has seen"). The Guardian would not break a story this big unless it was absolutely sure of the facts - I believe that is called journalism, something a few other news media might like to indulge in occasionally.

The story finally made it onto the BBC at just after 3pm UK time. The BBC has clearly spoken to NewsCorp/WSJ executives about the story. They have managed to give the substance of the allegations and the blanket denials in impressively evenhanded fashion but no-one will be convinced that this is a nothing story. No doubt a good part of the delay was due to the BBC running it past its own legal team.

58:

Up to a point its standard practice here too. The term is "bulks" and the point is that they are bulk orders by e.g. hotels which are handed out free to customers. The Telegraph, in particular, has a large percentage of bulks in its circulations figures.

The difference is twofold. First, bulks are stated separately in the ABCs, so everyone knows that the telegraph sells say 200,000 a day on the high street and 100,000 a day in bulks, and advertising rates will no do doubt reflect that.

Secondly, the bulks are orders, paid for by the purchasing entity. The guardians story says the the WSJ was in effect paying for its own papers in order to inflate the circulations figures - and because advertising revenue makes up about 90% of income, from a n economic point of view that makes perfect sense, but it makes a nonsense of the compilation of sales figures (ABCs).

59:

Yes. This was a longstanding scam in the UK until the ABC changed its position, partly because the Guardian media supplement made a habit of digging up the numbers for bulks and publishing the ABC scoreboard alongside the figures adjusted to account for the bulks. ISTR the Daily Telegraph in the Conrad Black era was the worst offender (it was desperately trying to keep its circulation over 1 million and began to move huge quantities of bulks).

The special stink in this is firstly, that the WSJ-EU had a deal with an advertiser to "buy" bulks (almost certainly at a peppercorn price hence the scarequotes) as a side-deal with the advertising, so the advertiser was essentially paying the paper to jack up the price it was paying for its ad space, secondly, that some of the advertising took the form of carrying copy on editorial pages against payment (and of course, against bulks), and thirdly, when the WSJ-EU wanted to push even more bulks and the client felt they were being exploited, the WSJ-EU agreed to kick money from the ad sale back to them in order to buy the additional bulks.

To summarise, they cheated their clients, accepted cash to place stories in the paper, and eventually started bribing the client to accept vast quantities of bulks* to boost their ad rates (at the client's disadvantage). It's interesting that abusive relationships appear to be the organising metaphor of the whole Murdoch concern.

*And the quantities were enormous. 16% of headline circulation was bulks into dustbins.

60:

That is, in my view, highly unlikely, at least for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) index. The reason is that the methodology is well-known and simple, so anyone with some time to spare could double-check the results.

The methodology, if memory serves, goes like this: You take the share prices of thirty companies (which are known), sum them, and divide with a certain divisor. You can't manipulate the share price part of the quation; at least, not without the collusion from the stock exchanges. The only part that is manipulable is the divisor (the Dow Jones periodically revises the divisor to take into account things like share mergers and splits), but the divisors are also publicly posted, both by the group itself and by the Chicago Board of Trade, and are in any case calculable from the final index, so any funny business there would be noticeable.

In short, I very much doubt the indices, at least the well-known ones, have been rigged; that would pose too much risk for too little gain, compared to writing crackpot op-eds.

61:

The Dow Jones Index is indeed fairly easy to calculate. The other products of Dow Jones - all of whose credibility is now trashed, because the apparent ability to buy "news" stories in at least one of them - are listed in the Wikipedia entry for Dow Jones publishing imprint (here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assets_owned_by_Dow_Jones).

It seems to me that being caught selling reporting space (rather than ads) would pretty much be the death knell of any organization who tries to deal in reporting news.

62:

Agreed, a good summary, though you should have put "allegedly" or "according to the guardian" in there to foil the lawyers.

One quibble, though: the quantities were enormous for the WSJ but the absolute numbers were quite small - according to the guardian 41% of european circulation was equivalent to just 31,000 copies a day (for comparison, the guardian's own ABCs for July this year were around 248,000 per day)

63:

Of course this has been going on all over the publishing industry for years -- decades, even. I used to work in publishing in the late 80s/early 90s before becoming an IP Engineer, and even though the house I worked for was draconian about editorial/advertizing separation and in verifying facts before publishing, it was common knowledge that our circulation numbers were more or less made up. In addition to the paid subscribers, circ numbers would include the free copies handed out to university students, copies handed out at trade shows, the bales torn up for tearsheets, and anything else that could inflate those critical numbers a bit. This, in a publishing house that prided itself on journalistic integrity. I can remember Stephen Brill storming through the editorial pen and firing several people outright for minor infractions, but never a word about how many copies were actually sold.

64:

My experience working in a large number of different businesses of different sizes and among several economic sectors is that stuff always flows down from the top.

If you want to know what the culture of a particular company is like just have a look at the guy/gal at the top and the people just below them. If a company is mired in corruption it's because the owner is a crook. If a company has insane policies, it's because the CEO is a lunatic. If the company is fun and easygoing, it's because the owners are.

News corp can try to paint this as a rogue executive, but sure as hell the Murdoch's gave a nod and a wink to this kind of behaviour. What frustrates me is that even if they are "punished" most of the crooks and unethical types at News corp will fly away from this with more money and assets than most people could ever dream of earning.

As my father, a VP who did audits for a largish corporation, once said, "Son, I don't want you to grow up to be a criminal, but if you do decide to be a criminal, be a white collar criminal. You make more money, and your chances of ever going to jail are pretty low."

65:

Other newspapers are picking up on it, but it is difficult to find any reference to it on the Beeb, in spite of what Kevin @ 57 says.
Searching from BBC News front page using "News Corporation", the most recent entry is 23/09/11, but ... but
Searching for "Wall Street Journal" gives this little gem which is amazingly bland, and appears to give ridiculous credence to the evil empire's Murdoch press' version of events.

66:

I've not looked today, but I found it fairly easily yesterday by going from BBC News front page into the business news page.

67:

Well I'm not surprised this sort of trick occurs. If it's a big a blow to Newscorp as outlined. The mainstream media is remarkably quiet on the matter as noted.

From that can we infer.

A: It's not as gravely consequencial mattare as one might hope.

B: It's such a common place ruse, and close to much other shady practise, no one inside the media citadel wants to shine much light around.

C: Reportage being restricted due to ongoing legal investigations / proceedings.

68:

That suggests it's no more than a parochial business related item.

69:

That suggests that you don't know properly what the WSJ represents. Would you consider discovering the the Financial Times was selling editorial space for unmarked $company_puff_pieces to be "juat a parochial business related item"? The WSJ represent[s|ed] a similarly important and prestigeous source of news to the US business community.

70:

Sorry. I agree with you. I meant it's placing in the BBC News site. Buried in the business section as opposed to front page. I'm puzzled as to why this story is not getting the attention it warrents.

71:

I would guess that either it's "old" news (because the Grauniad broke it first), or because (wearing paranoid hat here) certain folks really don't want to see the WSJ go down with all hands during a period of maximum instability, and quiet phone calls have been made.

72:

I wouldn't be surprised if something like this isn't also influencing coverage:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/uk-fund-adviser-hermes-wants-rupert-murdoch-sons-off-news-corp-board/2011/10/14/gIQAVzXQjL_story.html

I don't know enough to know whether they've got a snowball's chance, but investors in NewsCorp want it disassociated with the Murdochs, allegedly because the Murdoch name causes a devaluation of NewsCorp shares relative to other media groups.

Perhaps part of this fight is being waged in the press right now?

73:

Makes me wonder how far the rot goes in the WSJ. Political coverage is a given, but perhaps...financial reporting?

aHEM.

74:

I honestly think you are overestimating the importance of this publication. It has noticeably declined under Murdoch, and it's very hard to see why it's collapse in a scandal would spook anyone. Why is that wrong?

75:

> . . .this may eventually afflict HarperCollins. . .

Huh. I never realized that J. R. R. Tolkien's current publisher
is. . . Rupert Murdoch! ;->

76:

Odd. Several Australian newspapers have picked up on this (Fairfax, of course), but in general it isn't really showing up (Murdoch's flagship Australian has covered it, but is of course taking a certain spin).

The ABC (our equivalent of the BBC) has NOTHING on the matter at all, which is just bizarre.

77:

I wonder if this will be much of a scandal in the United States. Remember, News Corp. hacked into phones here as well as in the UK, and on this side of the pond the response has been underwhelming. It could end up that News Corp. gets slapped on the nose with a newspaper and merely adjusts its circulation figures.

Republicans don't have the same sense of shame that British conservatives do, and are highly unlikely to call for an investigation. So if advertisers don't, who will? Our American leaders are much more corrupt than yours are.

78:

A thought on Glen Murie's comment @ 64

"Rotting from the top" - yes, well, what about the most corrupt organisation on the planet, then?
Which is also one of the longest-lived.
The RC church.
Um.

But then:
A temple was worth a dozen barracks; a militia-man carrying a gun could control a small unarmed crowd only for as long as he was present; however, a single priest could put a policeman inside the head of every one of their flock, forever.

Perhaps that's why such an evil survives?

79:

Greg: you're derailing the discussion, which is about News Corporation, not any other festering den of iniquity. Kindly desist from dragging your pet hobby-horses into the wrong stable?

80:

' We only Kill Each Other ' ..

" Bugsy Siegel probably best summarized the top gangsters’ attitudes toward Murder, Inc., when he informed construction executive Del Webb, rather philosophically, that he had nothing to fear from the mob because "we only kill each other." " ..

http://www.dark-horse.co.uk/gangsters/lucky/murder.htm


They are all no more than a variant on Gangsters - along the lines of the Gangs of Ancient Rome as fictionalised in John Maddox Roberts SPQR series ..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPQR_series

save that modern political parties do have a licence to kill only obliquely and through the means of political influence..in the public interest of course.

81:

It is going off the rails, but Murdoch and the Church are both examples of control through affecting how people think.

"Only the Thought Police mattered."

And that's why the politicians put up with so much from him.

82:

Just to summarise the link: the WSJ published a piece by somebody from a French right-wing think-tank, which contained outright lies about the financial status of a particular large bank in France.

There are sets of things I am disinclined to trust, and "right-wing think-tank" describes one of those sets. They're a way for people to disseminate some ugly political memes. They give the people who originate the ideas a channel to put them out, and they act as a sort of cut-out, except they're in the business of delivering stupidity rather than intelligence.

It's like the way some stories appear first in foreign media, and then the local newspapers repeat them as fact.

This is, I suppose, a form of propaganda war, and these think-tanks are more like Soldatensender Calais than the BBC. Except, in this was, there isn't a BBC.

There's a Gustav Siegfried Eins equivalent putting out a blog somewhere, as well.

(And I've just been listening to a Big Band playing In The Mood...)

83:

"Really, Charles! People will think..."
"What I tell them to think."
Citizen Kane

84:

Charlie (& others) Maybe it IS one of my pet hobby-horses, but, I included a quote.
Form another SF author, in fact, whom Charlie knows personally, though I've never met him.
Is it difficult to guess who?

And Dave Bell's coment is apposite.
That is precisely why I made my remark in the first place....
"Only the Thought Police mattered"
Precisely.

Persistent "Propaganda" ( And who invented THAT word - oh dear!) will wear most people down.
Perhaps the Kanes Murdochs will come unstuck - apparently several US directors (etc) of NewsCorp want the M's to go away ....
A quick current web-skim sugestd this might be so.

85:

Typo FAIL in my previous post - oops.

Latest is apparently, that the US big pension funds are pressuring the Murdochs to leave NewsCorp
See here

Good stuff.

86:

The story has finally made it on-air at NPR:
The News Tip: Hold On To Your Credibility
which was followed by an amusing (to me, at least) story about 'Occupy Boston' protesters putting up Sukkot for an upcoming holiday.

87:

my simple thought, from working both sides of the 'tradiional' news works is 'f-k me running, WTF."

The supposedly audited circulation reports are where the money comes from. Holy crap. That is a horrible f-k up.

That is all.

88:

"Pity about the poor sod who blew the whistle on the whole thing. Proof that once again, no good deed goes unpunished."

If they were smart, they had back-ups of the relevant data stashed in several places. They should be able to make money on the lawsuits, not to mention their own lawsuit for the presumably illegal firing.

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 12, 2011 6:00 PM.

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Propaganda