News International’s Dreadful Crisis Response

The scandal threatening Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is remarkable not only for the allegations that it hacked into voice mail messages of murdered children and deceased soldiers, but also for the sheer ineptitude of its crisis response.

No interview during this crisis has summed up the company’s dreadful response more than this one.

Simon Greenberg, News International’s director of corporate affairs, agreed to speak with interviewer John Snow of Great Britain’s Channel 4 News two weeks ago, when executive Rebekah Brooks was still employed by the company. During the interview, Mr. Greenberg insisted that Ms. Brooks would lead a thorough investigation into the hacking scandal.

But when Mr. Snow pointed out that Ms. Brooks couldn’t possibly conduct a thorough investigation of herself since she was the editor of News of the World at the time of the hacking incidents, Mr.  Greenberg was woefully unprepared to offer a satisfactory response:

Mr. Snow’s damning line of questioning exposed the fecklessness of News International’s policy:

John Snow: “How can she investigate herself given that she’s leading the investigation?”

Simon Greenberg: “Well when we’ve got the facts, we’ll be able to establish exactly how that will be possible.”

John Snow: “Well how are you going to get the facts if you’re not going to investigate the editing?

I can’t figure out why Mr. Greenberg and News International didn’t develop a more appropriate response to this question prior to the interview.

For example, why didn’t the company immediately appoint an independent commission to investigate Ms. Brooks’ activities, even as she conducted an investigation of the rest of the staff?

And why would Mr. Greenberg have agreed to this interview in the first place if he couldn’t offer a response to such an obvious question? Not only were Mr. Greenberg’s answers damaging, but his tone came across as unsympathetic, if not outright smug. Even though he said some of the right words in the second half of the interview, he did so in a disconnected manner that appeared clueless and insincere.

As for Rebekah Brooks, she resigned last week and was arrested on Sunday for her role in the phone hacking scandal. That’s good news for anyone who wants a real investigation rather than a phony corporate show trial.

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Related: Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes