retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Michael Sansolo wrote a column last week about lessons that can be learned from phone hacking scandal unfolding in the UK and enveloping News Corp. and its CEO, Rupert Murdoch. Michael’s point was a good one - that if you don’t deal with your business problems and challenges, they’re almost certainly going to get worse. Problems don’t improve with age, he wrote. And I agree completely.

Except that now we find out that Rupert Murdoch has a different sort of managerial problem. (Beyond the legal problems that he’s facing in the UK and, quite possibly, here in the US.) This week, he told a investigatory committee of the British Parliament that while he was experiencing “the most humble day of his life” and that he was the best person to clean up the mess, he was unwilling to be held responsible:

"I do not accept ultimate responsibility,” he said. “I hold responsible the people that I trusted to run it and the people they trusted.”

But not ultimately responsible.

Rupert Murdoch is worth something like $7 billion a year, largely because of the sales and profits of News Corp. You’d think for that kind of money, he’d at least be willing to take “ultimate responsibility” for his company’s actions.

But no. The sign on his desk, apparently, reads, ‘The Buck Stops There.”

Which I think tells us everything we need to know.

It may end up meaning nothing, but it was interesting to see the story from NBC News pointing out that in 2004, Floorgraphics - a company that competed in the in-store advertising business with News America, a division of News Corp. - reported to the FBI that its computer files had been hacked and that it had traced it back to an IP address owned by News America Marketing.

“While never prosecuted,” NBC News reports, “the claims became a key part of a civil lawsuit that Floorgraphics filed against News America. The case was resolved six days into a 2009 trial, when News America agreed to buy Floorgraphics' assets for $29.5 million as part of an out-of-court settlement.”

And here’s where it gets really interesting, according to the report:

“The inquiry into Floorgraphics could pose a problem for another of Murdoch’s top newspaper executives: Paul Carlucci, the publisher of the New York Post. Carlucci also has been the longtime chairman and chief executive of News America and has been accused in three lawsuits of creating a cut-throat competitive culture at the company, including showing his employees a scene from the movie The Untouchables, in which the mobster Al Capone crushes a rival’s head with a baseball bat.”

The statute of limitations is up on the Floorgraphics case, but the incident - and News America’s willingness to spend almost $30 million to make the case go away - seem to be factoring into the US government’s interest in seeing if the phone hacking scandal enveloping News Corp. in the UK also has any relevance here.

Stay tuned.

Speaking of staying tuned...

It was the kiss of death. Last week in this space, I wrote about how terrific the TNT series “Men of a Certain Age” was. This week, the network cancelled it.

Go figure.

One can only hope that some other cable network will come along and pick up the series, which only seemed to be getting better.

Yesterday, I offered six business lessons that can be learned from the Harry Potter film series. Well, it won’t surprise you to learn that I found the eighth and final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows, Part Two, to be a marvelous piece of work - beautifully crafted and totally involving. And I say that as someone who isn’t wild about the genre, and who has not read the books.

The thing is, having seen all the movies, including the last one, over a three-week period, I’ve come to realize that they really weren’t about wizardry and witchcraft. They actually were about growing up, about shouldering responsibility, about the nature of friendship, and about making choices between good and evil. Sure, there were lots of special effects, and magic was the gimmick that they hung the whole thing on. But that wasn’t really what it was about.

As I watched the final film, I could see subtle references to other fantasy films such as the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series, films that created for modern culture a kind of common mythology to which we all could connect. There were plot twists that were unexpected, and some marvelous performances - Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith deserve special shout-outs.

This may seem strange, but in the film’s climactic battle, I found myself thinking of High Noon, which had a particularly bleak assessment of humanity. Not so in Harry Potter, where the real magic lies not in the wands, but in the hearts and souls of the core characters of Harry, Ron and Hermione, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


(And stay cool...)
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