很多人对于鲁伯特•默多克新闻集团旷日持久的丑闻并不感到惊讶。这些人包括投资者、保险商、律师以及那些曾过读过调研公司The Corporate Library的“治理分析”报道的民众。该公司对企业的治理评级有明确的标准，即从A到F。在过去的6年当中，新闻集团一直都被评为F——内尔•米劳称：“没有比这个级别更低的了。”米劳 1999年与他人合伙创立了The Corporate Library公司，并坚持认为管理“可以像证券一样得到评级，从3A级到垃圾级。”新闻集团的总体风险，根据预测报告的说法是“非常高”。集体证券诉讼风险：“非常高”。目前，该公司丑闻所招致的官司已经堆成了山。
维护新闻集团48，000名股东利益的终极重任最终落在了名为默多克的三名董事会成员（鲁伯特和他的儿子詹姆士和拉克兰；他女儿伊丽莎白将于明年加入董事会）、四位新闻集团雇员（首席运营官查斯•凯利，首席运营官大卫•德芙，高级执行副总裁乔伊尔•克兰以及高级顾问亚瑟•塞斯肯德）两位前新闻集团雇员和七名其他董事的肩上。这七名董事包括一位31岁的歌剧演员娜塔莉班•克罗夫特，她的家族曾是道琼斯公司（Dow Jones）的拥有人，2007年新闻集团将其并购。新闻集团说她的“青春”和“女性视角”为董事会添色不少。在此等人的照料下，该公司股票让投资者倍感失望实属正常；该股过去15年当中在标准普尔500（S&P 500）的表现一直不佳。
这种管理的影响比我们想象的要更为严重和深远。特拉华大学温伯格公司治理研究中心（University of Delaware's John L Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance）主任查尔斯•埃尔森说，“在它催生的企业文化中，问责制没有立足之地”。公司中，如果董事会忠实于股东意志，首席执行官随时可以被炒；例如，英国石油（BP）董事会去年炒了托尼•荷沃德，惠普（Hewlett-Packard's ，HPQ）董事会炒了马克•赫德。这样，公司内部就会自上而下传递出这样一个讯息：表现不好，就会被炒。但是在首席执行官能炒董事会鱿鱼的公司，这个讯息就变为：我们不对股东负责，我们只对一个人负责。也就是公司是人治，不是法治。
根据目前已确认的消息，丑闻已为新闻集团带来了巨大的负面影响，而且远非关闭《新闻世界报》这颗摇钱树就能了事的。被警方没收的笔记本中提及有成千上万人的电话都曾被监听——此事一旦确认，将意味着铺天盖地的诉讼。新闻集团已承认曾与警察有过金钱交易。按照几位参议员的说法，这一点明显违反了美国《反外国腐败行为法案》（U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act）。如果新闻集团违法，该集团位于美国的27家电视台的联邦通讯委员会（FCC）牌照将岌岌可危。这并不是危言耸听；20年前，雷电华公司（RKO General）被查出有行贿外国官员和其他恶劣违法行为，之后，该公司被吊销了所有播放牌照。
有鉴于此，最近的丑闻也使公众开始重新审视该公司旗下的美国新闻市场营销集团（News America Marketing Group）。该集团主要为新闻及杂志制作独立广告插页。几年来，该集团因使用严重不正当手段一直遭到竞争对手的起诉。其中有一项起诉于2009年进行了庭审；仅仅两天之后，新闻集团就以惊人的5亿美元与原告达成庭外和解。令一场官司也于今年早些时候进行了庭审，一天后，新闻集团破财1.25亿美元和解。
现在，至少三个国家，即英国、美国和澳大利亚的调查机构，正在细致、全面地梳理该公司的事务。然而调查结果只会让投资者担忧。自从7月初丑闻爆发以来，投资者已经让新闻集团的市值损失了66亿美元，显示丑闻的影响远远超出它带来的直接经济损失。例如，如果美国联邦调查局（FBI）查出新闻集团雇员曾窃听过9/11受害者或家人的电话，美国公众势必怒不可遏。这对于默多克的至爱《华尔街日报》（Wall Street Journal）以及美国电影公司【20世纪福克斯（Twentieth Century Fox）和其他公司】、美国有线电视网【福克斯新闻频道（Fox News），FX和其他电视台】、美国电视台和广播网络【福克斯（Fox）】来说都不是好消息。这些公司构成了新闻集团大部分利润的主要来源。
Some people aren't at all surprised by the unending scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. They are the investors, insurers, lawyers, and others who had read the "Governance Analysis" report on the company from The Corporate Library, a research firm. The firm grades companies' governance from A to F, and for the past six years News Corp. has received an F -- "only because there is no lower grade," says Nell Minow, who co-founded The Corporate Library in 1999 on the premise that governance "can be rated like bonds, from triple-A to junk." News Corp.'s overall risk, says the prophetic report: "very high." Risk of class-action securities litigation: "very high." Scandal-related lawsuits are already piling up.
For those who think corporate governance is the concern of prissy do-gooders who don't understand real-world business, News Corp. (NWS) is the latest example that the truth is just the opposite: Governance is the foundation of real-world business. If it isn't solid, trouble is inevitable. For News Corp., it's the reason the trouble is far from over.
News Corp.'s variety of lousy governance is simple -- one man exerts control wildly out of proportion to his stake in the business. As at many companies with bad governance, the mechanism is dual-class stock. News Corp.'s class A shares account for about 70% of the company's market cap (recently $41 billion total) but have no voting power. Only class B shares, which account for the other 30% of the market cap, get to vote, and Rupert Murdoch has almost 40% of the class B shares. Economically he owns just 12% of the company, but he wields total control because he can elect all the directors. While the other class B shareholders (about 1,300 of them) could in theory gang up on him and vote against his wishes, in practice that doesn't happen. It's especially unlikely since long-time Murdoch supporter Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia owns 7% of the class B shares.
Ultimate responsibility for protecting News Corp.'s 48,000 total shareholders thus rests with a board comprising three directors named Murdoch (Rupert plus sons James and Lachlan; daughter Elisabeth is scheduled to join next year), four additional News Corp. employees (COO Chase Carey, CFO David DeVoe, executive VP Joel Klein, and senior adviser Arthur Siskind), two former News Corp. employees, and seven other directors, including a 31-year-old opera singer, Natalie Bancroft, from the family that owned Dow Jones, which News Corp. bought in 2007. News Corp. says her "youth" and "female perspective" bring value to the board. Under such guardianship, it's unsurprising the stock has disappointed investors; it has underperformed the S&P 500 over the past five and 10 years.
This board meets the independence requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Nasdaq, where the stock trades, but if it doesn't seem very independent to you, that's understandable. In any case, it doesn't matter. While legally the board can fire Rupert Murdoch, practically he can fire the board, and the board knows it. Truly the company has earned its F in governance.
The effects are insidious and more far reaching than you might imagine. "It creates a culture with no accountability," says Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware's John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance. In companies where directors are genuinely subject to the shareholders' will, CEOs get fired; BP's (BP) board fired Tony Hayward last year, for example, and Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) board fired Mark Hurd. The message cascades down through the organization: Bad behavior gets you fired here. But at companies where the CEO can fire the board, a different message cascades down: We don't answer to the shareholders, we answer to just one person. It's the rule of man, not the rule of law.
To see the results, consider the most infamous scandal companies of the past several years – Enron, Worldcom, Healthsouth, Adelphia, Parmalat. Like News Corp., each had risen from nothing to huge success under one man, and through various means he had maintained total effective control. Employees felt they were beholden to a person who was beyond outside governance. The results were devastating to shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and communities.
Based only on what has been confirmed, the scandal's potential damage to News Corp. is already considerable, beyond the closure of the highly profitable News of the World. Confiscated notebooks name thousands of people whose phones may have been hacked -- a staggering docket of lawsuits if hacking is confirmed. Payments to police officers, which, News Corp. has admitted, seems a clear violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as several senators have observed. If News Corp. is guilty, the FCC licenses of its 27 U.S. television stations could be in peril. That's not a theoretical danger; RKO General had to give up all its broadcast licenses some 20 years ago after it was found to have bribed foreign officials and committed other unsavory acts.
A large question for News Corp. now is how much further the scandal will extend. Company officials first maintained it ended with one rogue reporter at The News of the World. Then they acknowledged it was several but involved only phone hacking and only at that paper. Then the scandal spread to the Sun and to police bribery. With 10 employees or former employees arrested so far, it would seem foolish to assume now that all other employees have been behaving like Boy Scouts.
With that in mind, recent events cast a new light on the company's News America Marketing Group, which produces free-standing ad inserts for newspapers and magazines and for years has been sued by competitors alleging grossly unfair practices. One of the suits went to trial in 2009; after two days of proceedings, News Corp. settled out of court for the stunning sum of $500 million. Another suit went to trial earlier this year, and after one day, News Corp. settled for $125 million.
Now, investigators in at least three countries -- the U.K., the U.S., and Australia -- are combing carefully and widely through the company's affairs. What they might find seems to worry investors, who have clipped News Corp.'s market value by $6.6 billion since the scandal broke in early July, reflecting far more than the immediate economic damage. For example, if the FBI finds that News Corp. employees hacked the phones of 9/11 victims or their families, the American public's fury will know no bounds. That could be bad news for Murdoch's treasured Wall Street Journal plus his U.S. movie studios (Twentieth Century Fox and others), U.S. cable networks (Fox News, FX, and others), and U.S. TV stations and broadcast network (Fox), which together earn most of News Corp.'s profit.
What's next? Suddenly under intense scrutiny and in the crosshairs of lawsuits, the directors may remember they have a legal duty to represent the interests of all shareholders. They could finally defy Murdoch, firing him or kicking him upstairs to non-executive chairman or otherwise rehabbing the company's tattered governance. With the world watching, Murdoch may feel that the one time he needs to exercise his power to fire the directors, he can't. Or, since the class B voting shares are publicly (though thinly) traded, someone could mount an old-fashioned proxy fight to reform the board.
Murdoch has long argued that News Corp.'s governance is public information, and investors who don't like it needn't buy the stock. That's obviously true and perhaps explains why sophisticated institutional investors don't buy shares of companies with dual-class stock nearly as heavily as they invest in the overall market, according to research. News Corp.'s shareholders, says Charles Elson, "have no one to blame but themselves for buying this stock."
The scandal is further evidence that governance disasters are like earthquakes: You can never predict when they'll happen, but you can predict pretty confidently where they'll happen. The trembling under News Corp. has only begun.