As News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA) chief Rupert Murdoch opened a summit of international CEOs in Washington, D.C., Monday night, he cited health care, education and economic competitiveness as challenges the U.S. must overcome.
The elderly media mogul, still a powerhouse even as British authorities prosecute his former employees for bribery, phone hacking and obstruction of justice, said in brief introductory remarks that the U.S. education system is “failing us badly.”
The Australian-born Murdoch invited the dozens of CEOs in attendance to talk openly about such problems, at what he called a critical juncture in U.S. history. Murdoch may be one of the most powerful present at the gathering, but leaders of heavyweights like PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE:PEP) and Fannie Mae were on hand as well.
Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker -- a Murdoch employee -- remarked earlier that fiscal irresponsibility, privacy, and the rollout of health care reform were issues still preying on the minds of corporate leaders, just as they were last year.
The annual council of CEOs is expected to spend much time criticizing political dysfunction in Washington. One can expect much handwringing as executives tackle a broad agenda which includes cybersecurity, health care and the future of capitalism.
Even as Murdoch’s empire stands strong in North America, as evidenced by his ability to draw top executives and President Barack Obama for an exclusive interview on Tuesday, his media empire elsewhere remains troubled.
News Corp. said last week in its earnings report that it had already spent $40 million in legal costs related to the UK phone hacking scandal, reported its own Wall Street Journal. That comes after $400 million spent on earlier investigations as the scandal unfolded from 2011 onward.
Murdoch also mentioned that he has “personally very strong opinions” on immigration. In his native Australia, an immigration debate rages, stoked most recently by an undercover New York Times Magazine investigation. That piece documented the dangerous journey asylum seekers must make before arriving at the country’s Christmas Island.
Introducing his boss, WSJ editor Baker effusively praised Murdoch as a champion of free media and debate.
“None of what we take for granted, so much in the world, would be possible, in terms of a free media … in terms of the quality of the debate we have, if it were not for Rupert Murdoch,” said Baker. “Rupert has been an extraordinary figure in developing global media. He continues to be a driving force, and holding the world to the values he holds so dear.”
Those values include free enterprise and competitive capitalism, which Murdoch has long championed, and profited from. Murdoch and his family are estimated to be worth about $13.4 billion, according to Forbes.
Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch favorite and former boss of his British newspapers, is one of the top figures in the phone hacking scandal in the UK, where a trial opened in late October.