Greece vs. James Murdoch: Who Will Hit Rock Bottom First?

Illustration by Bloomberg BusinessWeek

In recent months (or is it years?), the embattled News Corporation executive and the troubled Mediterranean nation have been locked in a grueling, slow-motion race, inching day by day, outrage by outrage, Vanity Fair story by Vanity Fair story, toward an uncertain finish line. At times, the conclusion seems tantalizingly near—only to be postponed again in a flurry of restructuring.

The end is nigh.

The end is nowhere in sight.

This week, Greece tumbled ahead of Murdoch with the news that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded its credit rating to “selective default.” Not to be outdone, Murdoch came limping back with a minor downgrade of his own. On Wednesday morning, News Corp. announced that James Murdoch was stepping down as the executive chairman of News International.

Immediately, some overeager news watchers jumped on Twitter to trumpet that the long-predicted day had finally arrived. Austerity measures—such as shuttering the company’s 168-year-old tabloid, News of the World—had failed. James Murdoch was out of the News Corp. union.

Except, well, OK, maybe, no. Not so fast.

In the company’s press release, News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch stated that his son James would continue to be involved with various “essential corporate leadership mandates.” He was simply giving up oversight of the U.K. publishing unit, “following his relocation” to New York.

Translation: James had been temporarily bailed out in Europe.

Greece’s parliament, meanwhile, is voting on whether to swallow billions of euros worth of pension and health-care cuts to qualify for the country’s own rescue.

For the time being, solvency remains elusive. Yet complete self-destruction has been kept at bay. Murdoch and Greece remain neck and neck.

There look to be plenty more branches to hit on the way down.

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