A Times Must-Read on the News Corp. Hacking Scandal

The New York Times Magazine is out with a riveting story on the corruption at News Corporation’s News International division.

It’s a fascinating look at the depravity and cynicism of the British tabloid press and of the British government.

Scotland Yard failed abjectly to fully investigate what News of the World and others did by illegally breaking into people’s cellphone voicemail boxes—a failure the NYT ascribes to its desire to stay on good terms with the Murdoch paper. The agency decided not to even notify the vast majority of people it knew had been hacked.

Three plaintiffs are jointly seeking a judicial inquiry into Scotland Yard’s handling of the hacking case. The plaintiffs, who include a former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, say their rights were violated when the police failed to inform them that their names were found in Mulcaire’s documents. The former official, Brian Paddick, scoffed at Scotland Yard’s explanation that the appearance of his name didn’t necessarily mean that he was hacked. “It’s a mealy-mouthed way of saying, ‘We’re not telling you any more, that maybe something happened but we can’t be bothered to investigate,’ ” he said. A police spokesman said the department has been “as open as possible whilst maintaining and protecting individuals’ personal information and respecting privacy.” Andy Hayman, who ran the case for Scotland Yard, has since retired. He declined to comment for this article. He is currently a columnist for The Times of London, where he has written in defense of the police investigation and maintained there were “perhaps a handful” of hacking victims. The paper is owned by News International.

Rupert Murdoch has been paying off people left and right in the case—but usually with settlements, not outright payroll checks.

And talk about failing upward: The editor of News of the World, Andy Coulson, whom the Times reports surely knew about the illegal activity, is now press secretary for the prime minister, David Cameron. Stunning.

Go read the whole thing. It’s a fantastic piece of reporting and writing.

But I’ll leave you with the American connection here. Ladies and gentlemen: Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones, overseer of the august Wall Street Journal, who headed up News International while the hacking was in full force:

During testimony before the parliamentary committee in September 2009, Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International who now heads Dow Jones, said, “There was never any evidence delivered to me suggesting that the conduct of Clive Goodman spread beyond him.”

But interviews with more than a dozen former reporters and editors at News of the World present a different picture of the newsroom. They described a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors. Andy Coulson, the top editor at the time, had imposed a hypercompetitive ethos, even by tabloid standards. One former reporter called it a “do whatever it takes” mentality. The reporter was one of two people who said Coulson was present during discussions about phone hacking…

Two months later, his former boss, Les Hinton, who was now running Dow Jones, testified by video-conference from New York. Hinton rejected suggestions by committee members that the payments made to Goodman and Mulcaire after their dismissals were intended to buy their silence. “I cannot actually see what silence there was left” after months of police investigation, said Hinton, who declined to comment for this article.

During a recent interview, the committee chairman reread portions of that testimony, pausing to laugh at Hinton’s repeated “I do not recall” or “I do not know” responses. “This was just a masterful performance by Les Hinton,” Whittingdale said. “We all sat in awe.”

Further reading:

Journalism Scandal at News Corp.: Peek into a news culture overseen by Rupert Murdoch and Les Hinton.

Guardian’s Big Scoop on Scandal at News Corp. Tab: The story raises serious questions for the CEO of WSJ parent Dow Jones

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.