Audit Notes: Les Hinton, Translating Murdoch Jr., UK Tabloid Culture

The Guardian writes today that the “Phone hacking spotlight falls on former News International boss Les Hinton.”

As well it should—particularly here in the U.S.

Hinton is who Rupert Murdoch installed as CEO of Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal. He was CEO of News International when the hacking crimes were being committed and, later, not a very forthcoming witness in testimony before Parliament.

Once again, he insisted (to Parliament) that a thorough investigation had taken place: “There was never any evidence delivered to me that suggested that the conduct of Clive Goodman spread beyond him … We went, I promise you, to extraordinary lengths within the News of the World.”

John Whittingdale, the chair of the subcommittee before which Hinton appeared, said that given the events of this week, Hinton’s assurances “now look increasingly unconvincing”. He added: “Les gave very clear assurances that he himself was not involved, and I have no reason to doubt that. But if he told us there had been a very thorough investigation I would have expected him to be apprised that there indeed had been a very thorough investigation.”

Questions also remain over Hinton’s approval of a payment to Goodman made after the News of the World’s royal editor had been jailed in January 2007.

Again to put this very clearly, the guy who now runs Dow Jones, and thus The Wall Street Journal, said Goodman was the only one responsible for the hacking and testified about how thorough the investigation was. Both of those were at a minimum misleading. But he also approved a large payoff to Goodman after he went to jail. It doesn’t take a Murdoch to see what the point of that one was.

It’s worth revisiting this, from a House of Commons report on the scandal:

The News of the World and its parent companies did not initially volunteer the existence of pay-offs to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, and their evidence has been contradictory. We do not know the amounts, or terms, but we are left with a strong impression that silence has been bought.

450. The newspaper’s approach in this instance also differed markedly, we note, from that adopted towards sports reporter Matt Driscoll, to whom a tribunal awarded nearly ¬£800,000 - possibly the biggest amount in the industry to date - in November 2009 for unfair dismissal after persistent bullying by then editor Andy Coulson. The newspaper strongly resisted that particular claim.

The Journal, meantime, after stuffing the scandal back inside the paper yesterday, puts the news that News will close the News above the fold on A1 today.

The Guardian does a great job of translating James Murdoch’s statement regarding the closure of the News of the World and using online annotation tools do it:

Here’s Murdoch Jr.: “The paper made statements to Parliament without being in full possession of the facts.”

The Guardian: “Phrasing which makes Alan Clark’s “economical with les actualit√©s” look straightforward. Murdoch is certainly not discouraging the question: ‘Did NI lie to Parliament?’”

The funniest part:

Murdoch Jr.: “Having consulted senior colleagues…”

The Guardian: “Doesn’t this mean, ‘Dad says … ‘?”

— Reuters has a good report on how and why UK tabloid culture differs from ours, as well as those in other major countries in Europe.

In Britain, the short answer is that the tabloids push harder because they can. Or rather, in a ferociously competitive environment, they must — because if they don’t do it, somebody else will.

Nick Davies, an investigative reporter for the Guardian and author of “Flat Earth News”, a book exposing Fleet Street excesses, has been a principal investigator of British tabloid scandals. Davies describes a “regime of fear” in British tabloid newsrooms in which journalists are terrified of getting fired unless they constantly produce exclusives. In that environment, ethics are often cast aside…

The United States has its share of tabloids full of punning headlines and lurid tales. But in general their journalists say they don’t go as far as their British counterparts.

One of the big differences between the two countries, according to Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington D.C., boils down to economics. In the United States, newspapers generate about 75 to 80 percent of their revenue from advertisers while newspapers in the United Kingdom depend more on newsstand sales.

While British papers need to shout, “there is a tradition of the American press that is more serious,” says Rosenstiel. “That tradition has been encouraged by advertisers.” They are paying for space that is “credible and respectable.”

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,