Audit Notes: Another Davies Hacking Scoop, Greece, The Debt Ceiling

Nick Davies lands another big scoop on the Murdoch hacking scandal, reporting that police investigators believe the News of the World gave a phone to the mother of a murder victim and then hacked it or at least tried to hack it.

This was no run-of-the-mill murder case, either. Davies reports that then-editor Rebekah Brooks gave the phone to Sarah Payne, whose daughter Sara had been murdered by a child molestor Brooks and NotW turned into a campaign that resulted in what’s known in the UK as Sarah’s Law—roughly equivalent to Megan’s Law here.

Police had earlier told her correctly that her name was not among those recorded in Mulcaire’s notes, but on Tuesday officers from Operation Weeting told her they had found her personal details among the investigator’s notes. These had previously been thought to refer to a different target.

Friends of Payne have told the Guardian that she is “absolutely devastated and deeply disappointed” at the disclosure. Her cause had been championed by the News of the World, and in particular by its former editor, Rebekah Brooks. Believing that she had not been a target for hacking, Payne wrote a farewell column for the paper’s final edition on 10 July, referring to its staff as “my good and trusted friends”.

The evidence that police have found in Mulcaire’s notes is believed to relate to a phone given to Payne by Brooks to help her stay in touch with her supporters.

Recall that Rebekah Brooks told the NotW newsroom upon shuttering the paper that they would soon know why the decision had been made and that “a very dark day for this company” was coming. I’m going to guess this wasn’t what she had in mind since Brooks namedropped Sarah’s Law several times in her testimony last week.

In other news, the board of Murdoch-controlled BSkyB announced that it unanimously backs James Murdoch to continue as chairman.

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating page-one story Tuesday on the relationship between the two most powerful politicians in Greece: Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou and opposition leader Antonis Samaras. The two were roommates at Amherst back in the 1970s, of all things. The top:

As protesters battled police outside parliament last month in a hail of rocks and tear gas, Greece’s beleaguered prime minister put his hopes in a secret phone call to an old friend.

“Let us form a government of national salvation,” George Papandreou, the Socialist prime minister, said to his chief rival, Antonis Samaras, head of Greece’s conservative opposition and a buddy since the two men were roommates at Amherst College in Massachusetts 40 years ago.

The details of their secret mid-June talks reveal the degree to which two friends—each with far different prescriptions for economic salvation—hold the fate of Greece in their hands as the nation tries to get its nearly $500 billion in government debt under control.

Their success or failure weighs on the potential survival of Europe’s shared currency, the euro, the crowning achievement of 60 years of European unification.

Great story from Marcus Walker.

I criticized press coverage of the debt ceiling fiasco the other day for being too he said-she said. Time’s Michael Grunwald is on that with a paragraph laying out key things everyone should know:

If the debt-limit debate had anything to do with reality, every story about it would include a few basic facts. Starting with: President Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion budget deficit. And: Republican leaders supported the tax cuts and wars that (along with the recession, another pre-Obama phenomenon) created that deficit. Also: Republicans engineered this crisis by attaching unprecedented ideological demands to a routine measure allowing the U.S. to pay its bills. Finally, Obama and the Democrats keep meeting those demands—for spending cuts, then for more spending cuts, and even for nothing but spending cuts—but Republicans keep holding out for more.

These are verifiable facts, not opinions. But since they aren’t new facts, and re-reporting them would make “GOP claims” about the crisis look, um, non-factual, they’re rarely mentioned, except as “Democratic claims.”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows lays out “Five Reasons the House GOP Is to Blame” for the debt-ceiling crisis, and gets some press criticism in as well:

The debt-ceiling showdown represents hostage-taking, plain and simple. This is a “crisis” that need never have happened, regardless of which party controlled the White House.

You wouldn’t know it from most news coverage, but there is no logical or legislative connection between the House Republicans’ stated object of concern, the future budgetary path toward national solvency, and the bonds and notes the Treasury must keep issuing for programs this and previous Congresses have already voted into law. (Ie, additional debt.) It is a quirk of legislative history, not a principle of sound budgeting, that we calculate a “debt ceiling” at all, those debts being a predictable consequence of the programs Congress enacts. That’s why increases in the ceiling in the past have been routine measures, or occasions for minor grandstanding. These minor episodes include then-Senator Obama’s vote against an increase in 2006. That one passed, as of course did six other increases under George W. Bush (along with the 17 under Ronald Reagan).

And he posts two charts that show how much of the debt is due to the Bush tax cuts (emphasis mine):

It fails the test of basic logic. Or perhaps basic knowledge part #2. If you look at the numbers, like the chart after the jump, you can see that budget-balancing involves a theshold choice. You can be for preserving tax cuts in toto, or you can be for cutting the deficit. But because the tax cuts have played such a major role in creating the deficit, if you have any regard for math or logic you really can’t be for both. But most House Republicans are.

Finally, I got some heat at an Andrew Breitbart site for writing this in the previously mentioned post:

If you’re not reporting that the Republicans are ultimately to blame for the crisis here, then you’re not reporting the truth. The Democrats would vote to up the debt ceiling—which pays for bills we’ve already accrued (mostly under Republican presidents)—in a straight-up vote.

Their response:

I’m guessing that Ryan Chittum either can’t use Google (or any search engine) or he is lying. Why do I say that? Because I remember a straight-up vote being taken in the House earlier this year. It took me about 10 seconds to type in “clean debt ceiling vote” and find numerous articles about a vote taken on May 31, 2011. This year. Here’s one of the hits. (via

“From the beginning, the Obama White House wanted a “clean” hike to the debt ceiling… in other words, an increase not tied to any substantial spending reforms or cuts.

That dream just died.

In a largely symbolic vote, the clean hike failed 318-97”

Yeah, see, the problem with that is that even back then—two months ago—all ninety-seven of the “yea” votes were Democrats. Eighty-two voted against it. And that 97-82 result was with their whip telling them to vote against what was a transparently bogus Republican stunt with no hope of passing. Plus, 114 had signed up for a Dem-sponsored straight-up vote.

In other words, like I said, Democrats would vote to up the debt ceiling in a straight-up vote.

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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: , , , ,