For The Sun, Karma Is No Fun

Rupert Murdoch’s Sun is in big trouble.

Reuters reports today that Scotland Yard is investigating “serious suspected criminality over a sustained period” involving corrupt payments to public officials totaling in the tens of thousands of pounds. The officials, “some of whom were effectively on retainers to provide information,” include police and at least one person in the Defense Ministry.

Police arrested five senior Sun journalists this weekend and their colleagues have been pushing back hard in the press ever since—outraged that the sort of tactics they’ve cheered on when applied to others are now being applied to them.

What has so incensed News Corp. reporters in the UK—both current and former—is that the company is handing incriminating evidence over to the police these days, rather than covering it up like it did for years. This is, needless to say, an untenable position for a newsroom.

Intriguingly, there appears to be a split inside News Corp. that shows how Murdoch’s grip on the company has loosened, with focus on the firm’s Management Standards Committee, which has alarmed News Corp.’s UK journalists by saying it wants to “drain the swamp” at News International. What’s going on inside that Management Standards Committee and in its interactions with Rupert Murdoch, is one of the most interesting questions in media right now.

While the American-led MSC is showing a newfound spirit of cooperation with investigators, the UK arm of News Corp. is hitting back at the police investigation, politely in some cases, aggressively in others.

Here’s The Wall Street Journal on Saturday reporting that News International CEO Tom Mockridge, a longtime Murdoch lieutenant, was pushing back:

In a sign that News Corp. may view the arrests as excessive, Mr. Mockridge added that he had “today written to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to seek clarification from them about the process of independent oversight of the police investigation.”

On Monday, The Sun ran a tirade by its associate editor Trevor Kavanagh with the headline “Witch-hunt has put us behind ex-Soviet states on Press freedom,” leading the Associated Press asked two days ago whether The Sun was in “open revolt.” Most notable (its multiple fact errors aside), was that a good chunk of the column, including its lede, was a clear shot across the bow of the News Corp. committee (and perhaps Murdoch’s):

It is also important our parent company, News Corp, protects its reputation in the United States and the interests of its shareholders. But some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held, at least on the basis of evidence so far revealed, for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company.

Kavanagh was incensed—incensed!—that the police raided his colleagues’ houses at six to eight in the morning, disturbing their respectable middle-class “wives and children” and all that.

Roy Greenslade makes a good point on that:

At the risk of raising blood pressures among Sun journalists, I think white, white-collar, middle-class people are largely unaware of the realities of police raids. Dare the police treat hacks any differently from the way they treat the usual suspects?

To get a fuller taste of The Sun’s hypocrisy, read this thoroughly enjoyable and downright withering Independent column by Matthew Norman, which leads with this sentence: “I must say, I’m looking forward to the 2012 Sun Police Bravery Awards even more than usual” and reminisces about Kavanagh’s past effusion for the cops’ crackdown on Wapping strikers.

Until recently as slavish a fuzz fan as Dominic (Mohan, The Sun’s editor), Trevor had an epiphany on Saturday when officers woke five colleagues, searched their homes, and invited them down the nick to help with their enquiries into the bribing of public officials such as their exceptional selves. Or, as Trevor put it in his columnar cri de coeur, “needlessly dragged [them] from their beds in dawn raids”.

If it did sound absurdly melodramatic, so did the 2007 dawn raid on Harry Redknapp, when a Sun team was on hand to record his arrest in words and photos. If Trevor kept his disgust to himself then, doesn’t that make his courage in speaking out now all the more impressive?

What goes around has come around.

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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: , , , ,