They almost pulled it off. Scotland Yard had policemen on the take, it feared damaging its symbiotic relationship with News International, and the guy who headed its pathetic “investigation” left and went straight onto Murdoch’s payroll as a Times columnist. News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who Murdoch’s folks now say authorized police bribes, landed in 10 Downing Street as Conservative David Cameron’s top flack, something like Obama coming into office with Jayson Blair—a joke, but it happened. A News International journalist, meantime, became top flack for Labour’s Ed Miliband, the opposition leader, and ordered Labour MPs to go easy on Murdoch and News International. Oborne on that:

But until this week, Ed Miliband had made the pragmatic decision to ignore the phone-hacking story — explaining privately to confidants that he had no choice because the alternative would be ‘three years of hell’ at the hands of the Murdoch press.

Murdoch’s people undertook to destroy or hide evidence and have executives stonewall inquiries. It paid large sums of money to its scapegoats, the former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, after they went to prison—presumably to buy their silence. It has misled the press, Parliament, the press’s self-regulatory body, and the public many, many times. By owning The Wall Street Journal, he has prevented it from bringing its still-flickering investigative might to bear on this scandal (while diluting that might more generally). This is no small thing. Go back and read some of the paper’s many excellent page one Murdoch stories before he took it over.

Their miscalculation lay in underestimating The Guardian and Nick Davies, who have pulled off one of the greatest newspaper investigations of all time. Full stop. This one will go up there in the pantheon with Watergate. And while it’s still unfolding, now, finally, they’ll have a little help.

This scandal has shown how important newspapers are (in ways both good and bad), but it’s worth noting in conclusion here that The Guardian is being hammered by the collapse of the newspaper industry. It loses tens of millions of dollars a year. In a few years it will almost certainly not have the institutional muscle that enabled it to face down News Corporation and its collaborators.

Then what?

Further Reading:

News of the World and U.S. Media Culture
. I don’t think it would happen here, but…

News Corp. and Murdoch Swamped By Hacking Scandal News. Revelations come fast and furious in the twenty-four hours after a Guardian bombshell.

Why News Corp. Can’t Cover the U.S. Business Story. It is the story.

Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal Gets Much Worse. The Guardian shows News Corporation at an all-time low (and that’s saying something)

Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal. Two stories cover the political, police, and press angles on the News Corp. coverup

The News Corp. Coverup. Memory-impaired execs, payments to key figures, and Keystone Kops

Anybody There? Why the UK’s phone-hacking scandal met media silence

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

Journalism Scandal at News Corp. A peek into Murdoch’s news culture.

Audit Notes: News Corporation Hacking Scandal Edition

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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.