You know, it’s a serious problem when you can’t trust a word said by one of the very biggest owner of news organizations in the world—indeed, when evidence shows that you have to assume that it’s misleading you, as MP Tom Watson now says.
The latest bombshells in the Murdoch hacking scandal landed today, lobbed by defectors from the company’s own side, and they’re very bad for News Corporation, its executives, and for its crisis-PR managers.
We learned today Clive Goodman, the original scapegoat for the News of the World’s crimes, wrote a letter to News International in 2007 claiming he was wrongfully fired. Here’s what he wrote:
This practice (hacking) was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor.
My conviction and imprisonment cannot be the real reason for my dismissal. The legal manager, Tom Crone, attended virtually every meeting of my legal team and was given full access to the Crown Prosecution Service’s evidence files. He, and other senior staff of the paper, had long advance knowledge that I would plead guilty. Despite this, the paper continued to employ me. Throughout my suspension, I was given book serialisations to write and was consulted on several occasions about royal stories they needed to check. The paper continued to employ me for a substantial part of my custodial sentence.
That’s bad enough, but it gets much worse here:
Tom Crone and the Editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me.
Les Hinton, future and now-former CEO of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, was copied in on the 2007 letter, which hadn’t been turned over to the parliamentary committee until now.
News Corp. submitted it, redacting all the key information in the three paragraphs I just quoted. Unfortunately for News Corp., the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, whom it tried to enlist in its cover-up (and half-succeeded), had the same document and submitted it to the committee with all that information unredacted. The redactions suggest that the cover-up is hardly over at the company, which has made a big show lately of coming clean. (ProPublica’s sweet interactive shows how the letters from News and Harbottle differ).
Harbottle also says that both James and Rupert Murdoch misled Parliament when they testified last month. That was clear at the time, but it’s quite another thing to have your own attorneys say it in writing. The Guardian’s Nick Davies:
In a lengthy criticism of the Murdochs’ evidence to the select committee last month, Harbottle & Lewis says it finds it “hard to credit” James Murdoch’s repeated claim that News International “rested on” its letter as part of their grounds for believing that Goodman was a “rogue reporter”. It says News International’s view of the law firm’s role is “self-serving” and that Rupert Murdoch’s claim that it was hired “to find out what the hell was going on” was “inaccurate and misleading”, although it adds that he may have been confused or misinformed about its role…
Harbottle & Lewis writes: “There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes The firm was not being asked to provide some sort of ‘good conduct certificate’ which News International could show to parliament Nor was it being given a general retainer, as Mr Rupert Murdoch asserted it was, ‘to find out what the hell was going on’.”
But that’s not all of the News Corp. falsehoods exposed today. The company has said that it paid Goodman £60,000. The real number, it turns out, is more than four times as much: £244,000. All of this hush money was paid to a convicted criminal after he pleaded guilty.
It’s worth emphasizing that all of these funds were paid to Goodman between April 2007 and December 2007. Goodman’s damning letter to Les Hinton et al was sent on March 2, 2007—one month before the payments began. Here’s a quote from that letter: “Tom Crone and the Editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea.”