The Murdoch hacking scandal has metastasized twenty-four hours after The Guardian’s bombshell that News Corporation’s News of the World tabloid had hacked into a missing 13 year old girl’s voicemail, deleted messages, interfering with the police investigation, while giving Milly Dowler’s parents false hope that she was still alive.
The drip drip drip of increasingly damning news has become a gusher, which may be part of a new News Corp. strategy to stop the Chinese water torture. Its executives are telling BBC Business Editor Robert Peston that “there may have been worse examples of NOTW hacking than that of Milly Dowler’s phone.” And they’re handing over damning documents to police now, rather than stuffing “reams of documents into trash bags… and haul(ing) them away.”
Here’s a roundup of the latest news. There’s so much I’m pretty sure I won’t catch it all:
— My former Wall Street Journal colleague Sarah Ellison, author of an excellent book on Murdoch’s takeover of our old paper, reports for Vanity Fair that former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who would go on to become Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s top flack for a while, approved bribes to Scotland Yard police. It’s documented in emails that News International, a division of News Corporation, just turned over to police.
— The Guardian, which has dug this scandal up virtually alone, reports that “Detectives to examine every case involving attacks on children since 2001 in response to Milly Dowler phone hacking.”
— The Independent reports that soon-to-be-fired News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, who was News of the World editor at the time of the Milly Dowler murder and phone hacking, personally asked the private investigator who hacked and deleted Dowler’s voicemails for cellphone numbers on other stories, and those may have been obtained illegally.
— The Telegraph reports that “Bereaved relatives of the July 7 bombings had their phones hacked by journalists at the News of the World, police believe.” Imagine an American newspaper hacking into the voicemail of 9/11 widows in the days and weeks after those attacks.
— Channel 4 airs a somewhat sketchily sourced package reporting that in 2002 News of the World put a tail on a Scotland Yard detective who was reopening a murder investigation that had implicated Jonathan Rees, one of the private investigators the paper paid to hack phones:
This is a story about a claim that Brooks was confronted by the police over allegations of her journalists targetting a murder detective. An astonishing story which at one point, we’ve been told, had the police secretly watching the News of the World watching the police.
— Another famous British case, the so-called Soham murders of two girls, is being looked at by police, The Guardian reports. “There was evidence to suggest they were targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who was formerly employed by the paper.”
— The BBC reports that calls for a public inquiry into the hacking scandal are growing louder in the wake of the Milly Dowler revelations, and the House of Commons will take up debate over whether to open one tomorrow.
It’s long been clear to those paying attention (and it hasn’t seemed very crowded until now) that News Corporation has done its best to cover up this story, as have police investigators, politicians, and the rest of the press.
That’s failed, and we’re now to at the “what did they know and when did they know it” phase of this scandal. Murdoch’s people are finally starting to cooperate with official inquiries, though this is surely not out of genuine concern about finding the truth and fixing things, but part of a PR strategy to stop those drips mentioned above.
Beyond whether Brooks and Coulson knew of the illegal activities—and they surely did—they created and fostered the culture that led to them, as did the executives above them, from Les Hinton on up. Here’s Glenn Mulcaire, one of the private investigators the paper employed to hack into phones:
“Working for the News of the World was never easy. There was relentless pressure. There was a constant demand for results. I knew what we did pushed the limits ethically. But, at the time, I didn’t understand that I had broken the law at all.”
And former NotW journalist Paul McMullan, who says Brooks directly knew about the hacking, said this:
McMullan also spokes of the pressure NoW journalists were under — a reference to a statement made earlier by Mulcaire in which he said their was a “constant demand for results”.
He said: “You’re only as good as your next story, they used to do a byline count at the end of the year and if you didn’t have enough it was goodbye.”
This was a corporate culture gone mad. When these things happen it’s not because a couple of folks at the bottom happen to go off the rails together. It almost always comes from the top. A good amount of the responsibility for the crime, but especially the coverup, has to fall on Murdoch.
In just one week, the UK will decide whether to give Rupert Murdoch an even tighter stranglehold on its media by allowing him to purchase a majority stake in the dominant satellite TV provider BSkyB.
If Murdoch can increase his power even after a disastrous week like this when the hacking scandal suddenly went viral, there’s going to be no stopping the man.
— Further Reading:
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.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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: Corruption, Murdoch Hacking Scandal, News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, The Guardian