News Corp.: Barometer Rising

"Some of the activity clearly was illegal."

Ryan Chittum already said Nick Davies and the Guardian have pulled off one of the greatest newspaper investigations of all time.

Well, it just got better. Here we see the virtuous cycle of news investigations—one good tip leads to another—kicking into high gear. What I love about this series is that after spending the better part of two years virtually alone on this story, the Guardian’s advance has been swarming, lightning fast, and remorseless.

It’s deploying all its resources. I mean, live-blogging a scandal? That’s brilliant.

And of course, the forthright editorial:

Murdoch’s malign influence must die with the News of the World

An Audit suggestion: Think editorial cartoons.

Now comes news that Gordon Brown was targeted, not by the gone-but-not-forgotten News of the World, but by Murdoch’s Times of London and other News International properties. The Guardian reports that a newly energized Scotland Yard has found references to both Brown and his wife, Sarah, in paperwork seized from Glenn Mulcaire, private eye on NotW’s payroll who, along with a NotW reporter, Clive Goodman, took the fall for the News Corp. paper back in 2006.

And here’s a bill of particulars:

• Abbey National bank found evidence suggesting that a “blagger” acting for the Sunday Times on six occasions posed as Brown and gained details from his account;

• London lawyers, Allen & Overy, were tricked into handing over details from his file by a conman working for the Sunday Times;

• Details from his infant son’s medical records were obtained by the Sun, who published a story about the child’s serious illness.

The Guardian just up and says it:

Some of the activity clearly was illegal.

And the sheer scale of it…well, here:

The sheer scale of the data assault on Brown is unusual, with evidence of attempts to obtain his legal, financial, tax, medical and police records as well as to listen to his voicemail. All of these incidents are linked to media organisations. In many cases, there is evidence of a link to News International.

And, oh man, it turns out police knew this back in 2006, when Brown was chancellor of the exchequer, and didn’t tell him. In fact, Brown specifically asked whether there was evidence he had been targeted by a private eye and “was told there was none.”

And this is just comical:

An internal inquiry by Abbey National’s fraud department found that during January 2000 someone acting on behalf of the Sunday Times contacted their Bradford call centre six times, posing as Brown, and succeeded in extracting details from his account.

Can we get tapes of this?

On the medical information, the Guardian’s findings aren’t quite as sensational as might first appear. It turns out Rebekah Brooks, the embattled News International chief then editing the Sun, called the Browns in 2006 to tell them the paper had learned their four-month-old son had cystic fibrosis. Five years earlier, the Guardian says, unnamed “news organisations” learned that their first child had a brain haemorrhage the weekend before she died. As ghastly as that is—would that happen here?—the Guardian doesn’t say how the information was obtained, which is the issue now.

We’re nearing an inflection point on this story. It could go either way. Everything could go back to the way it was, or our current media landscape could change drastically. As Will Self says, media tectonic plates are shifting. The Guardian and Davies have already pulled off the unthinkable: one newspaper slaying another.

The next step? On this story, you have to think big.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman. Tags: , ,