Rupert Murdoch knew about his papers’ bribes culture

An explosive secret tape from CEO's crisis chat with arrested Sun journalists

At long last we now have indisputable evidence that Rupert Murdoch knew about the culture of criminality at his newspapers: Murdoch himself telling his Sun journalists that he knew about it.

In a blockbuster report, the UK site ExaroNews obtained a secret recording of Murdoch’s visit to his beleaguered paper at the height of the police investigation into wrongdoing there (UPDATE: Private Eye printed excerpts from the tape weeks ago, but they unfortunately got little attention). It’s fair to say Murdoch is going to have some major headaches from this one.

RM: We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it….

I remember when I first bought the News of the World, the first day I went to the office… and there was a big wall-safe… And I said, “What’s that for?”

And they said, “We keep some cash in there.”

And I said, “What for?”

They said, “Well, sometimes the editor needs some on a Saturday night for powerful friends. And sometimes the chairman [the late Sir William Carr] is doing badly at the tables, (laughter) and he helps himself…”

This outs Murdoch lying that he didn’t know about his newspapers bribing public officials for news until an internal investigation in the wake of the Milly Dowling Dowler scandal uncovered it. That’s not shocking. What’s truly stunning is that he would say it to a room full of journalists—each of whom has recording equipment at the ready.

I don’t think the “everybody did it” defense is going to work here.

There’s much more in the transcripts, including Murdoch trashing Scotland Yard and scoffing at the significance of the crimes.

But on the corruption angle, there’s this, in response to a question about whether Sun staffers convicted and jailed will still have News Corporation “support” (emphasis mine):

“I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted and get six months or whatever,” he says.

“You’re all innocent until proven guilty. What you’re asking is: what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I’m not allowed to promise you - I will promise you continued health support - but your jobs. I’ve got to be careful what comes out - but frankly, I won’t say it, but just trust me.”

This wink-wink stuff has been standard operating procedure for News Corporation throughout its crisis. It paid off Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman after their convictions and kept paying for their defense, leaving Parliament “with a strong impression that silence has been bought.” It paid off hacking victims Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford in a bid to prevent the scandal from breaking. It gave the Scotland Yard lead investigator who scotched the early probe a plum job as a Times columnist.

In a separate scandal, when a whistleblower exposed serious wrongdoing at News America that would eventually cost the company more than half a billion dollars in settlements, News Corp. bankrupted him with lawsuits and made the CEO of News America, Paul Carlucci, the publisher of the New York Post.

News Corp. was (and, surely, is) corrupt. And we know for sure now that it goes all the way to the top.

Further reading:

Rupert Murdoch and the Corporate Culture of News Corp. Its abysmal corporate governance is symptomatic of a deeper disregard for the rules.

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

News Corp. Buries a Whistleblower. A case study in Rupert Murdoch’s corporate culture.

Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope. Murdoch’s scandals show why paying for news is a bad idea.

Cops in the Newsroom. The News Corp. fiasco imperils press protections in the UK.

For The Sun, Karma Is No Fun.

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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: , , , ,