While it’s too early to draw conclusions, anyone interested in what goes on at the owner the nation’s leading financial daily should understand precisely what is and isn’t known about the reporting scandal now roiling The Wall Street Journal’s parent, News Corp.
As The Audit’s Ryan Chittum pointed out, The Guardian broke a massive scoop that two News Corp.-owned tabloids paid $1.6 million to end civil suits that had gathered evidence that News Corp. journalists used private investigators to hack into the mobile phone records of celebrities and public figures.
The case is a peek into a news culture overseen by Rupert Murdoch and Les Hinton, who runs the News Corp. unit that publishes the Journal, that is unnerving, to say the least.
The affair dates to the summer of 2006 when Clive Goodman, who covered the royals for News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, was arrested for hacking into the phone records of three royal family staffers. He was imprisoned in January 2007. A private investigator working for News Corp., Glenn Mulcaire, was also convicted in the case and admitted to hacking into the records of five other targets, including the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor.
Taylor, among others, sued.
The arrest triggered investigations by London’s Metropolitan police as well as the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent body within the Justice Ministry responsible, among other things, for protecting personal information. In 2008, the court ordered the information commissioner and the police to turn over documents related to their investigations. That’s when News Corp. settled and persuaded the court to seal the documents—which remained secret until the Guardian story.
At the time of the Goodman case, Hinton was chairman of News Corp.’s News International unit, which run the company’s U.K. newspaper operations and is the center of the current storm.
News Corp. executives at the time said Goodman acted alone, as Hinton did in this March 2007 testimony before the House of Commons culture committee.
Nonetheless, Hinton accepted the resignation of the Andy Coulson, then News of the World editor, who later reemerged as Conservative Leader David Cameron’s communications chief. Coulson also said he knew nothing of the hacking.
Hinton at the time also sat on something called the Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulatory body that investigates complaints from members of the public about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines and the news-gathering practices of reporters.
By resigning, Coulson didn’t have to testify before the commission.
The Guardian also reports in a separate profile of Hinton that he persuaded the commission not to impose further sanctions after Goodman was jailed. The story doesn’t attribute the assertion and isn’t clear whether it means to imply that Hinton persuaded the commission to let up on Goodman or to drop further probes altogether.
The heart of the latest Guardian revelations is that the use of illegally obtained information at News of the World and its sister paper, the Sun, was rampant. The Guardian quotes a “senior source” at the Metropolitan police that “officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into ‘thousands’ of mobile phones. Another source with direct knowledge of the police findings put the figure at ‘two or three thousand’ mobiles.”
The paper also reports, a bit cryptically, that a News of the World “executive” had also been involved:
The Scotland Yard files included paperwork which revealed that, contrary to News Group’s denial, Mulcaire had provided a recording of the messages on Taylor’s phone to a News of the World journalist who had transcribed them and emailed them to a senior reporter, and that a News of the World executive had offered Mulcaire a substantial bonus for a story specifically related to the intercepted messages.
So far, this much we know:
1. The information commission has now confirmed that it gave material to the court in the Taylor case “that showed that 31 journalists working for the News of the World and the Sun had acquired people’s personal information through blagging,” or illegal means.