The Hack that Broke the Camel’s Back

The scandal surrounding News Corp’s British tabloid News of the World and their practice of hacking into peoples’ voicemail accounts for scoops has escalated. Initial news of the paper’s hacking habits was mostly met with silence by the British press, as detailed in Archie Bland’s story, “Anybody There?,” in the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. But in the wake of allegations that the tabloid accessed and deleted voicemails of thirteen-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, the rest of the British media has started to make some noise.

As of today, the Dowler debacle is the top story for the major British news outlets, including Sky News and The Times, both subsidiaries of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The most recent headlines concern a public statement from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was previously convicted in 2007 for phone hacking for News of the World. He issued a public apology via the Guardian, saying he was under constant pressure by the News of the World for information. His statement mentions nothing specific about the Dowler case, which the story on the Guardian’s site points out. This detail was never explicitly expressed in the online story on Sky News.

Twitter is awash in public outcry, with some calling for a boycott of the paper and others even asking people not to patronize newsstands that sell the tabloid. Already a number of companies have stated publicly that they are reviewing their advertising contracts with News of the World. Ford UK announced earlier today it would pull all of its advertising.

Rebekah Brooks, the News of the World editor at the time of the Dowler murder story in 2002, and now a chief executive for News International, has denied any knowledge of reporters hacking into voicemails. Amidst calls for her resignation she has stated she will not leave her job. In an e-mail to the paper’s staff this morning, she wrote, “I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.” But what many are saying is inconceivable is how, as the editor, she did not know.

There will be an emergency Commons debate on Wednesday about phone hacking by News International journalists and a possible cover up by senior executives.

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Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.