One of Murdoch’s UK papers is in trouble over hacking private cell phones, including one belonging to a murder victim—and some familiar U.S. faces may be part of the coverup.
By **Adele M. Stan**
By arrangement with AlterNet.org.
UPDATE: Since this story first published, Rupert Murdoch’s News International announced that it will close the doors on its scandal-plagued paper, News of the World, publishing its final issue on Sunday, July 10. The announcement was made by James Murdoch, Rupert’s son and deputy chief operating officer of parent company News Corporation, and chairman of the U.K.-based News International.The Guardian, whose dogged reporting blew the lid off the scandal, has the full text of James Murdoch’s statement. This updated version of the story includes new information, as well, in the body of the piece.
A scandal involving phone-hacking by a right-wing newspaper tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is threatening the administration of British Prime Minister David Cameron. So deep, apparently, does the scandal run in the culture of the News of the World—a 168-year-old publication with the largest English-language readership in the world, according to its publisher—that News Corporation executives announced their intention to shutter the paper for good on Sunday, July 10. Now the scandal is boomeranging back to New York, engulfing the top executive at the largest-circulation newspaper in the United States, the Wall Street Journal.
To clean up some of the mess, Murdoch has called upon the talents of former Bush administration Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, whose views on privacy are enshrined in the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, and Joel Klein, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s union-bashing former schools chief, known for his phony claims of test-score gains.
The Crown Jewel and the Screaming Slime
Every corporate mogul likes to crown his empire with a jewel, and Rupert Murdoch is no exception. Having made a fortune acquiring screaming tabloids and making them scream louder, and acquiring a media company, Fox, now known for its ideological rabble-rousing, Murdoch wanted to buy his News Corp a little respectability. And so, in 2007, he purchased Dow Jones and its Wall Street Journal, the pinstriped, grey-at-the temples, oxford-shod media presence of the global financial sector.
As CEO of the Dow Jones Company, of which WSJ is a part, Murdoch installed Les Hinton, who had previously run News Corp’s British newspaper empire, known as News International. Now it appears that Hinton may have won his prize spot for his part in an apparent coverup of a multi-year phone-hacking operation that likely involved an editor who went on to serve as the prime minister’s spokesperson, and another who would go on to run all of Murdoch’s UK papers.
While the good-journalism watchdogs and groups are paying keen attention to the more sensational aspects of this latest Murdoch scandal, only scant attention (Media Matters being the exception) is being dealt to the Journal’s abysmal editorial standards regarding full disclosure and political involvement.
Today, in Britain, Murdoch’s tabloid empire is facing the ire of the public, a Scotland Yard investigation and the yanking of the curtain on its political alliances, thanks to a long-running scandal involving the hacking of voice-mail accounts by agents of its reporters and editors—a scandal given new life when the Guardian, a liberal rival to Murdoch’s right-wing outlets, revealed a cruel hoax played by News of the World on the parents of a murdered teenager. Eager to break news on the disappearance of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, editors at NOTW hired a private investigator to hack the girl’s cell phone. They deleted some messages, giving Milly’s family false hope that she was still alive and receiving her messages. Then the paper reported on the family’s renewed hopes, based on the evidence created by NOTW.
This latest revelation comes on the heels of news that the paper hacked the voice-mail accounts of actors Sienna Miller and Jude Law, as well as staff members on the royal payroll (including Prince William’s communications chief). The scandal has been unfolding for years, a genie reemerging from its bottle with renewed vigor. (Reuters has an excellent timeline here.)
Hoaxing a Dead Girl’s Parents
The revelation that prompted today’s furor—the 2002 hacking of Milly Dowler’s cell-phone—is just the first in a spate of allegations over the last 24 hours implicating News of the World in similar operations on the voice-mail accounts of victims of the terrorist bombings of the London subway system in 2005 and possibly the cell-phone accounts of other murdered children. There are also credible allegations that the tabloid was paying law enforcement sources for newsworthy information.
This all comes as the British Parliament is about to give the go-ahead for News Corporation to purchase outright BSkyB, the nation’s dominant satellite TV service, in which it already holds a majority stake. Now the deal may be off.
But here in the U.S., an unseemly tale is unfolding about the steady unraveling of ethics at the Wall Street Journal since Murdoch’s purchase of the paper and the appointment of Les Hinton as its CEO.
Coverup by Wall Street Journal Chief?
In January 2007, during an earlier blip of the News of the World hacking scandal, Hinton, then executive chairman of Murdoch’s News International operation, assured British lawmakers that he had conducted a thorough investigation of the scandal and determined that only Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter assigned to cover the royal family, was involved. The newspaper’s editor, Andy Coulson, had no knowledge of the systematic hacking of royal voice-mail accounts, Hinton said in testimony before the House of Commons culture committee. (Coulson went on to become communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron.)
But the Guardian reports that News of the World staffers claim that Coulson, who resigned his government post in January, knew all about the hacking operation. Rebekah Wade Brooks, who now has Hinton’s old job in the U.K., is also implicated.
UPDATE: The shuttering of News of the World appears to bring the scandal closer to Hinton, at least according to the rationale for the paper’s closure as explained by News Corp Deputy COO James Murdoch in his official statement:
“The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.”
“In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.”
“Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.”
“As a result, the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences.”
“This was not the only fault.”
“The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts.”[Emphasis added.]
The statements to which Murdoch refers are those made by Wall Street Journal chief Les Hinton, who, in his former position as executive chairman of News International, assured Parliament that he had made a thoroughgoing investigation of the problem.
Murdoch appears to be quite concerned about a U.S. angle on the scandal. As early as last month, according to the British paper, the Independent, Murdoch sent a team of U.S. attorneys “to investigate the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World.“
As is typical of the Wall Street Journal since Murdoch’s purchase, the paper did not disclose today the role its chief executive played in delivering misleading testimony before the British parliament, notes Media Matters’s Eric Boehlert. This is not surprising. AlterNet has previously reported on the paper’s apparent partnership with David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a relationship that is never disclosed in the Journal’s reporting on the political activities of Americans for Prosperity, despite the fact that one of its editorial board members, Stephen Moore, has accepted at least $150,000 in speaking fees from the AFP Foundation.
The Journal did, however, disclose that it has paid settlements to several celebrities whose phones were hacked by the News of the World, and that those settlements were part of the work of a management-standards committee “overseen by News Corp. board members Joel Klein and Viet Dinh,“ who are also “deal[ing] with police.“ Dinh, while an assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, “played a key role in drafting the administration’s U.S. Patriot Act,“ according to the Washington Post.
Where are the Watchdogs?
While the good-journalism watchdogs and groups are paying keen attention to the more sensational aspects of this latest Murdoch scandal, only scant attention (Media Matters being the exception) is being dealt to the Journal’s abysmal editorial standards regarding full disclosure and political involvement. The hacking of individual phones constitutes an horrific breach of individual privacy, and the News of the World’s reporting makes a travesty of the idea of journalism ethics.
Yet the double-dealing of the Wall Street Journal—its failure to disclose its executives’ involvement in either the British phone-hacking scandal or the American political group from which at least one receives compensation—corrupts the political culture of the United States. It’s almost like somebody’s afraid of Rupert Murdoch.
Copyright 2011 Adele M. Stan
This post originally appeared at AlterNet.org.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.