Could Murdoch's 'News Of the World' Hacking Scandal Happen in the US?
In America, we hold some truths to be self-evident: our news should report facts, and our personal communications should be private. Given the scandal rocking Britain over Rupert Murdoch's tabloid paper News of the World and his huge influence over US media, both of these notions could be in jeopardy.
James Murdoch announced today that amidst a growing furor, News of the World will cease publication on Sunday. Far from resolving the problem, this radical step raises the question of just how deep this scandal goes. The Murdoch-owned paper The Sun has faced similar allegations of phone hacking this year, and no investigation has yet been conducted to see if similar abuses occurred at Murdoch-owned papers here in the United States.
For years now, Murdoch's News of the World has been trying to tamp down the widening scandal involving its reporters who violated the privacy of celebrities, politicians and members of the royal family by hacking into their voicemails in search of juicy stories. The scandal finally boiled over this week, as the Guardian reported that they had sunk much lower: after 13-year-old Milly Dowler was abducted on her way home from school in 2002, News of the World hacked into her phone, listened to her voicemails and deleted several messages--apparently to free more space for Milly's friends and family to leave new messages the paper could listen in on. This led both the police and Milly's family to believe Milly was still alive and clearing her messages, which not only impeded the authorities' search for her abductor but also gave Milly's parents false hope that their daughter was still alive and would come home safely. Her remains were found six months later.
These revelations have rocked Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron called them "shocking." Labour party leader Ed Miliband has called for Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and now one of Murdoch's top lieutenants, to resign. MP Tom Watson is calling for the suspension of Murdoch's son and heir apparent James, who has been transferred out of the country to New York amid speculation that the scandal would only continue to grow.
This is anything but an isolated incident. News of the World spent years invading peoples' privacy: it was how they did business. The younger Murdoch personally approved an enormous settlement related to phone hacking, and alleged abuses are still being uncovered. The most recent of those include the families of the victims of the terrorist bombings of the London Underground, who have come forward to say their phone messages were hacked too. Despite charges that Brooks knew about the hacking, Murdoch has stated unequivocally that she will remain in leadership. Brooks says it is "inconceivable" that she knew of Milly Dowler's phone hacking, but it strains credibility that executives could be blind to the fact that the paper was invading people's privacy for years. At best, it's an inexcusable lack of oversight; at worst, it's a conspiracy to spy on private citizens to sell papers. Either way, it requires action and accountability from the top, and Murdoch's continued support of his long-time lieutenant is one more indication that he puts his personal and political agenda above good business and the common good.
Which brings us back to the United States, where Murdoch's News Corp. owns Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. When asked point-blank this spring whether his company was hacking people's phone messages here, Murdoch flatly refused to answer. US shareholders are suing News Corp. for nepotism over the purchase of Murdoch's daughter's company at a highly inflated price and her subsequent promotion to the News Corp. board.
One of the largest News Corp. holdings, Fox News, routinely peddles misinformation about climate change, uses racially charged rhetoric and openly promotes Republican positions and candidates, all while pretending to present "fair and balanced" news. Fox News's Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was even found pushing his staff to tie President Obama to socialism on air, even as he admitted the claim was "rather far-fetched." And advertisers wary of sponsoring dubious content have been fleeing Fox News here just as they are fleeing News of the World in Britain due to indecent, if not illegal, activity.
These are not the problems of a few bad apples but of a whole rotten barrel that threatens news standards and journalistic ethics. For a media icon like Murdoch, who looms large in American culture, scant attention has been paid to the financial and cultural implications of such mismanagement, or to the disregard for public interest from a major media conglomerate. If Murdoch wants to have a positive legacy in journalism, he needs to win back the trust of his millions of consumers who like their businesses clean, their privacy intact and their news to be factual. And if we in America care about the impact of corporate behavior on our lives and our political discourse, we had better start asking some questions. [The Nation, 7/7/11]
Rupert Murdoch's son James announced this morning that following the allegations that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid hacked the voicemails of a slain teen girl, potentially impeding a police investigation and giving the girl's family false hope that she was still alive, this Sunday will be the tabloid's last issue. From the 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.
Inside the Company, we set up a Management and Standards Committee that is working on these issues and that has hired Olswang to examine past failings and recommend systems and practices that over time should become standards for the industry. We have committed to publishing Olswang's terms of reference and eventual recommendations in a way that is open and transparent.
So, just as I acknowledge we have made mistakes, I hope you and everyone inside and outside the Company will acknowledge that we are doing our utmost to fix them, atone for them, and make sure they never happen again.
Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper.
This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.
Shutting down News of the World should not be an excuse to avoid a full scale investigation across all its media outlets. After all, News of the World is not the only paper facing hacking allegations; News Corp.'s The Sun is also alleged to have hacked into the voicemails of a prominent public figure.
And the rumors that News Corp. is moving The Sun to a seven-day operation provides further evidence that News Corp. is just trying to hide from full accountability of the misdeeds throughout their organization.
After all, while James Murdoch's statement touts News Corp.'s efforts to "examine past failings," he failed to mention that the head of News Corp.'s woefully inadequate previous internal investigation, Murdoch crony and then executive chairman of News Corp.'s newspapers in Britain Les Hinton -- who found no evidence of widespread wrongdoing within the company -- remains a Murdoch confident and serves as CEO of the Dow Jones company, which publishes the Wall Street Journal. Additionally when Murdoch was asked in May if he could assure Americans that there won't be any hacking by the New York Post, Murdoch responded that he had "nothing to say." Hardly the words of an organization eager to accept accountability.
Moreover, this just looks like another attempt for Murdoch to shield another crony, Rebekah Brooks from taking accountability for overseeing the paper at the time of the alleged hacking. Brooks was the editor of News of the World at the time of the alleged hacking of the slain girl's voicemail, but is now one of Murdoch's top lieutenants. Murdoch personally defended Brooks yesterday, and then his News International reportedly tried to laughably say that she was not at fault because she was on vacation at the time if the hacking. But Brooks had previously admitted that under her leadership the paper placed a police detective under surveillance, which she'd reportedly apologized for. Now she's claiming that she was completely ignorant of this subsequent violations of privacy on her watch, and Murdoch defended that behavior as good leadership.
It's good that News of the World will no longer be able to violate people's privacy, but Murdoch shouldn't be allowed to use this enormous distraction to hide from true accountability for his organization's actions.
From the July 7 edition of NBC's Today:
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From the July 6 edition of Current's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
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From the July 6 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
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From the July 6 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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From the July 6 edition of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown:
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In a statement issued today, the Press Complaints Commission of London unanimously condemned News Corp.'s News of the World over the phone-hacking scandal that has sparked outrage across the country.
The PCC, which is charged with reviewing complaints against the press, also renounced its 2009 report on phone hacking that had found News of the World had not misled the commission in an earlier 2007 review of the issue.
The statement is below:
Statement from the PCC on phone hacking following meeting today
At its regular meeting today, the Press Complaints Commission discussed the admissions of the News of the World of its involvement in the hacking of the telephone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002. There have been similar claims made in regard to other victims of crime and tragedy.
The Commission's members, both public and editorial, were unanimous in their condemnation.
The Commission was very clear that this conduct was unacceptable and self-evidently undermined assurances given to the PCC by News International in the past. It, therefore, recognises that it can no longer stand by its 2009 report on phone hacking and the assertions made in it.
At the beginning of this year, the PCC established a Phone Hacking Review Committee. It will continue to work actively, and will establish protocols across the industry to improve standards in the future.
The PCC readily accepts its responsibility, shared with others, to ensure that events of this sort should never happen again. To that end, it agreed that public members of the Commission will lead a review of all aspects of press regulation in its current form, which will be designed to ensure that public confidence is enhanced. The Commission will wish to review its own constitution and funding arrangements, the range of sanctions available to it, and its practical independence.
The Chairman of the PCC today said:
"We welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister of his proposed inquiries. The PCC is determined to identify necessary reforms that will guarantee public confidence in press regulation. Already, the PCC provides a free public service that helps thousands of people every year.
There is currently a major police investigation, which has the necessary powers of investigation and resources to identify the perpetrators of these criminal acts. However, the Commission is determined to play its part in bringing to a conclusion this shocking chapter, which has stained British journalism, and to ensure that good comes out of it."
As regard to the debate in Parliament today, the Chairman added:
"The status quo is clearly not an option, and we need to identify how the model of an independent PCC can be enhanced best to meet these challenges. Hence the action we have taken today".
An "influential website for parents" has canceled a contract with U.K. broadcaster Sky -- which Rupert Murdoch partially owns, and is seeking to fully acquire -- following allegations that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid hacked the voicemails of a slain teen girl, potentially impeding a police investigation and giving the girl's family false hope that she was still alive.
The Telegraph reported:
Mumsnet, the influential website for parents, announced that it had cancelled a contract with Sky, which is part of the Murdoch media empire. The group removed the broadcaster's advertisements from its website after an outcry from members of the discussion forum over the Milly Dowler allegations.
The contract was believed to have been worth about £30,000 to Mumsnet but Justine Roberts, co-founder of the group, said she did not think it was right to "take the Murdoch shilling" while investigations continued into phone hacking at the newspaper.
"Sky were running an ad campaign and our members have been very active in talking about the News of the World," she said. "I have rarely seen anything where they have been quite so unanimously appalled. We have taken the decision to remove that ad campaign from our website."
Brand Republic noted that Mumsnet's decision to cancel advertising promoting Sky's services "is the first example of contagion between News of the World and other Rupert Murdoch-controlled media organisations." The Guardian wrote that Mumsnet's actions are "one indication of the wider impact the phone hacking scandal is having on News International beyond the News of the World."
From the July 6 edition of Fox & Friends, during which Fox repeatedly aired images of Media Matters' website:
From the July 5 edition of Current's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
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A July 5 Financial Times editorial called on News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch to "immediately appoint an independent figure" to investigate allegations that his News of the World tabloid hacked and deleted voicemails of murder victim Milly Dowler, impeding a police investigation and giving her family false hope that she was still alive.
The Financial Times wrote:
Senior managers at the UK subsidiary should be held responsible for what happened on their watch. The idea - assiduously peddled for a long time by News Corp - that the hacking was the work of a "lone wolf" was never credible. Indeed as the allegations mount up, what is emerging is an industrial-scale operation where, in many cases, it was the first resort of journalists pursuing a story to engage the so-called "dark arts" of the private investigator and phone hacker. In these circumstances, the idea that bosses did not know what went on would be a poor excuse even if one accepted it.
Mr Murdoch must set aside personal loyalties and remove those executives with any involvement in the affair - whether through their role as editors or at a corporate level. That includes those responsible for handling the company's response. For a start, Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News Corp's UK operations, should go. Assuming the allegations are correct, as the editor of the News of the World when Ms Dowler's phone was hacked, her position is untenable. Although she has pleaded ignorance, the final responsibility was hers.
But it is no longer enough just to dismiss people. The affair has inflicted great reputational damage on News Corp. This should be of concern not just to Mr Murdoch but also to the company's wider shareholder base. After all, the group is seeking to expand its UK interests massively with the acquisition of the broadcaster, BSkyB.
Following allegations that News of the World hacked the 13-year-old murder victim's voicemail, Ford Motor suspended all advertising with the paper, and several other companies -- including T-Mobile -- are reportedly considering following suit.
News of the World has previously admitted it intercepted cell phone messages, and has paid damages in some cases. Reportedly thousands of people -- including celebrities, politicians, and royals -- may have had their phones targeted by the paper.
March 21, 2002, should have been an ordinary day for Milly Dowler. The 13-year-old English girl was headed home from school, and had called her father that afternoon to let him know she was on her way.
She never made it.
A high-profile search fueled by the media followed her disappearance, and Milly's parents and friends repeatedly left messages on her cell phone, desperate to hear from her.
Six months later, Milly's remains were found dumped in the woods 25 miles from her home. Her badly decomposed body was naked, and had not been buried.
It took nine years to convict her murderer, Levi Bellfield, a serial killer who targeted schoolgirls. Just weeks ago, he was sentenced to life in prison for abducting and murdering Milly.
Yet the case took another cruel twist yesterday, when the Guardian reported that Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid -- currently under fire for allegedly hacking into the voicemails of celebrities, politicians and royals -- also hacked Milly's phone after she disappeared, apparently in search of juicy exclusives. Even worse, Murdoch's "journalists" deleted messages from Milly's phone "in order to free up space for more messages," according to the Guardian, giving the family false hope that their daughter was still alive and impeding the police investigation.
The ongoing phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. takes another odd turn with the news that a News Corp. executive (and former editor) may have had her phone hacked by a private investigator working for a News Corp. newspaper. In an interesting side note, Sky News -- whose largest shareholder is News Corp. -- initially broke this story.
Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International and former editor of The Sun, has been shown evidence suggesting her phone was hacked more than 20 times by a private investigator employed by another Rupert Murdoch title, it emerged last night.
News International confirmed the 43-year-old media executive met detectives last week from Operation Weeting - Scotland Yard's third investigation into phone hacking - to see records showing she was targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective employed by the News of the World to eavesdrop on the voicemails of numerous public figures.
The alleged hacking took place between 2005 and 2006, when Ms Brooks, who is also a former editor of the NOTW, was in charge of The Sun, and raises the question of whether Mr Mulcaire was at the centre of an effort by Britain's top-selling Sunday newspaper to spy on its daily stablemate.
The revelation that Ms Brooks was a likely repeated target for Mr Mulcaire was made by Sky News, whose largest shareholder is Mr Murdoch's News Corp. In a blog, the broadcaster's City editor, Mark Kleinman, suggested the hacking could also have been done by the private investigator on behalf of a rival newspaper.
A British attorney representing potential victims in the phone hacking scandal that continues to rock Rupert Murdoch's News of the World claims that as many as 7,000 people may have had their phone messages intercepted.
Another attorney involved in the case, who dubbed the unraveling story "Rupert Murdoch's Watergate," claims legal damages could end up costing Murdoch's company $70 million.
From The Independent [emphasis added]:
The phone hacking scandal took another dramatic turn yesterday when a leading lawyer claimed that up to 7,000 people may have had their phone messages intercepted by the News of the World.
As the paper's owner News International was engulfed by a torrent of fresh claims and condemnation, after the paper's public apology for "voicemail interception" in 2004-2006, Charlotte Harris suggested many public figures suing for breach of privacy would not settle quickly or cheaply.
Another lawyer estimated that the total legal bill facing the paper's owner, News International, could reach £40m, double the amount the company is thought to have set aside. Rod Dadak described the paper's apparent mass hacking of mobile phones as "Rupert Murdoch's Watergate". "It's a black hole," said Mr Dadak, of Lewis Silkin, who acts for potential litigants. "£20m may be substantially too little, it could be double that."
Meanwhile, UK's Guardian alleged Murdoch used his political influence to try to get Labour Party leaders to back off further investigations into the hacking scandal.