Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 7:15 pm

What the magnate overheard

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Although criminal wiretapping issues apparently have been circling around Rupert Murdoch’s News International properties for at least five years, they didn’t really break the edge of my radar until the bit came out last week about News International hacking the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in such a way as to have both given her family false hope that the murder victim (for so she turned out to be) was still alive and bolloxed up the investigation into her slaying.

Right about then, my friend David emailed me about the case. I took a gander and thought to blog about it but also realized that 1) I’d need some time to get up to speed and 2) stuff was starting to happen very, very fast. Just hours after David got in touch, news broke that Murdoch would be shutting down his 168-year-old News of the World Sunday paper, ostensibly the seat of the scandal and unquestionably his most profitable property.

My cynical response to that action is that in all likelihood quite a few people working at News of the World are utterly law-abiding and now find themselves jobless through no fault of their own.  Moreover, I would be hugely surprised if any directly probative evidence surfaces that connects Murdoch himself — or even his son, James — to the commission of any crime, be it hacking voice mail, paying private investigators to do so, bribing cops to do so or even bribing cops to tap the phones of those involved in investigating the very hacking at the root of all this, all crimes that have been at least credibly alleged and in some cases admitted.

If this were America, closing NotW would probably suffice, the possibility that 9/11 victims’ families may have had their phones hacked notwithstanding. Certainly, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell aren’t going to be asking for hearings, let alone holding them, even though Murdoch owns both the New York Post (which, remember, had an interesting connection to the Elliot Spitzer case) and The Wall Street Journal, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., is ever on the lookout for any obstacle to U.S. corporations’ violating the law with impunity. (News International’s parent, News Corp., is a publicly traded company in the U.S.) Unfortunately for Murdoch, however, the Brits are still capable of a right bit of outrage when the high and mighty start cutting corners, particularly in a case with all the ghoulish implications of the Dowler killing. Someone, probably someone close to him and maybe more than one such person, is going to have to take the fall.

But who will that be?

One likely candidate is Andy Coulson, a former NotW editor and also former communications director for British Prime Minister David Cameron. The BBC reports that News has given investigators emails showing that Coulson ordered payment of bribes to police officers when he was editor at NotN.

Another is Les Hinton, another former NotW editor and current publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Seems ol’ Les not only oversaw hacking, he may well have engaged in a cover-up, leading an “investigation” that James Murdoch now acknowledges “wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter.”

If the allegations are correct, both men (and many other people besides) belong in prison, certainly. But there’s yet another actor out there.

That would be Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive. She was NotW editor when Milly Dowler’s voice mail was hacked. Of more interest to those hoping for a bit of schadenfreude vis-a-vis Rupert Murdoch is that she is variously described as Murdoch’s fifth daughter and one of his favorite people on the planet. It is not inconceivable that she is also in this up to her eyeballs.

Since ancient times, bards have noted the intense grief that comes with burying one’s children. If the accounts are correct, Murdoch would sooner throw his blood son to the wolves than his “fifth daughter,” but the wolves may get her despite anything he can do. And if she and Murdoch are as close as everyone says, it is highly improbable that she would roll over on him. More likely she would take her lumps in prison on a bribery or wiretapping charge, knowing that Murdoch’s money and gratitude, if not the aging man himself, would be awaiting her upon her release.

In an imperfect world, the misery he would suffer during her prosecution and confinement might be as close to justice as we get. Of course, it’s still not enough. The fact of the matter, as anyone who has spent a lot of time in the working world knows, is that executives set the tone for their companies. Not a soul above the level of night cops reporter would have hacked voice mail or paid off a cop if News International’s atmosphere hadn’t at least tacitly encouraged that behavior.

UPDATE: DougJ at Balloon Juice proposes a nifty thought experiment:

… imagine that Wikileaks had hacked into an abducted child’s voicemail and deleted some of the messages. Suppose that [Wikileaks founder Julian] Assange claimed that he had no idea this had happened, that he was on vacation that week. What do you think the reaction would be from establishment media?

If Wikileaks somehow became a huge company and Assange a billionaire, this would be all different of course. Murdoch’s techniques are condoned in many quarters simply because when a Galtian overlord does it … that means it is not illegal.

Just ask Jim Sensenbrenner.


  1. A Retraction

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Thursday, July 14, 2011 1:30 am @ 1:30 am

  2. Yeah, I read that last night. Half of me is thinking, “Way to man up.” Half of me is thinking, “Wait, the dramatic shift from one year to the next didn’t make you wonder what was up?”

    Unlike the trolls in the comments, at least Johnston is trying to do the right thing and make it right when he doesn’t. That’s a far higher standard than Murdoch has ever played by.

    Comment by Lex — Thursday, July 14, 2011 9:12 am @ 9:12 am

  3. The MSM’s Media Matters Blackout

    Juxtapose this gigantic MSM mess with the very recently breaking story of Fox News Channel owner Rupert Murdoch’s problems with his British paper News of the World, which he has now shut down after it came to light that they had hacked telephones in pursuit of stories.

    Like Media Matters’ illegal behavior, this too is a big story, and it deserves coverage. Which it has received in heaps.

    The media has for months missed that the government should probably yank Media Matters’ tax-exempt status. But they were lightning quick to point out potential government action against Murdoch and Fox News. On ABC’s This Week, Stephen Brill helpfully pointed out:

    Well, there is an issue here in the United States. … News Corp has a lot of FCC licenses. There is still a clause in the federal communications law that requires that you have to be of good character to have such a license. And I was reading last night just in the approval that they gave to Comcast to take over NBC, there was actually some guy who challenged the character of Comcast, because when they installed a cable system somewhere they had hurt his building and hadn’t paid for it. And this became a big legal proceeding, actually.

    So, here, I am reasonably certain that someone, you know, maybe someone from the political left or whoever, is going to make a big deal of, you know, whether they are fit to have their FCC licenses under the current management.

    Yet another opportunity for leftists to improperly and irresponsibly slam their opponents with the massive hammer of government — and it’s the Jurassic Press pointing out the opening. But when leftists are in apparent violation of the law and government action is actually warranted … again, don’t hold your breath.

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:25 pm @ 12:25 pm

    • From “very recently breaking” (Andy Coulson FIRST got popped for surveillance illegalities in 2006, and the behavior itself dates at least as far back as 2002) to a fundamental misreading of tax law with respect to 501c3s, this guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

      Comment by Lex — Friday, July 15, 2011 3:33 pm @ 3:33 pm

  4. Time’s Calabresi Pours Cold Water on Lib Blogger Giddiness Over FBI Probe of NewsCorp

    “What are they evaluating, exactly? As I pointed out Wednesday, the allegations about the 9/11 hacking are almost laughably thin: single-sourced second-hand hearsay published by a British tabloid that specializes in colorful soccer stories. None of the more respected news outlets that have repeated the allegation have added to the Mirror’s “reporting” a single supporting fact.

    This is either because the facts don’t exist, or because the NewsCorp scandal has actually brought the quality of journalism down to the News Of The World‘s standards rather than up from it. See for example The Guardian‘s correction of its allegation (quoted at length by me here) that the Sun (another NewsCorp tabloid) had obtained the medical records of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s son.

    But back to the FBI investigation. Here is my understanding, from conversations with officials from various parts of the Justice department, of what it going on: None of my sources would speak for attribution since the investigation hasn’t begun yet and the political atmosphere is so charged. The FBI has opened a file and will look into whether or not the allegations warrant an actual investigation. That means finding out if there is anything to substantiate the charges in the Mirror‘s article. That, in turn, means trying to find this supposed former New York cop-turned private investigator who supposedly told a source who supposedly told the Mirror that the News of the World once asked him to get 9/11 victims’ phone records. The FBI can then ask this PI all about what the News Of The World asked him to do, and can then see if they actually did it. The FBI can also contact families of the victims of 9/11 and ask them if they have any reason to believe they may have been hacked.

    Justice Department officials know the allegations are thin and feel that no one should jump to conclusions, but given the calls from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and the sensitivity surrounding 9/11 victims, they have to look into the matter.”

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, July 15, 2011 3:24 pm @ 3:24 pm

  5. To the best of my knowledge there is not yet an official FBI investigation into anything News Corp. might have done on this side of the Atlantic. And given Murdoch’s political pull, there might well never be.

    If I had to place a bet, I would say it is much more likely than not that the company pursued some of the same tactics over here, given that most of the key figures implicated in the UK have worked both sides of the pond. But whether that is actually the case I have no idea, and we may never know.

    Comment by Lex — Friday, July 15, 2011 3:33 pm @ 3:33 pm

  6. Fred, Obama has bigger legal and moral problems than that.

    Comment by Lex — Thursday, July 21, 2011 7:31 am @ 7:31 am

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