Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, July 21, 2011 8:08 pm

News of the world

Looks as if James Murdoch may have committed perjury earlier this week:

Tom Crone and Colin Myler were well aware that the statement they were about to make could prove fatal to James Murdoch.

When the Guardian pointed out in the wake of his parliamentary testimony that Murdoch’s son had sought to blame them for concealment, one friend of the two men said: “To contradict James will be as good as coming out and calling him a liar.”

Myler and Crone, the News of the World‘s then editor and News International‘s top newspaper lawyer, both of whom have lost their jobs in the wake of the phone-hacking affair, subsequently spent the day debating what to do.

If their statement of Thursday night is correct, Rupert’s son will have proved to have misled parliament. He will also have destroyed the Murdoch family’s last line of defence against the scandal – that they knew nothing, and had been betrayed by those underlings they trusted.

Myler and Crone are, in effect, accusing James Murdoch of being part of the cover-up, one in which the company’s executives vainly twisted and turned to conceal the truth about phone hacking and blame it on a single “rogue reporter”.

James Murdoch’s crucial claim to the committee was that he had personally agreed to a massive payout, of £700,000 to hacking victim Gordon Taylor, in ignorance of the true facts. He said Crone and Myler had told him the payout was legally necessary.

The Labour MP Tom Watson, one of the affair’s most persistent investigators, extracted from Murdoch towards the end of the committee session what was to prove an explosive claim.

He claimed that Crone and Myler had concealed from him the crucial piece of evidence in the case – that an email had come to light with a voicemail hacking transcript, marked “for Neville”, ie Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World chief reporter.

The existence of this email, if made public, would explode the “rogue reporter” defence and begin to implicate the rest of the NoW newsroom. It was – and is – the smoking gun in the whole hacking case.

Rupert may yet skate, but his son and his “like-a-daughter,” Rebekah Brooks (already charged in the case), may not be free before he shuffles off his mortal coil slime.

UPDATE: Watson says he is referring James Murdoch’s testimony to the police for a criminal investigation.

(h/t: DougJ at Balloon Juice)

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.

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