Monday, July 18, 2011

“The water is now lapping around the ankles of the Murdoch family”

Anybody smell massive lawsuits? Or dirty tricks? (These guys have got a lot of class, don't they? What kind of slug-level class is up for debate though.) Hurray for lawyers! They're gonna get rich. But they always do, don't they? (And I really enjoy how they throw around the term "billion.") I keep thinking . . . hmmm . . . first Dominique Strauss-Kahn (head of IMF and lead candidate for President of France against Sarcozy) outed, then Les Hinton (publisher of The Wall Street Journal since 2007, who oversaw Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper subsidiary when voice mail hacking by journalists was rampant) resigns, Andy Coulson (former editor of the News of the World from 2003 until his resignation in 2007 and then David Cameron's communications director) arrested, Rebekah (like that spelling?) Brooks (who has run the British papers since 2009) arrested . . . and . . . next . . . Murdoch(s)? Or is it just another con (NeoCon) job? I mean, come onnnn. Who would benefit from exposing the Murdoch faux operations? Er, or does this mean the next shoe is ready to drop and they don't want anyone to be discussing how bad the news organizations are now? They're pretty quick. We gotta keep up!

Oddly enough, both Sir Paul and Ms. Brooks were due to give testimony on Tuesday to different Parliamentary committees looking into phone hacking. Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs committee, where Sir Paul was due to be questioned, said that there was no reason the session should not still proceed. But Ms. Brooks’s appearance, at the committee on culture, media and sport, is now in doubt. Before her arrest, she had warned that because of the investigation, she might be limited in what she could say. Now, it is unclear whether she will come at all. Although they will still get to question her former bosses, Rupert and James Murdoch, committee members seem disappointed at the prospect of losing Ms. Brooks. Some even said that they wondered if the timing of the arrest was intended to ensure that she was unavailable to answer their questions. “Being of a suspicious mind, I do find it odd that they should arrest her now by appointment,” said Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the committee, who suspects his phone was hacked by The News of the World. He said the arrest brings the scandal closer to the top.

“The water is now lapping around the ankles of the Murdoch family,” he said.

And previously there was this:
As my colleagues John F. Burns and Alan Cowell report, on Monday, just one day after the last edition of The News of the World was printed, new allegations of misconduct by journalists working at two other British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch surfaced. Nick Davies and David Leigh of The Guardian reported that journalists from both The Sunday Times of London and The Sun “repeatedly targeted the former prime minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voice mail and obtaining information from his bank account, his legal file as well as his family’s medical records. There is also evidence that a private investigator used a serving police officer to trawl the police national computer for information about him.” As Mr. Davies and Mr. Leigh explained, the duration and range of the spying on Mr. Brown was extraordinary. They reported:

Brown was targeted during a period of more than 10 years, both as chancellor of the exchequer and as prime minister. Some of the activity clearly was illegal. Other incidents breached his privacy but not the law.

An investigation by The Guardian has found that:

• Scotland Yard has discovered references to both Brown and his wife, Sarah, in paperwork seized from Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who specialized in phone hacking for The News of the World;

Abbey National bank found evidence suggesting that a “blagger” acting for The Sunday Times on six occasions posed as Brown and gained details from his account;

• London lawyers Allen & Overy were tricked into handing over details from his file by a con man working for The Sunday Times;

• Details from his infant son’s medical records were obtained by The Sun, which published a story about the child’s serious illness.

In response, News International, the British newspaper division of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, said in a statement published by Sky News (which is also partly owned by the News Corporation):

We note the allegations made today concerning the reporting of matters relating to Gordon Brown. So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us.

According to The Guardian, in 2006, before The Sun broke the news, that Mr. Brown’s infant son, Fraser, was ill, the newspaper’s editor at the time, Rebekah Brooks, informed him that the tabloid had obtained details from the boy’s medical records.

David Muir, who used to work for Mr. Brown, told Britain’s Channel 4 News on Monday that the Labour politician and his wife “were contacted by Rebekah Brooks, who told them that they had information that Fraser has cystic fibrosis, which was a matter that they were just getting their heads around at the time and kind of dealing with. And you’ve got to remember that this was just after they’d suffered a bereavement with (their daughter) Jennifer. They didn’t know how Rebekah came across this information, and now what’s come to light it was obtained by what appear to be illegal methods.”

This video report from Channel 4 News includes that interview and an overview of Mr. Murdoch’s latest effort to keep the scandals at his newspapers from scuttling his $12 billion bid for outright control of British Sky Broadcasting, a lucrative satellite channel he currently holds a minority stake in: On Monday evening, Sarah Brown wrote on Twitter that she was “so sad to learn” about the violation of her family’s privacy. She added, “It is very personal and really hurtful if all true.”

Ms. Brooks, the former editor of both The News of the World and The Sun, is currently chief executive of News International. On Sunday, she was given a strong show of support by Mr. Murdoch himself after he arrived in London to deal with the crisis.

A page on The Sun’s Web site that showcases its exclusive reports from 2006 still boasts of the story: “This year has seen your No. 1 Sun online break some cracking news stories. We set the news agenda on Nov. 30, breaking the sad news that Gordon Brown’s baby boy, Fraser, has cystic fibrosis. As well as telling the devastating news, the story was used to increase national understanding of the condition, in partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.”

As my colleagues in London report, as the new allegations came to light on Monday, the News Corporation abruptly changed tactics in its effort to win regulatory approval for its bid to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB it does not already own. As part of its new strategy, the company withdrew its offer to put the 24-hour television news channel Sky News under independent control.

When the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced that strategy shift in the House of Commons on Monday, there was widespread jeering from the opposition Labour Party, which has called for the bid to be dropped on the grounds that owning BSkyB would concentrate too much power over Britain’s media in the hands of one company.

Mr. Hunt’s ability to remain impartial as he decides whether or not the News Corporation is a “fit and proper” company to own the satellite network as well as three national newspapers has been called into question because he expressed great admiration for Mr. Murdoch in a 2008 interview with Broadcast magazine. In that interview, Mr. Hunt said:

The important thing is not whether a particular owner owns another TV channel but to make sure you have a variety of owners with a variety of TV channels so that no one owner has a dominant position both commercially and politically.

Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognize is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV, which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day.

We would be the poorer and wouldn’t be saying that British TV is the envy of the world if it hadn’t been for him being prepared to take that commercial risk. We need to encourage that kind of investment.

In the same interview, Mr. Hunt was asked if he would object if Sky News morphed into a British version of Fox News. He replied: “It is not going to happen. Sky News knows that audiences want it to remain an impartial news channel.” Detective Says The News of the World Spied on Him With Impunity LONDON — On Jan. 9, 2003, Rebekah Wade, until recently the editor of The News of the World, was summoned to an unusual meeting at Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service here. Detective Superintendent David Cook, the lead investigator in a gruesome cold-case killing of a man found with an ax in his head, confronted Ms. Wade with a worrying accusation: He and his family were being followed and photographed, he said, by people hired by her newspaper.

Detective Cook said the police had evidence that one of The News of the World’s senior editors, Alex Marunchak, had ordered the illegal surveillance as a favor to two suspects in the case: Sid Fillery and Jonathan Rees, private investigators whose firm had done work for the paper. The lawyer for Mr. Cook, Mark Lewis, said in an interview that the detective believed that Mr. Fillery and Mr. Rees were seeking help in gathering evidence about Detective Cook to derail the murder inquiry.

What happened at the meeting, a less detailed account of which appeared in The Guardian, provides a window into the extraordinary coziness that long existed between the British police and The News of The World, as well as the relationship between the paper and unsavory characters in the criminal world.

None of the parties to this alliance have escaped the stain. The paper, at the center of a widening scandal over phone hacking and corruption, was shut last week by News International, its parent company, in an effort to limit the already extensive damage done to the reputation and business interests of Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation.

Scotland Yard has admitted that it accepted News International’s explanation that the hacking was the work of one rogue reporter, and that some police officers had accepted substantial payments in exchange for confidential information.

The News of the World remains the target of several criminal investigations. A number of its former editors and reporters have been arrested, including Andy Coulson, who most recently worked as the chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, but no one has yet been formally charged. And Mr. Cameron has announced he will appoint a judge to examine both the tabloid’s hacking and its close relationship with the police.

Also present for the meeting that day in 2003, said a spokesman for Scotland Yard, were Cmdr. Andy Baker, who was Detective Cook’s boss, and Dick Fedorcio, Scotland Yard’s chief public relations officer. According to an account that Detective Cook provided to Mr. Lewis and others, Ms. Wade excused the surveillance by saying that the paper’s action had been “in the public interest” — the argument British newspapers typically make to justify using underhanded or illegal methods to, say, expose affairs by public officials.

Ms. Wade said that the paper was tailing Detective Cook because it suspected him of having an affair with Jackie Haines, host of the Crimewatch television program on which he had recently appeared. In fact, the two were married to each other, as had been mentioned prominently in an article about them in the popular gossip magazine “Hello!”

Scotland Yard seems to have been satisfied with the explanation of Ms. Wade, now Rebekah Brooks and the chief executive of News International. Her paper’s editors and reporters had a long history with the police — paying for tips and sometimes even serving as quasi-police investigators themselves, in return for confidential information (many News of the World stories about criminal matters used to include a reference to the paper’s handing “a dossier” of its findings to Scotland Yard).

It is the closeness between the paper and the police that, it seems, led Scotland Yard to what officials have retrospectively admitted was a major misstep: the decision not to pursue the initial phone-hacking investigation adequately in 2006 and again in 2009. It was in 2006 that members of the royal household notified the police that they believed their cellphone messages were being intercepted by The News of the World.

The subsequent police “raid” at the paper consisted of rummaging through a single reporter’s desk and failing to question any other reporters or editors. Two people were subsequently jailed: Clive Goodman, The News of the World’s royal reporter, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator hired by the paper. Even when The Guardian reported that the hacking had extended far beyond the pair, and that thousands of victims might be involved, the police and the newspaper insisted repeatedly that the wrongdoing had been limited to a single “rogue” reporter.

This weekend, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who was in charge of the initial inquiry and who in 2009 declined to reopen it, said that the police response had been inadequate. “I have regrettably said the initial inquiry was a success,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “Clearly, now it looks very different.”

After the meeting at Scotland Yard, Detective Cook left “with the impression that the meeting was arranged to placate him and let him get it off his chest, but that nothing else was going to happen,” Mr. Lewis said. “And nothing did.”

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said that “the matter was raised at the meeting at a senior level with the relevant people, and it was dealt with.” When asked how it was dealt with, the spokesman added, “The response to those concerns was the meeting.”

But a former senior Scotland Yard official said that the tailing of Detective Cook should have prompted a full-scale inquiry. “I’m amazed that wasn’t done,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

A spokeswoman for News Corporation, the parent company of News International, said the company “had not been previously made aware of the allegation that Ms. Brooks had known about the matter but done nothing, but that they will investigate any allegations that are put to them.”

Mr. Rees and Mr. Fillery could not be reached for comment because their locations were unknown.

Through his lawyer, Paul Jonson, Mr. Marunchak denied any wrongdoing.

No one has ever been convicted in connection with the ax killing that Detective Cook was investigating, despite five police inquiries in 24 years, in which Mr. Fillery and Mr. Rees have been repeatedly arrested and charged. The most recent case collapsed this spring.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Tom Watson, a member of Parliament for the Labour Party, said that the meeting showed the extent of the corrupt relationship between The News of the World on the one hand, and the police and the shady underworld of private investigators with criminal connections on the other.

“News International was paying people to interfere with police officers and was doing so on behalf of known criminals,” he said. (Mr. Fillery was convicted in 2003 of making indecent images of children; Mr. Rees of planting cocaine in a woman’s car to discredit her a child-custody case.)

Speaking of Ms. Brooks, he said: “Rebekah Brooks cannot deny being present at that meeting when the actions of people whom she paid were exposed. She cannot deny now being warned that under her auspices unlawful tactics were used for the purpose of interfering with the pursuit of justice.”

As for Detective Cook, it appears that he, too, was a victim of phone hacking around the same time that the paper had his house under surveillance. But Scotland Yard notified him only eight weeks ago that his name had been found among the papers seized in 2006 in Mr. Mulcaire’s home.

Celebrity Targets of Tabloid Cheer Its Demise
Stay tuned, friends. The plot can only thicken. ______________________

No comments: