Rupert Murdoch: The Story Thus Far

Is Rupert Murdoch evil? Or brilliant? Or lucky? So immense are his holdings that a list is the only way to explain what they are.

It’s fascinating that the man who brings us Fox Views News also brings us the Wall Street Journal, which once was quite a good paper. Murdoch’s most enduring legacy, I predict, will be The Simpsons (no kidding.)

But it’s the British holdings we’re concerned with now because they appear to have Mr. M.’s 80-year-old bells in a wringer. The story thus far…

Beginning in late 2005, Court sycophants became concerned that someone somehow was learning of Royal Family Secrets. Because this suspicion involved a high-profile family, the venerable Scotland Yard was called in to investigate. Rumors began to circulate that reporters at Murdoch’s News of the World (henceforth called NoW) and The Sun may have illegally wiretapped and pinged the telephones of numerous celebrities, including the Princes William and Harry. This was high-level stuff, so hot that it resulted in the spring 2006 leak Harry had visited a strip club! The Sun’s precision headline: “Harry Buried Face in Margo’s Mega-Boobs. Stripper Jiggled . . . Prince Giggled.” I know some of you want to see a Royal between two boobs, so here you go.

Scotland Yard, deeply embarrassed, hastily concluded the wiretapping was performed by only two journalists, Royals’ watcher Clive Goodman and investigator Glenn Mulcaire. (The two had learned how to capture the PIN numbers of cell phones owned by Royals, celebrities, politicians, etc. Thus, they were able to listen to voice mail left on those cells and find “scoops.” By using pinging, the reporters could also physically locate someone.

(And here’s audio of Mulcaire explaining to another reporter how to capture a soccer coach’s number, courtesy of the NYT.com audio.)

The problem was that during its investigation, Scotland Yard came up with much more evidence that dozens – if not hundreds – of other cases existed where News of the World reporters had performed similar illegal taps. Most were of the celebrity ilk, such as listening in on voice mails of Jude Law, Siena Miller, Mick Jagger and, the greatest of them all, Hugh Grant.

However, and this just kills me, the Yard decided pursing the case “was a heavy stone that they didn’t want to try to lift,” according to one parliamentarian. Instead the Yard mumbled something about pursing terrorism (which translates into British as “pfroofreeing trzm”).

But, the Eugenie was out of the bottle. Numerous families filed police reports alleging the same violations against the NoW particularly. Since it was Murdoch the police clearly would have to go up against, they – like the Yard – did nothing.

What we didn’t know then but know now is that the most heart-wrenching, unethical, immoral and unforgivable tapping had already been done in 2002 on the cell phone of a missing 13-year-old school girl, Milly Dowler. Dowler was missing for six desperate months before her remains were found. During that time, NoW scumbags tapped into her phone messages, listened to those left by her desperate friends and family, erased messages when the inbox became full so that more could come in and, thus, confounded police as to whether or not the girl was still alive and/or where she might be.

When did all of this wrong-doing become known? Well, the NYT first blew the whistle in September 2010 on some of the shady practices in Murdoch’s papers when it interviewed, among others, former NoW entertainment reporter Sean Hoare who explained the widespread and editor-approved practices. NoW editors angrily accused the NYT of professional jealousy. And then everyone’s attention was taken up in the Royal Wedding and the “scandal” died down during the winter and spring of 2011.

But it would not go away. The Yard, caught in an unprofessional and illegal position itself, had to notify hundreds of shocked subjects that they, too, may have been subject to illegal taps..violations that had taken place years previously that the Yard knew about but did not bother to inform people of. (The number now stands at approximately 4,000.)

By early July of this year, everything exploded when a rival newspaper revealed the Murdoch’s News of the World had tampered with evidence in the 2002 Milly Dowler case.

Outrage was swift and very real.

On July 8, Andy Coulson, editor of News of the World from 2003 to 2007, was arrested for his connection to the scandal and other corruption charges. (It is worth noting that after Coulson left his editorship of NoW, he became – upon Murdoch’s recommendation – the communications director for current British Prime Minister David Cameron. Hmm. But don’t worry folks. Cameron cut short a visit to Africa to call for a special Parliamentary inquiry into the affair.)

Murdoch was forced to drop his attempted takeover of BSkyB cable in Great Britain, a multibillion-dollar move that would have given him the same power in broadcasting as he enjoys in print.

The best PR agency in the world, Bell Potinger, was called in for “refuse de-odorification.” And it would be needed, quickly.

On July 15 Rebekah Brooks, editor of the NoW from 2000-2003 – when many of these atrocious activities took place – resigned.

She was arrested on July 17.

Also on July 15, Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton, who has been with Murdoch for 50 years, resigned. Dow Jones, of course, owns the Wall Street Journal, which used to be quite a good paper.

On the weekend, Murdoch visited the Dowler family and apologized numerous times for their injury. While the apologies were heartfelt, the family’s attorney says the Dowlers have indicated “they can forgive but not forget,” which translated into British means: “See you in court, bastard.”

On July 17, Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police commissioner and head of Scotland Yard, resigned. He denied knowing anything about the cover-up of illegal taps or new allegations of police bribery by reporters.

John Yates, the other top police official of Scotland Yard who reviewed phone-hacking evidence in 2009 and concluded there was no need for a deeper investigation, resigned.

Murdoch published a public apology to his readers on the same weekend.

And then on July 18..um, what happened again on Monday, the 18th? I know it’s something kind of important.

Oh yeah. Now I remember:

Sean Hoare, the former NoW entertainment reporter who first busted the NoW for its practices, was FOUND DEAD IN HIS APARTMENT! AND HE WAS IN HIS 40s! AND THE POLICE DO NOT BELIEVE HIS DEATH WAS SUSPICIOUS! AND HE WAS IN HIS 40s!

As Jon Stewart puts it, if the police – who are investigating allegations of bribery against them by the same man who is found dead in his apartment – are satisfied his death was not suspicious, then it’s OK with him, too.

That almost brings us up to date. At last week’s hearing before a select committee of Parliament, a hooligan tried to throw a cream pie (A CREAM PIE!) at Mr. Murdoch during his testimony. Although Murdoch got some of it in on his suit but not in the puss, the worst damage was inflicted on the miscreant who was promptly thumped by the 30-year-old Mrs. Murdoch, Wendi Deng. You have got to see this video. Wendi is in the beautiful pink jacket. (Versace, perhaps?) I am so impressed by her no-nonsense, take-no-prisoner, stand-by-her-man, leap-over-the-crowd defense of Murdoch. Seriously, Murdoch owes her BIG TIME for that. And, gentlemen. You must honestly ask yourselves: Would your wives do THIS for YOU?

It’s reported that Rebekah Brooks is staying with the current British Prime Minister, David Cameon. (He’s also the same person who called the parliamentary investigation. But, hey! Apartments are hard to find in London.)

Murdoch and Deng will continue to live nice lives. He did not know what was going on at his papers. Neither did his son. Neither did Rebekah Brooks. Nobody seen nothin’, see?

But former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who claims the NoW obtained confidential medical records of his son, summarized the situation best on Wednesday when he testified that victims watched “their private, innermost feelings and their private tears bought and sold by News International for commercial gain.”

In doing so, he said, “News International descended from the gutter to the sewer.”

P.S. On July 10, Rupert Murdoch closed the 168-year-old News of the World.

22 thoughts on “Rupert Murdoch: The Story Thus Far

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    Now that is one Great article!! Fast, furious, illuminating, and yes, ironic and funny. Welcome back Ellen and please have this backed-up somewhere.

  2. PM. says:

    Couple of other things that need to be worked into this…

    there is an e-mail that was internal to News Corp. that acknowledged that this was more than the work on one or two reporters. Both Murdoch’s denied ever having seen this. Apparently, one of NewsCorp’s top exec’s recently stated that he had indeed shown this e-mail to the son (James). Sounds like the rats are starting to leave….

    Oh, and Wendi Deng? Apparently, when she was in high school, she was on an exchange program in Sacramento. She ended up married to the father of her host family, which got her a US green card (marriage lasted a couple of years), and then got a broadcasting job with one of Murdoch’s TV stations in Hong Kong, which is where they met (while he was still married, of course). Apparently, the original story about her “escapades” was published in the WSJ, before Murdoch bought it (bet you can’t find it in the online archives….)

    1. Ellen Mrja says:

      Very interesting background, PM. I was able to verify it on Wikipedia, which is currently having an active debate as to whether or not her name should be Deng, Wende, Deng Murdoch – OR – if she should be listed in the online resource at all since she is not “notable” in her own right but only because she’s married to someone who is.

      People with small minds, heh? Deng studied economics at Cal State, Northridge (graduating in the top 1% of her class) and went on to graduate from the School of Management at Yale. She’s supposedly a powerhouse who’s guiding Murdoch’s growth into Chinese markets.

      So she had a second husband between the host family guy and Murdoch. I still think This One Will Stick.

  3. Dennis Lang says:

    Ah…PM and Ellen–Nick and Nora Charles. Insights of the investigation in progress with a large cast of shady, multi-faceted characters. Interesting stuff….

  4. Ellen Mrja says:

    I know my ADHD has now taken me far afield, but this is too good not to share – Favorite Drinking Moments of Nick and Nora Charles.

  5. john sherman says:

    Still Murdoch kept the Sun printing, so those who require pictures of bare breasts with their sporting news won’t be disappointed. Amazing what you can do when you’re a papal knight.

  6. Joe Loveland says:

    I don’t like a lot of Murdoch’s companies, but his list of holdings is so long I have a hard time believing that he knew about reporting tactics at this publication. Whether or not he knew, it’s absolutely creepy news. If I had read this in a novel — say The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo — I would have thought it far-fetched.

  7. Ellen Mrja says:

    Joe: I also find it hard to believe Murdoch knew – explicitly – what was going on with the hacking. But I believe his editors did, for sure. What editor would let a reporter come back to the newsroom with information about a missing girl whose case is a national obsession and not ask the reporter, “Where did you get this information? Who was your source?”

    The other thing is, of course, that I’ve never worked anywhere where the “culture” of acceptable behavior does not drip down from the top. Supposedly Murdoch cares greatly for Brooks, treats her like a daughter, in fact. Would Brooks or Coulson, for that matter, risk the displeasure of Mr. Murdoch by approving techniques sure to displease him?

    Supposedly the hacking also involved the families of dead British soldiers and the victims of the 2005 London bombings. Our FBI will now get involved because the hacking may also have involved families of 9/11 victims. Imagine listening in to the last words of love left for a spouse by someone who knows he or she is about to die?

    1. john sherman says:

      I suppose I’m not the only one who’s noticed that when an institution or corporation is going great guns and the guy at the top is making a godzillion dollars, if you ask why anyone would should get that kind of money, you get a reply to the effect that he’s a super genius who is on top of everything having to do with his business. Then when the legal excrement hits the air circulating device, the defense is that the guy was really some sort of a virtual potted plant who just cluelessly futzed around the office, so he should not really be considered legally culpable for anything his nasty underlings did.

      The attempt to buy off attacks from wronged parties involved writing some pretty huge checks, and I bet that if Murdoch weren’t in the habit of questioning the rationale for writing huge checks, he would never have accumulated the money to be able write those kind of checks because somebody would have ripped him off.

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      I don’t even know everything that is going on in my five-person family or one-person business, so I don’t find implausible that someone who is spread as thin as Murdoch wouldn’t know about some icky stuff happing in his empire.

      I also could see NoW staff intentionally hiding the hacking/bribing from the muckety mucks, to give them plausible deniability and/or to avoid being shutdown and punished.

      Don’t get me wrong. I think the responsibility is Murdoch’s, and he needs to act that way publicly. I’m just not convinced he was a Dr. Evil mastermind in this drama. He might have been, but I don’t think that has been established at this stage.

  8. PM. says:

    I understand that is might seem unlikely that Rupert might have known all that was going on, but 2 top execs say that James was at least aware that it was more than a single bad apple.

    Besides, those were some prettty hefty settlement checks–don’t you think that someone pretty high up should have known? And about those payments to the police–do you think that rebeccah brookes just was able to pad her expense account in order to hide those?

    Every large corporation has internal auditors to ensure that the little guys (and sometimes the big guys too) are not stealing. In order to find that stuff out, you would think that they would also come across payments to cops, slush money, etc….unless those were allowed, approved, etc. Most corporations have pretty good systems of control.

  9. Ellen says:

    Interesting reading on Murdoch. I’ve flagged the Slate Longform already. Thanks, PM.

    Your comments and Loveland’s rang a bell with something ‘m sensing, too. I watched the entire Murdoch testimony before the parliamentary subcommittee yesterday in a C-SPAN replay. And I intuited Rupert was shocked, saddened and upset that employees at his papers might have been involved in such recent criminal activity. He was unequivocal in his answers (and actually seemed like kind of a nice guy. ;-))

    James had impeccable manners and a straightforward way of answering questions 80% of the time. I think that’s when he was telling the truth. But I thought I saw his nose growing the other 20% of the time and that what was when committee members pressed him on what he knew and when, especially vis-a-vis checks being written. I think responsibility for OKing them might, indeed, have stopped with him. The biggest tell on James was that he would blush at times – the times he also stumbled and backtracked.

    Whatever Rupert thinks of Brooks, I didn’t believe her testimony for one minute. Whenever someone “can’t recall” who, what, where or when, it smells to me. I think Brooks was indeed the direct supervisor who gave the go-ahead for the hacking and the “blagging.” It’s reported she’s fiercely competitive and will do anything to get a scoop.

    Oh! And following the Brooks testimony, C-SPAN carried the grilling Cameron is getting in Parliament for his hiring of Andy Coulson. Wow. I love how those British politicians go at it for all to see.

  10. I’m a bit late to the party on this, but for what it’s worth as an American and former journalist who’s live in Britain for the past 10 years – what struck me with the fallout from the phone tapping was how insidiously cozy the relationship between the ruling government and the media has been, and will no doubt continue to be.

    Despite Cameron and Co thumping the lectern and denouncing the actions of NOW and Media Corp., I suspect that little will change in the relationship between government and media.

    During the heat of the scandal, a guest on BBC Radio 4 suggested that if the British political system were open and similar to the US system, then British journalists would not have had to resort to illegal means to gain information. Interesting justification, don’t you think?

  11. Ellen Mrja says:

    Kris: Great to hear from you!

    I agree with your broader assessment of the situation. The “heat” cast by the testimony and “the story thus far” has not shed much “light” on that cozy relationship between Murdoch the last three (especially) PMs, Blair, Brown and Cameron. (Just a list for all of us damn Yankees: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Prime_Ministers_of_the_United_Kingdom)

    Just what was with the number of phone calls that between Murdoch and Blair, for example, before the invasion of Afghanistan? And Iraq?
    Here’s a nice article from The Independent on the topic: http://ind.pn/7kkxGU

    However, we certainly are far from transparent. Our politicians and government leaders say they’re transparent. But they meet in secret. Deals are still done in secret. Witness the current bungling of the Congress and White House in trying to save our nation from default.

  12. Ellen says:

    PM: Interesting .. editing, heh? I don’t know; I still don’t think ol’ Rupert knew about this. But the rest probably did.

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