A Major Blow for Team Murdoch  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   June/July 2011

A Major Blow for Team Murdoch   

Two letters full of damaging allegations
Tues. August 16, 2011

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


This one is huge.

The disclosure of a letter in which a reporter says that phone hacking was widely discussed at editorial meetings at the now-defunct News of the World is a major crack in the crumbling fortifications surrounding Team Murdoch.

The letter, released Tuesday by a Parliament committee investigating the hacking scandal, was written in 2007 by Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter who was scapegoated as the "rogue" journalist solely responsible for the hacking.

In the letter, which Goodman wrote after spending four months in the slammer, the reporter sought to overturn the decision by Les Hinton, then the chairman of the paper's parent company, to sack him.

Letting him go made no sense, Goodman argued, because he had acted with "the full knowledge and support" of senior journalists at the paper. He also said another senior journalist there had arranged payments to Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who helped Goodman in his hacking efforts (and also did time). And Goodman, the paper's royal family correspondent, said other journalists at the paper were also in the interception business.

The letter said hacking came up frequently at news meetings until the topic was banned by then-Editor Andy Coulson, who left in the wake of the hacking scandal only to go to work for David Cameron, now Britain's prime minister. Coulson, who has become a major source of embarrassment for Cameron, stepped down as the prime minister's communications director in February and has since been arrested in connection with the scandal.

When the hacking scandal first came to light, the Murdoch empire insisted that it was all the doing of one malefactor, and the cover-up worked until the scandal reignited this year. As torrents of new information have emerged, the continued insistence by the Murdochs and other top officials at the time that they knew nothing of the hacking has become harder to accept. Goodman's letter raises the stakes significantly.

Goodman charged that the paper's lawyer and editor "promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me." But it didn't.

In more bad news for the Murdochs, the Guardian's Nick Davies, who has led the way on the hacking scandal, reports that the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee received two copies of Goodman's letter. One, from Murdoch's law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, redacted the names of some journalists at the request of the police. The second, submitted by News Corp., also removed references to discussions of hacking at editorial meetings and the purported offer to keep Goodman on board if he didn't implicate the paper. So much for transparency and cooperation.

As if that weren't enough, there was more trouble for the Murdochs, courtesy of their own law firm.

News Corp. COO James Murdoch has frequently said the company's belief that the hacking was all the doing of "rogue reporter" Goodman "rested on" an investigation by Harbottle & Lewis. The law firm wrote that after examining 2,500 News Corp. e-mails, it could "confirm that we did not find anything in those e-mails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman's illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the editor, and Neil Wallis, the deputy editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the news editor, and others were carrying out similar illegal procedures."

But another letter released by the Culture, Media and Sports Committee Tuesday showed the law firm vigorously denying that its findings were nearly as far-reaching as Murdoch claimed.

Characterizing Murdoch's comments as "self-serving," the law firm said: "There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health which it could deploy years later in wholly different contexts for wholly different purposes... The firm was not being asked to provide some sort of 'good conduct certificate' which News International could show to parliament ... Nor was it being given a general retainer, as Mr Rupert Murdoch asserted it was, 'to find out what the hell was going on.' "

British officials have made clear their unhappiness that they were misled in their original investigation of the hacking affair. The latest revelations will only intensify the pressure on the Murdochs. In the wake of the unenlightening appearance of Murdochs father and son at a Parliament hearing last month, the MPs will no doubt want to hear more from them.

"Clive Goodman's letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far," said Tom Watson, an MP who has doggedly pursued the hacking story. "It completely removes News International's defence. This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime."

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