Four years ago, Rupert Murdoch-owned UK tabloid The News of the World got caught hacking the voicemail of "hundreds of celebrities" and other public figures. Now, the full extent of the hacking's coming out—and it's bad. Amazingly dirty, actually!
It would be a shame if all the stories the tabloid got by stealing private phone messages got more attention than the scandalous methods this paper routinely employed to get those stories. Even in the amoral world of UK tabloids (and Rupert Murdoch's empire), this is well beyond the pale. So it's nice that the New York Times Magazine has finally produced a definitive report—showing that phone hacking was a routine and accepted procedure at News of the World.
The paper worked with a private eye named Glenn Mulcaire, who was found in 2006 to have "several thousand mobile phone numbers of potential hacking victims," and was later imprisoned. The NYT says that Scotland Yard stuck to prosecuting only the hacking of the phones of members of the Royal Family—and neglected the hundreds of other victims, including politicians, celebrities, PR executives, and anyone else whose private business might be momentarily useful for a tabloid story.
News of the World was hardly alone in accessing messages to obtain salacious gossip. "It was an industrywide thing," said Sharon Marshall, who witnessed hacking while working at News of the World and other tabloids. "Talk to any tabloid journalist in the United Kingdom, and they can tell you each phone company's four-digit codes. Every hack on every newspaper knew this was done."
Now, many of those victims are filing lawsuits, as they discover they were hacked. The story depicts Murdoch's tabloid as a harsh, demanding place where reporters did whatever it took to satisfy their editor, Andy Coulson. Hacking phones was a relatively easy assignment—"One reporter was ordered to spend 24 hours inside a plastic box, in the newsroom, to emulate a stunt by the magician David Blaine."
Coulson has said he was "unaware" of the hacking, but several of his reporters contradict him. (He resigned in the wake of the scandal, and became communications chief of the Conservative Party). Coulson's boss at the time, News International head Les Hinton (pictured, with Murdoch), is now CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal. The NYT's story makes clear that News International-owned tabloids during Hinton's leadership had few if any ethical scruples. And it makes equally clear that Rupert Murdoch does not care. Hundreds of hacking victims could still potentially come forward and sue, which would cost Murdoch millions. But it's a small price for him to pay for the news he got in a competitive market.
This is the man who controls more of New York's media than anyone else.