One thing that is true and both totally unfair is that the ends justify the means. You lied and stole to learn that Gordon Brown's daughter is desperately ill, thus adding incalculably to the suffering of the Brown family? Unpardonable! You went through the senator's garbage and bribed his maid to learn that he was stealing from the War Orphans fund? Heroic! There is a moral compass here, but it's more to do with WHY you behave abominably rather than in what abominable way you behave. There is a huge gray area here, obviously (you went through the senator's garbage and bribed his maid and found nothing of consequence and then got caught? You monster!), but I think it is a more serious discussion than whether or not it's okay to do terrible things to get a story.
Hi. Old hack newspaperman here (a "journalist" being a "newspaperman" who's out of a job). My friend Ed once was night managing editor of a small Connecticut daily. The main takeaway from that experience was becoming one of the very few newspaper editors who actually got to yell "stop the presses!" (Then-presidential-candidate George Wallace had just been shot.)
John, referring to your wonderful second paragraph ("Reporting is basically a variant of rudeness"): Ed and I have talked and talked about how we make a living with our fingers (oh, stop!) during long days covering things together. He has a problem with the word "profession." It's not a profession, he says, it's "the game." Do you want to be a "professional journalist" or "in the newspaper game?" I've know people who were one or the other, or sometimes took time out from being one to be the other. The distinction is important if you want to understand what's happening in London.
The Murdoch people are in the newspaper game. They ain't exactly alone. And for what it's worth — a great deal, to others in the game — they doubtless are a fucking riot to drink with.