In the magazine this weekend, The New York Times has a great piece from the investigative desk about the use of phone hacking at News of the World, a British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. under the News Group Newspapers umbrella.
Reporters at the paper may have used illegal phone-hacking techniques on more than a hundred celebrities, including the royals. As of this summer, there are five lawsuits against the paper and its ownership.
“Getting a letter from Scotland Yard that your phone has been hacked is rather like getting a Willy Wonka golden ticket,” a lawyer in one of the suits told The Times. “Time to queue up at Murdoch Towers to get paid.” One case has already settled for more than 1 million pounds.
Les Hinton, who Mr. Murdoch appointed CEO of Dow Jones after he purchased the company in 2007, was the top executive at the News Group Newspapers during many of the violations. He was called to testify before a Parliamentary committee about the violations and claimed to have no knowledge of the phone-hacking practices. One member of parliament called his testimony a “masterful performance.”
When The Times reporters asked one veteran News of the World reporter how many people in the offices knew about the hacks, the reporter said “Everyone knew … The office cat knew.”
The piece also has great anecdotes about the symbiotic relationship between Scotland Yard and British gossip tabloids, and the ferocity of Andy Coulson, who was made editor of News of the World at age 34.
The episode was vintage Coulson, who ruled the newsroom with single-minded imperiousness: get the story, no matter what. Reporters donned lingerie to infiltrate suburban swinger parties. Others were deployed within the paper’s headquarters, on the sprawling News International campus in East London, seemingly for the amusement of editors. One reporter was ordered to spend 24 hours inside a plastic box, in the newsroom, to emulate a stunt by the magician.
Mr. Coulson resigned from his post and accetped “ultimate responsibility” for the practices. Both Mr. Coulson and Mr. Hinton wouldn’t talk to The Times.