Carl Bernstein writes: So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.
In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.
Thus in the spring of 2011 – less than 10 weeks before Murdoch’s centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed – Fox News’ inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama’s expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense “analyst” and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.
All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus’s meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose account of their discussion, accompanied online by audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post – distressingly, in its style section, and not on page one, where it belonged – and, under the style logo, online on December 3.
Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes’ and Murdoch’s disdain for an independent and truly free and honest press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of their messenger to convey their extraordinary presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.
The tone of the media’s reaction was set from the beginning by the Post’s own tin-eared treatment of this huge story: relegating it, like any other juicy tidbit of inside-the-beltway media gossip, to the section of the newspaper and its website that focuses on entertainment, gossip, cultural and personality-driven news, instead of the front page.
“Bob had a great scoop, a buzzy media story that made it perfect for Style. It didn’t have the broader import that would justify A1,” Liz Spayd, the Post’s managing editor, told Politico when asked why the story appeared in the style section.
Buzzy media story? Lacking the “broader import” of a front-page story? One cannot imagine such a failure of news judgment among any of Spayd’s modern predecessors as managing editors of the Post, especially in the clear light of the next day and with a tape recording – of the highest audio quality – in hand.
“Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran,” Petraeus announces on the crystal-clear digital recording and then laughs, “but I won’t … but if I ever ran, I’d take him up on his offer. … He said he would quit Fox … and bankroll it.”
McFarland clarified the terms: “The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house” – thereby confirming what Fox New critics have consistently maintained about the network’s faux-news agenda and its built-in ideological bias. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Sir John Major has claimed Rupert Murdoch demanded his government change its policy on Europe or his papers would oppose him at the 1997 general election.
The former Conservative prime minister told the Leveson inquiry on Tuesday that Murdoch delivered the ultimatum at a private meeting with the News Corporation founder on 2 February 1997, three months before the election in which the Tories lost heavily to New Labour.
Major’s claim appears to contradict Murdoch’s own evidence to the inquiry. Murdoch told Leveson on 25 April that “I have never asked a prime minister for anything.”
In his witness statement to the inquiry Major said he assumed Murdoch meant that “he has never asked for anything that would benefit him personally or his company”. “In my very limited contact with Mr Murdoch his statement is on a strict interpretation literally true,” he added.
“Certainly he never asked for anything directly from me but he was not averse to pressing for policy changes. In the runup to the 1997 general election in my third and last meeting with him on 2 February 1997 he made it clear that he disliked my European policies which he wished me to change.
“If not, his papers could not and would not support the Conservative government. So far as I recall he made no mention of editorial independence but referred to all his papers as ‘we’.
“Both Mr Murdoch and I kept our word. I made no change in policy and Mr Murdoch’s titles did indeed oppose the Conservative party. It came as no surprise to me when soon after our meeting the Sun newspaper announced its support for Labour.”
The Guardian reports: Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, is to be charged over allegations that she tried to conceal evidence from detectives investigating phone hacking and alleged bribes to public officials.
Brooks, one of the most high-profile figures in the newspaper industry, will be charged later on Tuesday with three counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in July last year at the height of the police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced.
She is accused of conspiring with others, including her husband, Charlie Brooks, the racehorse trainer and friend of the prime minister, and her personal assistant, to conceal material from detectives.
Brooks and her husband were informed of the charging decision – the first since the start of the Operation Weeting phone hacking investigation last January – when they answered their bail at a police station in London this morning.
They are among six individuals from News International, along with the company’s head of security, Mark Hanna, to be charged over allegations that they removed material, documents and computers to hide them from officers investigating phone hacking. The charge is a serious one which carries a maximum penalty of life, although the average term served in prison is 10 months.
In a statement Brooks and her husband – who are both close to David Cameron – condemned the decision made by senior lawyers and overseen by Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions.
The Guardian reports: Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire is facing a challenge on a new front in the billowing phone-hacking scandal after a powerful US Senate committee opened direct contact with British investigators in an attempt to find out whether News Corporation has broken American laws.
Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, has written to Lord Justice Leveson, who leads the British judicial inquiry into media ethics, asking if he has uncovered any evidence relating questionable practices in the US.
“I would like to know whether any of the evidence you are reviewing suggests that these unethical and sometimes illegal business practices occurred in the United States or involved US citizens,” Rockefeller writes in a letter released on Wednesday.
The development adds to the potential dangers facing News Corp, a publicly-traded company with its headquarters in New York. Rockefeller has taken a close interest in the unfolding phone-hacking saga, but it is the first time that a Senate committee member has acted in his official capacity.
The Associated Press reports: News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch must take responsibility for serious failings that caused Britain’s tabloid phone hacking scandal, lawmakers said Tuesday in a scathing report — as a narrow majority also insisted the tycoon was unfit to lead his global media empire.
In a report on the malpractice at Murdoch’s now shuttered News of The World tabloid, legislators accused Murdoch and his son James of overseeing a corporate culture that sought “to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing.”
Parliament’s cross-party Culture, Media and Sport committee unanimously agreed that three key News International executives had misled Parliament by offering false accounts of their knowledge of the extent of phone hacking — a rare and serious censure that can see offenders hauled before Parliament to make a personal apology.
The panel said the House of Commons would decide on the punishment meted out to the three executives: New York Daily News editor Colin Myler, a former News of The World editor; the British tabloid’s longtime lawyer Tom Crone and Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and former board member of The Associated Press.
Members of the panel said Rupert Murdoch, 81, had insisted he was unaware that hacking was widespread at the News of The World, blaming his staff for keeping him in the dark. That explanation was not accepted.
The legislators said if that was true, “he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies.”
In a ruling opposed by 4 Conservative Party members of the 11-member committee, the panel cast serious doubt on Murdoch’s credentials as an executive.
“We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” the report said.
The judgment on Murdoch implies that News Corp., which he heads, is also not fit to control British Sky Broadcasting, in which the company has a controlling stake of 39 percent.
Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, said it is reading the report with interest.
“Ofcom has a duty … to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting license is, and remains, fit and proper to do so,” the statement read. “Ofcom is continuing to assess the evidence.”
David Leigh writes: The wagons of the Murdoch media empire have long been circled protectively around one man, as the hacking scandal has raged on. Many other Murdoch myrmidons have been arrested, sacked, or turned out into the snow in his father’s brutal closure of the News of the World: but not him.
James Murdoch’s luck is still holding, in one way. The explosive news this week was that new evidence knocks a hole in his “I knew little” defence. But it failed to emerge in time to affect the recent shareholder revolt at BSkyB. For some reason, the News International group of executives and lawyers who are supposedly rooting out all evidence of malpractice, were a fraction slow in discovering this smouldering email chain and turning it over to a Commons committee. Had they been quicker, the outcome at Sky might have been different.
James’s luck has held in another way too. Some public attention has been distracted by the timing of Scotland Yard’s announcement that the murdered Milly Dowler’s voicemails were indeed hacked by exploitative NI journalists, but probably not additionally deleted on purpose. The NI attack dogs have been set to bay at maximum diversionary volume, even trying to accuse the Guardian, which originally reported the deletions, of deliberately “sexing up” their disclosures. Tellingly, even this week NI refuses to confirm or deny whether its journalists did delete Milly’s voice messages.
But in a more fundamental sense, James’s luck has finally run out. The publication of the newly discovered emails between him and the then editor of the News of the World, documents not only the mechanism of a big cover-up but also, crucially, the way that James has repeatedly shifted his story and sought to blame others. It is not a good look for the would-be captain of a mighty international corporation.
The New York Times reports: A British private detective at the center of the phone hacking scandal that has shaken Rupert Murdoch’s media empire cited the MI5 file of a close friend of Princes William and Harry in notes he kept on his work for the tabloid The News of the World, according to a suit filed in London.
But the court papers, released to The New York Times, do not clearly indicate whether the detective, Glenn Mulcaire, accessed the highly classified intelligence file directly, was told of its contents or was simply noting its existence.
The documents, dated Sept. 23, accuse Mr. Mulcaire and the now-closed News of the World of invading the privacy of Guy Pelly, a London nightclub owner and a confidant of the princes. The defendants, the suit says, hacked Mr. Pelly’s cellphone, set up an e-mail address in his name and flew him to Las Vegas on false pretenses to trick him into revealing details about his royal friends.
But the most intriguing accusation relates to at least two references to Mr. Pelly’s MI5 profile in Mr. Mulcaire’s detailed records. He kept copious notes covering his conversations with his employers at the tabloid, his sources, his methods and the information he gleaned.
One reference, the suit said, was in an electronic file titled “Project Guy W. Pelly,” which “included his mobile number, his parents’ landline number, his parents’ address and a further reference to the MI5 profile.”
Somewhat ambiguously, the suit states: “It is to be inferred that individuals close to members of the Royal Family have MI5 profiles and that this information was obtained unlawfully by the Defendants.”
The Guardian reports: One of Rupert Murdoch’s most senior European executives has resigned following Guardian inquiries about a circulation scam at News Corporation’s flagship newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal’s true circulation.
The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper’s management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.
Internal emails and documents suggest the scam was promoted by Andrew Langhoff, the European managing director of the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones and Co, which was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in July 2007. Langhoff resigned on Tuesday.
The Guardian reports:
James Desborough, an award-winning reporter at the former News of the World newspaper, has been arrested by officers investigating the phone-hacking scandal.
Desborough was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to section 1 (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977 after arriving at a south London police station on Thursday morning at 10.30am. He had arrived at the station by appointment for questioning about criminal activities at the paper.
The allegations are believed to relate to events prior to Desborough being promoted to be the newspaper’s Los Angeles-based US editor in April 2009.
He was given the job less than a month after winning the British Press Award for showbusiness reporter of the year.
His move to the US makes his arrest, the 13th made by Operation Weeting, particularly significant. If Desborough was involved in hacking while in Britain, as police appear to believe he was, it raises the question of whether he practised those techniques in the US – and if so, whether he was the first and only News of the World journalist in the US to do so.
Meanwhile, News Corp shareholders have been warned about the cost of phone hacking.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has warned that it is “not able to predict the ultimate outcome or cost” of the phone-hacking scandal, admitting it could “impair” its ability to conduct its business.
In its annual report filed on Wednesday, News Corp said its reputation could be damaged by the crisis that has engulfed the company and led to the closure of the News of the World.
The report also revealed that Freud Communications, the public relations firm run by Matthew Freud, Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, was paid $202,000 (£122,000) by News Corp in the financial year ended 30 June 2011 for “press and publicity activities”.
News Corp, which is the subject of a wide-ranging FBI investigation, said it was “not able to predict the ultimate outcome or cost” of the police investigations and civil actions related to alleged unlawful activity.
“UK and US regulators and governmental authorities are conducting investigations after allegations of phone hacking and inappropriate payments to police at our former publication, News of the World, and other related matters, including investigations into whether similar conduct may have occurred at the company’s subsidiaries outside of the UK,” said News Corp in its report.
“The company is co-operating fully with these investigations. It is possible that these proceedings could damage our reputation and might impair our ability to conduct our business.”
The Guardian reports:
Five years ago Robert Emmel was enjoying the American dream. He lived in a detached house in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, drove a BMW, and earned $140,000 a year as an accounts director in a highly successful advertising company called News America Marketing.
Today, Emmel is described by his lawyers as destitute. Jobless and in debt, he was discharged from bankruptcy last year. He does occasional consultancy work that last month brought in $500, and this month, court documents show, will probably produce nothing. His wife’s earnings raise monthly household income to about $3,000 – half their outgoings.
This is a cautionary tale about what can happen to someone who dares to become a corporate whistleblower. Or, more specifically, someone who incurs the wrath of News Corporation, the media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch, of which News America forms a part.
Emmel’s lawyer, Philip Hilder, has had a ringside seat at the gradual unravelling of his client’s life. A former federal prosecutor based in Houston, Texas, Hilder is well versed in whistleblower cases having represented Sherron Watkins, who helped uncover the Enron scandal. Hilder said: “News America has engaged in Rambo litigation tactics. They have a scorched earth policy, and it’s taken a huge toll on him.”
News Corp has devoted the efforts of up to 29 lawyers to pursuing Emmel personally, at a cost estimated at more than $2m. Emmel, by contrast, has relied on two lawyers, Hilder and Marc Garber in Atlanta, working for no pay since January 2009.
Attention has been focused on News Corporation’s activities in the UK, where the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has led to the arrest of 10 people associated with the company. In the US, oversight of News Corp is gathering pace with the department of justice and the FBI looking into the company, while senators are considering launching committee hearings into News Corp practices.
One incident that US investigators are exploring is the hacking of a website run by one of News America’s rivals, an instore advertising business called Floorgraphics. The firm discovered that its password-protected site had been breached from an IP address at News America’s offices in Connecticut. News America has condemned the breach as a “violation of the standards of our company” but says it does not know how it happened.
Emmel was one of the main witnesses for Floorgraphics at a subsequent trial against his old company. He worked for News America for seven years from 1999 to 2006, turning whistleblower in his final year there. The company is the leading US provider of in-store advertising services, helping to bring products from firms such as Coca-Cola, Kraft and Nabisco to the attention of supermarket shoppers. Headed by Paul Carlucci, who now publishes Murdoch’s tabloid the New York Post, it enjoys annual revenues of more than $1bn and has a 90% stranglehold on the market. News America also has a record of legal disputes with its commercial rivals, three of whom have launched lawsuits against it in recent years accusing the firm of using unlawful practices.
All three lawsuits – including the Floorgraphics one and cases initiated by Valassis and Insignia – were eventually settled, but not before News America agreed to pay an astounding $655m to end the disputes. Emmel acted as a whistleblower in all three cases. He gave two days of evidence in the Floorgraphics trial after which News America rapidly settled, and was also named in the Valassis and Insignia cases.
The Guardian reports:
Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.
In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with “the full knowledge and support” of other senior journalists, whom he named.
The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman’s allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs’ own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”.
Nicholas Wapshott writes:
The first letter, from News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman, who became the patsy for the affair, gives the lie to the suggestion to Parliament by Murdoch’s most trusted retainer Les Hinton that phone hacking was the work of a single rogue reporter. In the letter, Goodman lets slip that “the actions … were carried out with the full knowledge and support” of some of the paper’s other journalists and that “other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.” The names of those others have been redacted for now, at the request of Scotland Yard, for fear of jeopardizing a prosecution.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s judgment is also called into question by the letter. The socially remote Cameron felt he could not connect with humdrum voters and hired Andy Coulson, top editor at the News of the World when the hacking took place, to explain his government’s policies in language the ordinary person could understand. Cameron says he hired the tainted Coulson because Coulson denied knowing of the illegality going on under his nose. But Goodman reports that hacking “was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor [Coulson].” The “smoking gun” letter makes Cameron look naïve and gullible for being taken in so easily.
As in the Watergate affair, the coverup is becoming as important to understanding the culture within Murdoch’s business, and the failure of corporate governance by the board, as the crimes themselves. The Commons media committee received two copies of the Goodman letter, one from News International lawyers Harbottle & Lewis, who were released from their confidentiality after sharp questioning of James Murdoch by committee members Paul Farrelly and Tom Watson. News International executives repeatedly tried to have Watson removed from the committee, and when they failed ran vicious stories about him.
While Harbottle & Lewis redacted a single line from the Goodman letter, at the request of the police, a second copy was issued by News International, on the instructions of James Murdoch. This version not only redacts the names of other employees implicated in the crime but also blots out the sentence saying Coulson openly spoke about the hacking in editorial meetings. Further, it blanks the section that shows that Murdoch’s company wanted to buy Goodman’s silence: “[H.R. director] Tom Crone and the Editor [Coulson] 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.”
A second letter also provides evidence of a coverup of the original crime. At the Commons hearing in July, questioning centred on what Rupert and James Murdoch knew about a Harbottle & Lewis investigation into thousands of e-mails that showed extensive use of hacking by Murdoch journalists in which the legal firm appeared to clear the company of permitting wrongdoing. James Murdoch used the letter to suggest that he had no reason to believe criminality was widespread. Released from its confidentiality, however, Harbottle & Lewis has now revealed that it was never asked to comment on whether they found that the hacking was prevalent, only whether Goodman had been ordered to hack by others. “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,” it writes. “Nor was it being given a general retainer, as Mr. Rupert Murdoch asserted it was, ‘to find out what the hell was going on.’” They found James Murdoch’s attempt to hide behind their letter “hard to credit” and Rupert Murdoch’s assertion “inaccurate and misleading.”
David Carr writes:
Over the last month, many Americans watched from a distance in horror or amusement as it became evident that the News Corporation regarded Britain’s legal and political institutions as its own private club.
That could never happen in the United States, right?
As it turns out, a News Corporation division has twice come under significant civil and criminal investigations in the United States, but neither inquiry went anywhere. Given what has happened in Britain with the growing phone-hacking scandal, it is worth wondering why.
Both cases involve News America Marketing, an obscure but lucrative division of the News Corporation that is a big player in the business of retail marketing, including newspaper coupon inserts and in-store promotions. The company has come under scrutiny for a pattern of conduct that includes below-cost pricing, paying customers not to do business with competitors and accusations of computer hacking.
News America Marketing came to control 90 percent of the in-store advertising business, according to Fortune, aided in part by a particularly quick and favorable antitrust decision made by the Justice Department in 1997. That year, the News Corporation announced it wanted to buy Heritage Media, a big competitor, for about $754 million in stock plus $600 million in assumed debt. The News Corporation said it would sell the broadcast properties and hang onto the marketing division, which serviced 40,000 groceries and other retailers.
The deal would make News America Marketing the dominant player in the business and, for that reason, the San Francisco field office of the Justice Department recommended to Washington that the News Corporation’s takeover bid be challenged on antitrust grounds. Typically, such a request from a field office would carry great weight in Washington and, at a minimum, delay the deal for months.
But the Justice Department brass overrode San Francisco’s objections and gave its blessing in just two weeks. So who ran the antitrust division at the Justice Department at the time? Joel Klein, who this year became an executive vice president at the News Corporation, head of its education division and a close adviser to Rupert Murdoch on the phone-hacking scandal in Britain.
Michael Massing says that now Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is under examination, it’s time to scrutinize Fox News.
Since being launched in 1996, Fox has had a profound and toxic effect on the press and politics in this country. With a daily prime-time viewership of around 2 million—more than that of CNN and MSNBC combined—it has become the Republican Party’s most powerful booster. “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox,” David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, has observed. Fox has put several Republican presidential hopefuls on its payroll and allowed other candidates to fund-raise on its shows. After appearing on Sean Hannity’s program, for instance, 2010 senatorial candidate Sharron Angle boasted that that she had raised $40,000 before even leaving the studio.
Fox has helped to foster the Tea Party and amplify its message. In the days prior to the nationwide Tea Party gatherings on April 15, 2009, Fox ran more than 100 promos touting both its coverage and the movement. (“Americans outraged over unfair and crippling taxes,” went one. “They fight for their future. Neil Cavuto [a Fox anchor] is giving them a voice.”) The endless publicity given the Tea Party, in turn, helped make possible the sweeping Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections. According to New York magazine, FOX News president Roger Ailes, disappointed with the Republican presidential field, called New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to urge him to enter the race—one of a number of king-making bids by Ailes, who, the magazine observed, has in a sense become “the head of the Republican Party.”
Unlike the News of the World, there’s no indication (as of now) that Fox has engaged in illegal activity. What it has done is violate every journalistic and ethical standard. It has promoted preposterous conspiracy theories, peddled blatant falsehoods, and given a soapbox to all sorts of cranks and crackpots. It ballyhooed President Obama’s “terrorist fist jab,” spread false reports that he attended a madrasa, gave Donald Trump a platform for questioning the president’s US citizenship, and endlessly promoted “Climategate,” the faux-controversy surrounding the leak of emails from climate specialists at the University of East Anglia in England. According to a public-opinion study released six months after the invasion of Iraq, 67 percent of regular Fox viewers believed that the United States had found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein had worked closely with al-Qaeda; another poll released last December reported that 60 percent of Fox viewers believe that most scientists have concluded that climate change is not occurring—examples of how the network has contributed to the steady seepage of know-nothingness throughout the American body politic.