Press Box

Murdoch’s Metastasizing Migraine

New phone-hacking-scandal evidence surfaces.

Rupert Murdoch’s phone-hacking scandal won’t go away

How will Rupert Murdoch’s minions—including his son James—wriggle out of this one?

Today, the Guardian’s mighty Nick Davies presents additional evidence of a cover-up in the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal. In March 2007, just after News of the World reporter Clive Goodman got out of prison for hacking the phones of the “royal” family staff, he protested his dismissal from his job for “alleged gross misconduct” in a letter to the company’s HR department.

Appealing his dismissal, Goodman stated that the phone-hacking practice was “widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor [Andy Coulson]”; that “other staff members were carrying out the same illegal procedures”’; and that the actions that led to his criminal “charge were carried out with the full knowledge and support” of superiors—whose names have been redacted from the document by Scotland Yard because they are under investigation.

The letter, culled from documents collected by the House of Commons committee investigating the phone-hacking scandal, makes potential liars out of Andy Coulson, who was News of the World editor when Goodman got caught (and who recently left Prime Minister David Cameron’s service as communications director) and Les Hinton, the News Corp. executive who resigned last month after the phone-hacking scandal reignited. Hinton, Davies reports, was sent a copy of the Goodman letter but did not give it to police. Hinton also told Parliament that Goodman was the lone News of the World reporter to hack phones.

Previously, News Corp. told Parliament that it had paid Goodman £60,000 upon his dismissal. But new evidence obtained by Parliament shows that he was paid £230,000 in compensation in 2007 and £13,000 in legal expenses by News Corp. after his dismissal. Goodman’s HR letter stated that he was promised his job back by News of the World’s then-editor and itslawyer, so these payments are looking like hush money to Member of Parliament Tom Watson, who told the Guardian, “I think they tried to buy his silence.”

If Goodman is on the level, he can testify that Hinton lied to Parliament and that Coulson has consistently lied about the scale of phone hacking at News of the World as well as his knowledge of it. This would put Hinton and Coulson at par with James Murdoch, who was essentially caught lying last month when the outgoing editor of the shuttered News of the World and its staff lawyer contradicted his Commons testimony about phone hacking.

“The Murdoch Corp’s circular firing squad now pulling triggers,” former Sunday Times Editor Andrew Neil summarized the every-man-for-himself quality to the scandal’s latest ripple in a tweet today. “Casualties likely to be high in hail of bullets.”

A new round of Commons phone-hacking hearings has been announced, with former News of the World Editor Colin Myler and News of the World lawyer Tom Crone—the men who contradicted James Murdoch—being invited in for questioning, as well as a the head of HR and its former legal director. Presumably the principals will be given clear shots at one another—and not with shaving-cream pies. James Murdoch and others are likely to be invited, too.

Also released by the Commons committee was a letter from the Harbottle & Lewis law firm, which accused the Murdochs’ company of misrepresenting its work for News Corp. The firm denied having given the Murdochs’ company a “clean bill of health” and denied having been hired, as Rupert Murdoch put it, “to find out what the hell was going on.”* When your own lawyers start pissing on you, you’re in big trouble.

Obviously, a whole passel of phone-hacking lies have been spilled, and the scandal has grown too large for one or two willing Murdoch lieutenants or employees to stanch it by taking the fall. Reading Goodman’s letter and his payouts with a jaundiced eye, we can see that that was his original role. Likewise, that huge settlements paid to prominent phone-hacking victims in 2009 were supposed to bury the scandal.

The journalistic orthodoxy requests that I type that “it’s always the cover-up that gets you,” the suggestion being that it’s always better to get the scandal out in front, confess, and cut your losses. But I won’t. It’s my hunch that the scandal would have been equally devastating to the Murdoch empire had it not commenced its sloppy cover-up of lies, settlements, and other payouts when the original phone hacking of the “royal” staff broke in 2006. Back in 2006, so much of the phone-hacking evidence was still green and the damage done to victims still fresh.

Just think about how close the genocidal tyrant and his staff came to getting away with it. If not for Nick Davies and reinforcements from the New York Times, the News of the World would still be alive, Rupert Murdoch would have purchased the remainder of BSkyB, and instead of being measured by his tailor for convict stripes James Murdoch would be selecting carpet and drapes for his new News Corp. CEO office.


Worthy commentaries on today’s phone-hacking story: Brian Cathcart, Ryan Chittum, Michael Calderone, and others. I especially enjoyed ProPublica’s comparison of News International’s redaction of the Goodman letter with that of Parliament. Send letters to and watch my Twitter feed for redactions. (Email may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Correction, Aug. 17, 2011: This article originally left an adverb out from the quote of Rupert Murdoch. (Return to corrected sentence.)