How Murdoch's Wall Street Journal Publisher Botched News Corp.'s Phone-Hacking Investigation

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Rupert Murdoch is shuttering his scandal-plagued News of The World tabloid in London. Will he have to cut ties with a longtime executive of his in America, too?

As we noted this week, when Murdoch purchased the Wall Street Journal in 2007 he immediately selected his loyal aide and longtime confidant Les Hinton to run the Dow Jones Company and become publisher of the newspaper.

But prior to taking over Murdoch's American publishing jewel, Hinton ran the mogul's British newspapers, including News of the World. And Hinton ran the newspapers at a time when the tabloid was hacking mobile phones at an astonishing rate.

That in and of itself is a problem, given the week's extraordinary events.

But perhaps even more troubling is the fact that Hinton oversaw News Corp.'s initial internal investigation into the phone hacking scandal and came away convinced there was no evidence of widespread wrongdoing in the company, and that the hacking had been confined to just one reporter. (The company went to "extraordinary lengths" to uncover any crimes, Hinton boasted at the time.) And that's the happy line Hinton told to members of Parliament who pressed him in 2009 about the long-simmering controversy.

Keep Hinton's pronouncements in mind while reading the formal statement issued today by News Corp. executive James Murdoch [emphasis added]:

Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.

As a result, the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter.

We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences.

This was not the only fault.

The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong.

The company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.

Hinton, a veteran journalist himself, was tasked with finding out the truth about phone hacking inside News Corp.'s tabloid. He came away with Pollyannaish findings, claiming Murdoch's operation was clean, except for one bad apple. As I noted previously, it's an investigation that, in light of recent developments, looks to have been incompetent at best, and a fraud at worst. In fact, it looks to have been part of a failed cover-up.

For the record, Hinton also authorized payments to the News of the World reporter at the heart of the hacking scandal, as well as for the private detective that reporter hired. Hinton authorized the payments after both men had been jailed.

Given all that, is Les Hinton really qualified to be publisher of one of the largest and most prestigious newspapers in America?

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