FLASHBACK: WSJ Defends Publisher From Hacking Cover-up Allegations

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal has a front-page article today about Parliament's new, damning report alleging that Murdoch is "not fit" to run News Corp. based on the rampant criminality the company has unleashed in Great Britain in recent years. The Journal piece is straightforward and informative and the paper deserves credit for acknowledging its parent company is being rocked by a media scandal that refuses to go away, and one that has destroyed the reputation of its owner.

Unfortunately for the Journal and its reputation, it's too little too late. The truth is the paper remains permanently scarred for the obtuse way it first handled the unfolding scandal last summer, and specifically how the paper initially played dumb about the role that its then-publisher, Les Hinton, had in the saga. (Prior to running the Journal, Hintonserved as chief of News International and oversaw Murdoch's British newspaper empire, including News of The World, where so much hacking occurred.)

Worse, in a clownish and defensive editorial that will likely live in Murdoch infamy, the WSJ last July lashed out at critics who dared question Hinton's increasingly unbelievable denials about his central role in covering up the rampant hacking that took place under his command. The editorial came in response to Hinton's resignation from News Corp.

Keep that editorial in mind while reading this British summary from the just just-released Parliament report on the News Corp. phone hacking and bribery scandal:

Ex-News International chief executive Les Hinton sanctioned a series of "extraordinary" payments to former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman after his phone-hacking conviction in a bid to buy his silence - and then tried to cover-up his involvement in the payments, according to MPs.

According to the report, "Hinton was complicit in the cover-up at News International, which included making misleading statements and giving a misleading picture to this committee." Hinton was also singled out for "selective amnesia" during his "startlingly vague" testimony before members of Parliament in 2009.

Background: When Murdoch purchased the Wall Street Journal in 2007 he immediately selected his loyal aide and longtime confidant Hinton to run the Dow Jones Company and become publisher of the newspaper. Prior to the Journal, Hinton ran the mogul's British newspapers which served as a hacking hot bed.

Additionally, Hinton oversaw News Corp.'s initial internal investigation into the phone hacking scandal which claimed 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 feel-good line Hinton told to members of Parliament who pressed him in 2007 and 2009 about the long-simmering controversy.

Instead of a limited operation though, it's now estimated that thousands of phones were hacked by Murdoch's minions. In other words, very little of what Hinton told Parliament turned out to be accurate.

Hinton was forced to resign from Dow Jones and the Journal last summer. But as the new British assessment of the scandal makes clear, he played a pivotal role in the Murdoch saga. By defending its publisher, the Journal's integrity was badly tainted by the hacking debacle.

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