It was always a matter of time before the News International phone hacking scandal washed ashore on the American side of the Atlantic. News Corporation is legally chartered here and listed on the NASDAQ, is physically headquartered in Manhattan, and controls several influential U.S. properties across a range of media. A News Corp. scandal like the phone hacking charges that engulfed its British print subsidiary is by definition an American scandal.
Long maintaining a pride of place amongst News Corp.'s U.S. holdings is The New York Post, which Rupert Murdoch purchased in 1976 for $30 million -- or roughly half of what the paper is estimated to bleed in annual losses.
Rupert Murdoch has bought other New York print properties over the years, including New York magazine and the Village Voice, but the Post has always been dearest to him. Murdoch is a tabloid creature at heart -- known for his love for short and punchy articles -- and over the course of nearly 40 years, the Post is the only American publication he's ever bought twice. After selling the paper in 1988 in an act of forced compliance with now-defunct media ownership laws, the American-naturalized mogul reacquired the paper in 1993 with a crucial assist from New York's then-governor Mario Cuomo.
It is during this most recent 18-year ownership stint that the Post has established an unrivaled reputation as the bottom-feeder of American print journalism. The paper's near-comical reputation for inaccuracy is so widespread that even Gretchen Carlson -- an anchor at Fox News, the Post's corporate cousin -- recently criticized its lack of credibility.
This is not surprising, considering that The Post was for years Murdoch's only U.S. print property staffed with his clan's inner-circle of favored British and Australian tabloid veterans. The paper lost this distinction when Murdoch purchased The Wall Street Journal in 2007 and installed lifetime loyalist and News International chairman Les Hinton as publisher. Hinton resigned this past July in the wake of growing controversy over his leadership role at News International between 1995 and 2007, when phone hacking is known to have occurred at the papers under his control.
Years before Murdoch installed Hinton at the Journal, he imported another Fleet Street product to New York in the form of Colin Myler. At the time of his arrival in 2001, Myler was all but unemployable in Britain. In April of that year, he had resigned after publishing an article in the Sunday Mirror that led to the collapse of an active and very expensive trial. Myler faced the possibility of criminal charges and even jail time, but in the end his paper was merely fined for contempt of court. Murdoch apparently intended to keep Myler in New York until the British public forgot about the incident, and he worked as a top editor at the Post for nearly six years. In 2007, Murdoch brought Myler back into the News International fold to edit the now defunct News of the World. The man who had left the UK under a cloud of his own scandal returned to deal with another editor's mess: Myler replaced editor Andy Coulson, who had just resigned in the wake of revelations that News of the World reporters had hacked into royal voicemails.
Myler probably wishes he had stayed in New York. Soon after his return to London, he took over the internal investigation that concluded hacking at the tabloid was restricted to one "rogue reporter." The next year, Myler personally advised James Murdoch to authorize a large out-of-court payment to a hacking victim. The disgraced editor has most recently emerged on the other side of the Murdoch divide. He now disputes the idea that James Murdoch was not exposed to the possibility that multiple reporters were involved in hacking. Myler's reversal, in which he is joined by News of the World's former head of legal affairs, Tom Crone, may result in James Murdoch being summoned for a second time before British Members of Parliament.
Soon after the News of the World scandal exploded this summer, questions emerged over whether similar illegal activity may have occurred at the Post. As a Fleet Street veteran, Myler provided connective tissue between News International and a News Corp. U.S. print operation. But Myler isn't the only Post figure to draw scrutiny. There is also the Post editor-in-chief to whom Myler reported in New York, the Australian Col Allan. The veteran editor is equally notorious for his taste and tolerance for sleaze, vengeance, and venom as he is for an ability to alienate and disgust his staff. Not for nothing is his Post nickname "Col Pot."
Among the parties to announce an interest in News Corp.'s journalistic practices in the U.S. is the FBI, which in July opened a preliminary investigation into charges that News of the World employees may have attempted to hire NYPD personnel to hack the phones of victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Since then, the FBI has reportedly broadened its investigation and is looking into the possibility of a wider pattern of abuse by News Corp. In late July, the News Corp. legal department asked Col Allan to direct all Post staff to maintain any records related to such activity and comply with the requests of company lawyers. The paper-wide email sent out from Allan read, "As we watched the news in the UK over the last few weeks, we knew that as a News Corp tabloid, we would be looked at more closely. So this is not unexpected." According to a report in Adweek, the directive followed a series of meetings in which Post editors "pulled junior staffers [behind] closed-door[s]... and told them, 'We have to be on our P's and Q's and not engage in any kind of obvious, unethical journalistic things.'"
So far, no evidence has emerged that the Post or Murdoch's other U.S.-based outlets have engaged in the type of phone hacking that took place in Britain. In interviews, multiple former Post editors and reporters suggested such hacking was not practiced at the paper. Former Post staff paint a picture of a cash-strapped, clumsy, and somewhat lazy news desk. The paper's gossip and society scoops, they say, are acquired through a system of favors, threats, and mutual p.r. backscratching -- but not skullduggery. "It's possible to beat the Daily News with an arm tied behind your back," said one former editor. "There was no need to hire private dicks."
Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who broke the News International phone hacking stories, is likewise disinclined to think the Post engaged in the sort of hacking that upended Fleet Street. "I just don't think it happened here," he told Media Matters during a recent investigative trip to the New York. "I think the most interesting lead is corporate espionage and the Carlucci case."
Murdoch named Paul V. Carlucci publisher of the Post in 2005. Carlucci, who is also CEO of News Corp.'s News America Marketing, is named in a lawsuit alleging his involvement in the hacking of a rival firm's computer system with the intention of hurting their business. A spokesperson for News America Marketing has denied Carlucci knew of the alleged hacking, but News Corp. settled the case in a $30 million buyout of the rival firm before this could be established. The Justice Department is reportedly reviewing the charges. Regardless of what investigators find, News Corp. may not face criminal penalties because federal computer crimes generally have a five-year statute of limitations.
Considering the professional biographies of, and allegations surrounding, Myler, Allan, and Carlucci -- as well as a known history of scandal and targeted character assassination in the Post gossip pages -- it is clear that the tabloid deserves scrutiny in the wake of the News International scandal. A serious investigation into the Post may not reveal News of the World-style hacking, but ex-staffers say the Post newsroom is full of unethical practices and methods. "It's hardly below the surface," one Post source told Adweek, a sentiment echoed in interviews with Media Matters.
It is also a sentiment echoed in lawsuits filed against the paper in recent years concerning allegations of flagrant racism and sexism in the workplace. Among the former staffers making allegations is former Post associate editor Sandra Guzman, an Emmy award-winning journalist of black and Puerto Rican descent who was hired in 2003 to help grow the paper's Latino readership. In November 2009, Guzman filed a lawsuit -- still active -- charging the Post, News Corp., and senior Post editors (including Col Allan) with discrimination and harassment and alleging that she was unlawfully terminated as retaliation for her complaints about discrimination. (The suit includes visual evidence in the form of a cartoon the Post published in February 2009 that some observers inside and outside the paper interpreted as comparing Barack Obama to a murdered chimpanzee.)
"The Post, and its parent company, News Corporation, maintain, condone, tolerate, directly participate in and contribute to a hostile work environment against female employees and employees of color," alleges Guzman's complaint. It states, "Female employees and employees of color have been subjected to pervasive and systematic discrimination and/or unlawful harassment."
Among the specific allegations:
- Les Goodstein, Senior Vice President of News Corp., repeatedly referred to Guzman as "Cha Cha #1" and "routinely stared at the breasts and butts of other female employees ... and would often lick his lips while doing so."
- Male senior editors would request sexual favors from, and carry on sexual relationships with, female subordinates -- sometimes in exchange for professional advancement.
- After Guzman interviewed Dominican baseball pitcher Pedro Martinez, Col Allan asked her if he had been, in Guzman's words, "carrying a gun or a machete" during the interview.
- A columnist used a "mocking and fake Spanish accent" when in proximity to Guzman, and a managing editor "openly made disparaging comments in the workplace about Hispanics."
- Chalres Hurt, the Post's Washington D.C. Bureau Chief, confirmed to Guzman that the Post had an unwritten editorial policy in place to "destroy Barack Obama."
Guzman's allegations are similar to those in a suit filed by Post employees Austin Fenner and Ikimilusa Livingston. Fenner, a black city desk reporter who was fired the day Guzman filed her complaint, claims that he was "subjected to discrimination throughout his employment" at the Post. Fenner alleges that he was illegally fired "based on his race and/or color and due to his opposition to the Company's discriminatory practices, including Defendants' belief that Mr. Fenner would be a supportive witness in Sandra Guzman's discrimination case."
Shortly after Fenner filed his suit, black Post assignment reporter Ikimilusa Livingston joined the complaint. Livingston added her own specific allegations of racism at the Post, including the conduct of Steve Dunleavy, a veteran columnist who retired in 2008. The complaint highlights allegations that Dunleavy routinely used racial slurs inside the office with impunity, going so far as to submit first drafts of news stories in which he referred to Hispanics as "spics." On at least one occasion, the complaint charges, Dunleavy openly referred to a black Post colleague as a "nigger."
The complaint states that the Australian-born Dunleavy is a "close friend" of Rupert Murdoch and alleges that Murdoch and Col Allan heartily toasted the columnist at a farewell party.
The allegations of Guzman, Fenner, and Livingston are further supported by the general assessments of former Post employees contacted by Media Matters. "Col Allan is an asshole to the highest degree," one former editor told Media Matters. "I wouldn't put it past him to break the law. The racism and sexism was pervasive, you definitely felt it. Women were not treated equally in the Post's coverage. The Post likes knocking people down -- especially powerful women." Another former Post reporter described Allan as a "monster" that "makes Colin Myler look like an angel."
There's no way Murdoch is unaware of the culture his editor has created at the Post. A former general assignment reporter for the paper says that he saw Rupert Murdoch on the Post newsroom floor almost as often as he did Allan, who "dealt only with senior editors and generally stayed behind his glass office walls."
Perhaps the best window into the character of Col Allan is an email he once sent, as recounted in a 2007 New York magazine profile. When the Daily News beat the Post to a story by revealing the identity of a woman who was raped and beaten in 1989 -- known as the "Central Park Jogger" -- Allan sent an email to the woman's agent, who Allan wrongly believed had chosen the News over the Post to tease his client's forthcoming memoir:
"After seeing today's daily news I am contemplating two courses of action," Allan wrote to Evans, "taking a blunt axe to the jogger--we know a lot about her," he threatened, or "taking the view this book was never written--not a sentence, not a word shared with our 2.2 million readers. Which of these two options would you recommend?"