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."
Amidst the turbulent News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal received a welcomed pat on the back when the newspaper's Special Committee, tasked with protecting the daily's editorial integrity, announced Monday that the Journal had not been implicated in the scandal, and that Murdoch's newspaper integrity remains in tact.
The committee toasted the Journal's staff full of "talented, experienced, principled people" and assured readers the paper was in no way associated with the "the journalistic rot on sad display in the U.K."
Have there been any credible claims that reporters at the Wall Street Journal hacked phones or otherwise broke the law in pursuit of stories? Certainly not that I've seen. So in that regard, the committee's findings were not surprising, or even newsworthy. (It would be shocking to think anyone at the newspaper had been involved in hacking.)
A more compelling point facing the Journal though, is that when confronted with its first real test of having to cover Murdoch and his company as part of a big, breaking news scandal, the Journal failed in very important ways. Namely, it failed for an entire week to report on the central role that its publisher, Les Hinton, played in the British hacking scandal. (He was ultimately forced to resign.) And then the Journal's opinion pages were turned into a misguided Murdoch cheering section.
On those two key points however, the Special Committee remains oddly nonjudgmental.
Also troubling is that the committee, deep into its public statement, concedes the Journal was guilty of key journalism transgression while covering the News Corp., yet fails to explain who was responsible for those failures, or how the paper will make sure they don't happen again in the Murdoch era.
News Corp.'s phone-hacking fiasco continues to do lasting damage to Rupert Murdoch's reputation, as well as the reputation of the media properties he owns. Feeling an especial sting is the Wall Street Journal, the crown of Murdoch's print news enterprise in America.
The once-mighty daily has been dragged into the tale of sleazy Fleet Street practices because Murdoch in 2007 appointed his longtime confidant Les Hinton to become publisher the Journal. The problem? Hinton turns out to have been a key player in the hacking scandal and oversaw a completely inept internal investigation for News Corp. which failed to uncover the rampant criminality that appears to have taken place under his watch. (Hinton was forced to resign last week.)
So yes, the Journal's a player in the story. (Albeit one it tried its best to keep quiet about.) But the good news is, Wall Street Journal columnists and its opinion writers have "total editorial freedom" to write whatever they want regarding the epic controversy.
It's true. Journal columnist Bret Stephens stressed that point during an interview with wsj.com. He wrote about the hacking story this week and in no way feared any negative, internal "consequence." (Murdoch, after all, is hands-on at the Journal.) Yep, the team has total editorial freedom to address the topic. Yet amazingly not one WSJ print columnist has demanded Murdoch step down because of the hacking scandal, or that News Corp. leadership has disgraced itself with its incompetent attempt at fact-finding.
What a coincidence! Journal opinion writers have total editorial freedom to address the phone hacking scandal, it's just that there's little interest in being harshly critical of Murdoch. And what a coincidence! Journal opinion writers have total editorial freedom, and lots of them have used it to rush in and defend Murdoch, obfuscate the story, or lash out at his critics.
Funny how "total editorial freedom" works sometimes.
The News Corporation phone hacking and bribery story has brought down executives, reporters, editors, and government officials. Here is a list of arrests, convictions, firings, suspensions, and resignations that have occurred during the scandal.
Les Hinton, the Chief Executive for News Corp.'s Dow Jones & Co., is resigning.
Les Hinton, who headed News Corp.'s News International unit when the phone-hacking allegations roiling the media empire first arose, on Friday resigned as chief executive officer of Dow Jones & Co., the second major executive casualty of the scandal.
Mr. Hinton had come under increasing scrutiny recently as a cascade of allegations indicated the problems at the center of the scandal were more widespread than he had twice led a parliamentary committee to believe.
Hinton had a key role in News Corp.'s original response to the phone hacking scandal:
Hinton was chairman of News International, the UK newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's empire, from 1995 to 2007 - the period in which much of the phone hacking was done by the News of the World.
He has been accused of giving misleading information to parliament on two occasions, in 2007 and 2009, by saying there was no evidence of widespread malpractice within the company.
Hinton went on to become the chief executive of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.