Just as News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch was attempting to put scandal behind him and acquire a major media corporation, two more of his former editors were charged with phone hacking while working at his now-shuttered tabloid News of the World.
According to Reuters, former deputy editor Neil Wallis and former features editor Jules Stenson have been charged with "conspiracy to intercept voicemails on mobile phones of well-known figures or people close to them." The tabloid's widespread hacking of the voicemails and phones of crime victims, celebrities, politicians, and British royalty in order to find fodder for stories became major international news after it was reported that News of the World had accessed the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager.
Murdoch was forced to shutter News of the World in 2011 when the scandal broke, and his company News Corp. has admitted that they have paid out millions in legal fees relating to the scandal. In June, former editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to intercept communications at the end of a lengthy trial, though his fellow News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Stuart Kuttner were acquitted at the time.
Meanwhile, Murdoch's other company, 21st Century Fox (which owns Fox TV and Fox News), is trying to take over Time Warner, which would make it one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. However, his initial offer of $80 billion was rejected, and voices in media have suggested that putting the phone-hacking scandal behind him is key to his ability to expand and maintain his empire.
Now that more charges have emerged reminding the media of his past ethical blunders, whether such a risky merger could go forward remains to be seen.
Australia last week became "the world's first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions." The country's carbon tax, which has been a passionate political topic there for more almost a decade, was finally instituted in 2012. But after a new conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, was elected in September 2013, the carbon tax was aggressively targeted and then successfully repealed by Australia's Senate on July 17.
The retreat represents a win for climate deniers in Australia who dismiss the looming dangers of climate change and the science behind it. (It's "absolute crap," claimed Abbott, echoing Tea Party-type rhetoric in the United States.) It's a win for energy and mining interests who claimed the Australian tax was too burdensome
The retreat also signals a victory for Rupert Murdoch, the Australian native whose media empire, News Corp., did everything in its power to elect Abbott last fall and to attack the tax. Days before the repeal vote, Murdoch spoke out again against climate change science, telling an Australian interviewer it should be treated with great skepticism. Murdoch's dismissal stands in stark contrast to his 2007 proclamation that "climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats."
Murdoch's anti-climate change crusade in Australia certainly mirrors his company's commitment to misinformation in America, and highlights the dangers of having news media moguls who are dedicated to propaganda efforts regarding pressing public policy issues. (Murdoch is currently eyeing a bid to buy media giant Time Warner.) Indeed, Murdoch's media properties in Australia have been shown repeatedly to be wildly unfair and unbalanced when it comes to the topic of climate change.
Australia's carbon emissions repeal represents a dramatic U-turn for a country that just a few years ago was seen as a leader on the global issue under the guidance of previous Labor Party prime minsters, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. "The Brookings Institution has previously described Australia as an "important laboratory and learning opportunity" for U.S. thinking about climate change and energy policy, as it was one of the first major countries outside Europe to adopt a carbon price," The Wall Street Journal recently noted.
CNBC panelist Jeffrey Sonnenfeld suggested that 21st Century Fox's effort to acquire Time Warner is driven by a nepotistic desire to provide Rupert Murdoch's "poor performing" sons with pieces of the family business and highlighted News Corp.'s phone hacking scandal as an example of the Murdoch family's questionable management record.
Time Warner's board of directors took measures to prevent a hostile takeover by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox by "eliminating a provision in its bylaws that let shareholders call special meetings" -- a move that would prevent shareholders from forcing a vote on the takeover until June 2015.
Panelists on the July 22 edition of Squawk Box suggested Fox's offer undervalues Time Warner. Sonnenfeld, also a dean at the Yale School of Management, went on to say the takeover effort was part of the Murdoch family's plan to "deal with potential succession" by acquiring large businesses to hand over to Murdoch's sons, James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch. But Sonnenfeld described the sons as "poor performing" managers, saying in particular that James Murdoch had been tainted by the phone hacking scandal at News Corp.
SONNENFELD: This is basically a deal for Rupert to eventually -- an 83-year-old guy who's run the company for 62 years -- to try to deal with these perpetual succession questions by giving, you know, Lachlan, one son one piece of the business -- one, you know, poor-performing son -- the other poor-performing son, James, another piece of the business in the News Corp.-21st Century Fox split here. But all this [unintelligible] --
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN (host): So you are not a fan of the Murdoch family, it sounds like.
SONNENFELD: Well, they've not distinguished themselves as leaders. You know, Lachlan had a temper tantrum and left a couple years ago and just came back in this spring with this deal for News Corp. liberation of sorts. And then the 21st Century Fox, we have James, who certainly has soiled himself in the whole scandal -- the phone hacking and all the rest in the U.K. And at minimum, a failure of management oversight is awful. Even Fox's shareholders were pretty upset with him.
Andy Coulson, a former editor of the now-shuttered Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World, was found guilty of conspiring to intercept communications, concluding a lengthy trial focused on criminal activity at the British paper. According to the Associated Press, fellow News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Stuart Kuttner were acquitted.
Coulson and fellow former News of the World employees Brooks, Kuttner, and royal editor Clive Goodman were on trial for charges stemming their alleged roles in the tabloid's widespread hacking of the voicemails and phones of crime victims, celebrities, politicians, and British royalty in order to find fodder for stories. The scandal became major international news after it was reported that News of the World had accessed the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager.
Brooks' personal assistant Cheryl Carter, her husband Charlie, and Mark Hanna, a former security official for News International, were "acquitted of perverting the course of justice by attempting to hide evidence from police."
The AP reports that the jury is "still considering two further charges of paying officials for royal phone directories against Coulson and former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman."
While the hacking allegations gathered steam in 2011, News of the World, which had been operating for 168 years, was shut down.
Both prosecution and defense lawyers have begun to present their closing arguments as the trial against several News Corp. employees for compromising the privacy of crime victims, royalty, celebrities, and politicians.
The defense continued to present its case in the fifth month of the trial of several News Corp. employees for allegedly compromising the privacy of crime victims, British royalty, entertainers, and politicians.
Former News International editors and executives -- including Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, and Stuart Kuttner -- are on trial in England for their accused roles in conspiring to hack phones and voicemails to find fodder for news stories.
On the stand in April, Kuttner denied paying off the investigator who did the phone hacking, while Coulson testified at length about his actions surrounding the disclosure of the hacking.
The defense began to present its case in the fourth month of the criminal trial of several News Corp. employees accused of being involved in the widespread phone hacking scandal. Crime victims, British royalty, entertainers and politicians all had their privacy compromised.
Former editors and executives from News International -- Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, and Stuart Kuttner -- are on trial in England for their roles in allegedly conspiring to engage in phone hacking to produce news stories. The prosecution has presented evidence involving alleged orders to engage in phone hacking and payments to private investigators who did the hacking.
In March, former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks admitted that the company knew there were many more phone hacking victims than it initially publicly acknowledged. She also admitted to paying public relations gurus and making job offers in an ill-fated attempt to squash the scandal. She also directly denied some of the charges against her, including paying a public official in exchange for news scoops. Her husband also testified about back and forth behind the scenes efforts to keep her employed at News Corp. as the scandal emerged.
The trial of several News Corp. employees accused of being involved in the widespread phone hacking scandal has now entered its third month. British royalty, actors, politicians and crime victims all had their privacy compromised. In February, the prosecution -- which rested its case during the month -- alleged that former Prime Minister Tony Blair offered to "secretly advise" News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch as the scandal unfolded. Testimony from former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks supplied the bulk of information for the month, as the defense began its presentation. Among other revelations, Brooks admitted to authorizing "half a dozen" payments to public officials during her time working as an editor at The Sun.
The trial of several former News Corp. officials for their alleged involvement in hacking the voicemails of several prominent people, including British royalty, politicians, crime victims, and actors is in its second month. Among the developments: Actress Sienna Miller testified about her voicemail being hacked, a former News of the World reporter claimed officials knew about the phone hacking, jurors were told about executive cellphones going missing during the time of the hacking, and shown footage of one executive's spouse hiding a laptop in a parking garage.
The trial of former News Corp. employees for their role in the massive phone hacking scandal has already produced several noteworthy revelations, including the hacking of voicemails from the British royal family, a six figure contract between News Corp. and its phone-hacking private investigator, and more alleged phone hacking victims, including actor Jude Law.
Newly released transcripts of secretly recorded comments by a News Corp. executive reveal that the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the company over the past few years could cost the firm $1.6 billion, much more than has previously been disclosed.
The reputation of News Corp. and its founder and head, Rupert Murdoch, have taken a hit from the now-acknowledged illegal practices of the company's News of the World and The Sun newspapers, which include generating stories by paying off law enforcement officials and hacking into the cellphones of celebrities, crime victims, politicians and others. Numerous News Corp. employees are currently on trial on charges relating to those crimes.
In his forthcoming book on News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, veteran NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reports several fascinating stories about the mogul's expansive media empire.
Among the stories highlighted in Murdoch's World: that Fox News' public relations shop used an elaborate series of fake accounts to post pro-Fox comments on websites critical of the network; that the same PR department has resorted to ruthless tactics to take revenge on critical reporters; that News Corp's CEO tried to suppress damaging reporting about the phone hacking scandal from running in the Wall Street Journal; and that a New York Post columnist was merely "chastised" for directing a racial slur at a colleague.
Fox's ruthless PR department: Taking revenge on reporters and using sock puppet accounts on critical websites
Folkenflik highlights numerous anecdotes about the aggressive tactics of Fox News' PR department, which punished reporters that upset the network.
For example, when New York Times media reporter Timothy Arango was working on a story about CNN's solid ratings in 2008, he was reportedly first asked by Fox to run in full a "vitriolic" statement about CNN that the conservative network had provided him. After he bristled at the suggestion, Arango -- a former News Corp employee that had worked for the New York Post from 2002 to 2006 -- claims he received an ominous threat from Fox suggesting he would be attacked personally for his story.
The morning Arango's story ran on the front page of the Times' business section, he was contacted by a writer for the now-defunct gossip website Jossip. That site later anonymously published a hit piece on him, including revealing that a recent medical leave he had taken "may have been a stint in rehab":
This time, he said, [Fox News' Irena] Briganti warned him: They're going to go after you personally. On March 5, 2008, Arango's story, headlined "Back in the Game," ran on the front page of the Times business section, and it was featured prominently on the paper's website. That morning, he received a call from a blogger with Jossip, a now-defunct gossip site. Arango knew what lay in store but did not return the call.
The unbylined story on Jossip said Arango had just returned from a two-month medical leave that "many allege may have been a stint in rehab." The Jossip posting utilized every element of Arango's past coverage at the Post and Fortune magazine to draw a portrait of a craven reporter in unsuccessful pursuit of on-air reporting jobs at cable channels. It referred to "blowjob pieces about CNBC execs" written, the blog claimed, when Arango was hustling for a job at the network.
Arango braced for the slam about rehab because he had indeed returned a few days earlier from an extended medical leave to address his substance abuse. Arango kept silent, expecting a wave of disgust from his own newsroom. It never materialized. Bill Keller, then the executive editor at the Times, emailed Arango a note of encouragement: We don't take that kind of bullshit seriously. Keep your head up. [Murdoch's World, pp 72-73]
Folkenflik also writes about an incident involving fellow Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff. Wolff reportedly told Folkenflik that he was approached by Murdoch's staff with a request to "change the date when Murdoch met his third wife, Wendi Deng," whom Murdoch married "just weeks" after he finalized his divorce from his previous wife. After Wolff refused, his book received "scant coverage in any News Corp properties," though the New York Post eventually published seven pieces in the span of a month invoking an affair Wolff had been having with a colleague:
As Wolff tells the story, Murdoch wanted the timing of his involvement with Deng out of the book, but it stayed in. The Man Who Owns the News, received scant coverage in any News Corp properties. And Wolff also criticized [New York Post editor Col] Allan by name on cable television for the racially charged cartoon. Soon an article appeared on the gossip website City-File, and then another surfaced on the better-known Gawker, alleging that Wolff was having an affair with a younger colleague - a woman just a year older than his daughter. The Post pounced, citing, of course, the reporting of others. Over the course of the month, the Post published seven pieces invoking the affair and publishing another cartoon by Delonas, unfairly depicting the couple, in the words of Wolff's girlfriend Victoria Floethe, as "a thirteen-year-old girl in bed with an eighty-year-old." By the end of the coverage, Wolff had moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and the tabloid was running pieces about a legal fight the soon-to-be divorced couple were having with Wolff's mother-in-law. [Murdoch's World, pp 49-50]
Folkenflik explains that after some negative attention in 2008, "Fox pulled back on some of its most aggressive tactics."
As Media Matters has previously highlighted, lashing out at critical reporters isn't the only way Fox's PR shop seeks to shape public opinion. Folkenflik reports in the book that the network's staffers set up a series of fake accounts to post comments to articles that were critical of Fox:
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked. [Murdoch's World, pg. 67]
Before he was promoted to his current role as chief executive officer of News Corp., Robert Thomson used his position at The Wall Street Journal to hobble the paper's reporting of the parent company's phone hacking scandal, according to a new book.
Australians will head to the polls tomorrow to decide whether or not to reelect Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Rudd was not only forced to run against Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party, but also faced an avalanche of attacks from Rupert Murdoch, who used his newspapers to manipulate the election in such a heavy-handed way that even Roger Ailes and the Fox News editorial staff would blush.
The Hollywood Reporter noted:
Murdoch-owned papers, which control about 70 percent of the local market, have run covers featuring Rudd as a Nazi, as Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes and as Mr. Rude from the Mr. Men kids books. News Corp's Daily Telegraph in Sydney has dropped all pretense of impartiality, publishing a picture of Rudd under the headline, "Let's Kick This Mob Out!"
The election was so important to Murdoch that, according to Australian media, he decamped Col Allan from the New York Post halfway around the world to inject some of the metropolitan tabloid's hard edge into his Oz publications.
Murdoch's behavior was so over the top that the head of the Australian Press Council felt the need to step in. "Newspapers that profess to inform the community about its political and social affairs are under an obligation to present to the public a reasonably comprehensive and accurate account of public issues," said the group's chair Julian Disney. "As a result, the Council believes that it is essential that a clear distinction be drawn between reporting the facts and stating opinion. A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns."
Murdoch's power was so vast that when Getup.org, one of Australia's largest progressive grassroots organizations, decided to run an ad criticizing the mogul, it was banned from all major television networks in the country.
GetUp was told directly by some of the networks that "they're not running the ad because they don't want to criticize Rupert Murdoch."
The events happening halfway around the world should be at the forefront of our thoughts. With rumors swirling of Rupert Murdoch's desire to buy more large media properties in the United States, News Corp's interference in the Australian election serves as a reminder of the damage Murdoch could wreck in the U.S. as well. Fox News' abhorrent behavior in 2010 and 2012 is benign when compared to the pressure exerted in this year's Australian election.
Like a boomerang from his Australian youth, the phone hacking and bribery scandal that Rupert Murdoch's been trying to outrun for two years keeps coming back to him.
The recent revelation that Murdoch was caught on tape privately acknowledging he was unsurprised to find his reporters were illegally paying off public officials for news tips and that he had no qualms with the practice, simply stands as the latest proof that Murdoch's career, and certainly his career in Britain, will be forever defined by the wayward lawbreaking that occurred under the Murdoch name at his London tabloids.
The criminal transgressions have never really been in doubt. What the embarrassing tape recording provides however is more evidence that Murdoch is not a man whose word can be trusted, and that he operates in an almost impenetrable sphere of hypocrisy.
It's that duplicity and lack of honor that creates such a strong stench of scandal; an odor that continues to follow Murdoch nearly two years to the week after the hacking story finally exploded worldwide in 2011.
Standing in stark contrast to his contrite admission of wrongdoing while testifying before Parliament in 2011 ("This is the most humble day of my life"), the secret recording captured Murdoch in a far more blustery mood, rallying his beleaguered Sun employees -- several key editors and reporters are currently facing charges -- by haranguing "incompetent" law enforcement for wasting its time with the News Corp. investigation.
"It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing," Murdoch told the assembled journalists in March, one of whom hit the record button when the boss started talked. (Murdoch's News Corp. has not questioned the authenticitiy of the tape.) The CEO also bragged that his company had stopped cooperating with law enforcement's investigation of News Corp.; an inquiry he labeled a "disgrace."
The bluster was alternately wrapped in the wallowing sense of victimization and persecution that has come to define Murdoch, as well as doubled as the hallmark for so many of his media proprieties. "I don't know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn't being done across Fleet Street and wasn't the culture," said Murdoch, referring to London's ethically-challenged tabloid industry.