News Corp.'s Corrupt Culture On Display In Fourth Month Of Phone Hacking Trial
Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS
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.
At the same time the trial continued to reveal some of the company's corruption, Rupert Murdoch announced that the executive that had overseen the behavior would be welcomed back into the fold.
News Corp. announced in March that James Murdoch, the younger of Rupert Murdoch's two sons, had been promoted to co-chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox, the entertainment arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire which operates Fox TV, Fox News, and the 20th Century Fox movie studio, among other entities.
James Murdoch was at the center of the phone hacking controversy in his role as chairman of News International, the company that owned the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid. The alleged phone hacking was done in order to provide news stories for that paper.
The British Office of Communication (Ofcom) said that the younger Murdoch "repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of as a chief executive and chairman" as the company engaged in phone hacking and that his failure to stop the behavior was "difficult to comprehend and ill-judged." He stepped down from that position in 2012.
Here are the major developments in the fourth month of the News Corp. phone hacking trial:
- Rebekah Brooks admitted under questioning from one of the prosecutors that she knew that there were as many as 110 hacking victims when the company was still maintaining that the intrusions were the result of a single rogue reporter with 5 reported victims.
- The jury heard evidence that News International wanted to invite Lord Peter Mandelson -- who served in former Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet -- to coach Brooks before her appearance at a parliamentary committee probing the phone hacking allegations (this planned session was reportedly canceled before it took place). Previous testimony revealed an offer from Blair to advise Murdoch during the scandal.
- Brooks testified that she approved payments to military sources, without probing whether those payments were being made to a public official - which is illegal in Britain.
- Brooks also said that she authorized paying a "PR guru" 1 million pounds "in part" to stop allegations of phone hacking from coming to light.
- Brooks testified that she offered reporter Clive Goodman a job even after he had been jailed in 2007 for intercepting phone messages from members of the Royal household in order to "to stop him making unfounded allegations."
- Goodman testified that "lots of people" at News of the World were involved in phone hacking but that he was being made the fall guy for the activity. He said that former News of the World editor (and defendant in the trial) Andy Coulson "set up the payments to facilitate all this."
- Goodman specifically testified that Coulson approved payments to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to monitor phone calls involving members of the British Royal family, including Prince Harry.
- Goodman denied earlier testimony that claimed he paid off police officers working at Royal palaces in order to obtain private phone directories with information on the Royal family.
- Cheryl Carter, Rebekah Brooks' former personal assistant, is accused of removing boxes of notebooks from News International's archives and destroying the evidence inside them. She testified that she would not break the law for Brooks and hadn't been asked to. She testified that the boxes contained her own personal materials.
- Charlie Brooks, Rebekah Brooks' husband, testified that when the details of how the phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler were revealed, his wife wanted to resign but Rupert Murdoch personally called him to convince her to stay on.
- Charlie Brooks is also accused of attempting to hide evidence from police by putting bags and a laptop in a garbage can in an underground parking garage. He testified that the computers had book proposals and drafts, as well as "quite a lot of smut" on them. Rebekah Brooks described her husband's actions as "a monumental cock-up" in testimony.