PBS Report on Murdoch Shows How ‘Hacking’ Led to Political Blackmail


Rupert Murdoch’s news and entertainment empire used illegal electronic surveillance for many years in what became, in effect, a political blackmail operation targeting government officials in the United Kingdom.

That was a theme of
Murdoch’s Scandal, a compelling investigative report broadcast this week by Frontline on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The nearly hour-long documentary illustrates why reform efforts so often fail in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Rupert MurdochMurdoch employees used illegal electronic surveillance ("hacking") along with private detectives and payoffs to monitor political figures, as well as sports and entertainment celebrities, and crime victims. Murdoch and his top executives said for years that any abuses were the work of one "rogue" reporter and a private investigator. But the scandal exploded following revelations that his employees hacked the phone of Millie Dowler, a teenage murder victim. Murdoch employees then reported messages from her phone, giving false hope she was still alive -- and prompting public outrage years later upon discovery of the fraud.

Murdoch is portrayed at left in a David Shankbone photo via Wikipedia. Murdoch has closed the News of World, the UK's largest newspaper, and watched as the once-docile Metropolitan Police Department arrested many of his high-level employees on allegations of illegal surveillance of thousands of people. The investigations carry a threat to his own future.

Our Justice Integrity Project has followed the scandal closely for more than a year. We are especially interested in the use of hacking by journalists and political operatives to blackmail public officials.

Such practices block normal efforts at government reform, whether in the UK or United States. The PBS documentary synthesizes the cutting-edge reporting by the Guardian newspaper and watchdog efforts by the courageous provincial attorney Mark Lewis in tackling their nation's most powerful company. The show includes videos of denials by Murdoch and his top executives as they minimized their roles during testimony last summer. Murdoch, 81, and his top officials did not cooperate with Frontline.  

Nick DaviesNick Davies, at right, is the Guardian reporter who broke the story years ago. Most fellow journalists and public officials were too intimidated to pursue the evidence. He explains why the reform process took years: His nation's dominant news organization along with London's police and dominant political figures, some of whom were being blackmailed, lied about the evidence and otherwise blocked the probe.

Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman and producer Neil Docherty show how Murdoch's minions used their media power to arrange jobs and favorable coverage for police officials. News executives manipulated other government officials at the highest levels of government, including prime ministers.

"Reward and punishment is how this company works," commented Michael Wolff, a Vanity Fair writer who interviewed Murdoch many times in researching a 2008 biography, The Man Who Owns the News about a media empire valued at $70 billion.

"That's essentially the business model," Wolf continued. "That's what newspapers are for him. He likes to cultivate the sense that he knows more than you know and that he has information that he can use. So on any number of occasions he will have said to me in reference to somebody, ‘Oh, we have pictures of him.' In other words, the implication is: we have pictures of him in some kind of compromising situation."

Rupert MurdochPart of the Frontline show documents how Murdoch papers sought to destroy British Member of Parliament Chris Bryant, a Labour member who in 2003 began investigating whether News International tabloids paid off police. "Six months later," Frontline reporters say, "he found his private life splashed in the headlines."  The slang term for the process is to be "monstered" by Murdoch's editors, that is, portrayed in the tabloids as a monster. But the tables have turned. “The water is now lapping around the ankles of the Murdoch family,” Bryant said last summer after he took legal action against the News of the World for hacking his phone.

Among the other follow ups: Rebekah Brooks, the former CEO of News International and former editor of two British tabloids, The Sun and The News of the World, was arrested last summer along with her husband and five other people on suspicion of corrupting justice. Frontline, which is produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, augmented its 53-minute centerpiece documentary with context from more than a dozen sidebar news stories. Their headlines and availability are listed below.

Largely missing, however, are investigative results from the U.S. media or government officials on whether such practices have occurred in the United States. Among Murdoch's major properties are, of course, News Corp., Fox News, the Wall Street Journal.

Let's stay tuned for that story.


Murdoch’s Scandal: The Essential Reads

From Milly Dowler to the parliamentary inquiry, Frontline provides here a quick and dirty guide to what you need to know as the saga continues to unfold:
* What It’s Like to Get “Monstered” by a Murdoch Tabloid
* Breaking the News Corp. Phone Hacking Scandal
* Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman discusses “Murdoch’s Scandal” on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”
* New Arrests in Murdoch Phone Hacking Investigation
* The Cover-Up, Not the Crime, Brings Down James Murdoch
* Nick Davies: Breaking the Story that Brought Down “News of the World”
* How Does News Corp. Make Its Money?
* Kelvin MacKenzie: “I’m the Only One Who Will Defend Rupert Murdoch”
* A Private Investigator Explains the “Dark Arts” of Tabloid News
* Mark Lewis: The Lawyer Who “Walked Into a John Grisham Novel”
* Just How Big is News Corp.?
* Tom Watson: The Loneliest MP Investigating Phone-Hacking
* Rupert Murdoch’s Letter to Frontline


Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment


Related News Coverage


Reuters, Justice Department drops News Corp probe related to phone hacking, Staff report, Feb. 2, 2015. The United States Department of Justice has decided not to prosecute News Corp or its sister company Twenty-First Rupert MurdochCentury Fox after completing an investigation of scandals in Great Britain involving phone hacking and alleged bribery of public officials. The end of the probe, disclosed by News Corp in a regulatory filing on Monday, comes after the U.S. government spent years combing through thousands of e-mails from News Corp.'s servers. A U.S. law enforcement official confirmed to Reuters that the case, which included an investigation of possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, had been closed by the Justice Department. News Corp was notified about the decision on Jan. 28. The investigation was related to the 2011 phone hacking and bribery charges involving News Corp.'s British newspaper, the now-defunct News of the World. Journalists from News Corp.'s daily tabloid The Sun have also faced prosecution by British authorities. Rupert Murdoch controls both News Corp and Fox, which split into separate businesses in 2013.

Wikipedia: Leveson Inquiry. The Leveson inquiry is a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, who was appointed in July 2011. A series of public hearings were held throughout 2011 and 2012. The Inquiry published the Leveson Report in November 2012, which reviewed the general culture and ethics of the British media, and made recommendations for a new, independent, body to replace the existing Press Complaints Commission, which would have to be recognised by the state through new laws. Prime Minister David Cameron, under whose direction the inquiry had been established, said that he welcomed many of the findings, but declined to enact the requisite legislation. Part 2 of the inquiry has been delayed until after criminal prosecutions regarding events at the News of the World.[1][2]

In 2007, News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of illegal interception of phone messages. According to the News of the World, this was an isolated incident, but The Guardian claimed that evidence existed that this practice extended beyond Goodman and Mulcaire. In 2011, after a civil settlement with Sienna Miller, the Metropolitan Police Service set up a new investigation, Operation Weeting. In July 2011, it was revealed that News of the World reporters had hacked the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler. Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 would be chaired by Lord Justice Leveson on 13 July 2011.

OpEd News, Rupert Watch: Leveson Testimony Spells Doom for Cameron and Hunt, Michael Collins, May 24, 2012. Queens Counsel Robert Jay unearthed a devastating piece of evidence that will surely create calls for the resignation of both culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister David Cameron. In afternoon testimony at the Leveson Inquiry today (5/24),

Jay confronted News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel with an email rendition of a Hunt to Cameron memo of November 19, 2010 (see testimony/full memo at end of article). Hunt is clearly cheerleading for the News Corp acquisition of immensely profitable pay TV network BSkyB. News Corp owned 39% of the network and wanted to purchase the remaining 61%. This acquisition was absolutely critical to News Corp profitability and as a sign that Rupert and James Murdoch actually knew what they were doing. One month after he got the biased memo, Cameron appointed Hunt as the government minister in charge of approving the bid. Hunt portrayed his role as "quasi-judicial" and claimed he was an objective judge. The bid was opposed by an alliance of news organizations. Now we know, without any doubt and from Hunt's own words that he was biased in favor of approving the News Corp bid before he even got the authority to judge.

Huffington Post, Phone Hacking Charges May Be Brought Against News Corp. In US, Michael Calderone, April 19, 2012. The News of the World phone-hacking scandal that exploded in England last summer with a spate of arrests, resignations and several ongoing investigations has remained mostly on that side of the Atlantic. But that could change if Mark Lewis, the British lawyer who has represented several phone hacking victims in the U.K. and who recently teamed up with two Manhattan-based attorneys, decides to file suits stateside on behalf of clients who believe their phones were hacked while on U.S. soil.

On Thursday, Lewis, sitting alongside New York attorneys Norman Siegel and Steve Hyman, discussed the possibility of bringing hacking-related suits against Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in the U.S., the headquarters of a worldwide media juggernaut. Lewis, who gained prominence for his pursuit of high-profile hacking cases across the pond, arrived in the U.S. for the Monday meeting with Siegel amid some media fanfare, including a New York Times profile. As a result of that meeting, Siegel said Thursday that there's "a reasonable basis for the proposition that three of [Lewis's] clients may have been victims of telephone hacking while they were in the United States." Lewis later confirmed he has a fourth client who may also opt to file suit in the U.S.

OpEd News, Rupert watch -- Apocalypse when? Michael Collins, April 14, 2012. Rupert Murdoch is in big trouble.  It is not a perfect storm but we're getting there.  British attorney Mark Lewis is in New York to take legal action in behalf of clients who may have had their phones hacked in the United States. More significantly, News Corp withdrew its bid to buy the remaining 61% of BSkyB, the highly profitable British cable TV franchise (1.1 billion pounds 2011, News Corp owns 39% now). (Murdoch images: left, right) Last week, James Murdoch stepped down as chairman of BSkyB after surviving a challenge to his position just weeks ago.

NYPD Confidential, The NYPD: Indulging Mort and Roger, April 9, 2012. Ever wonder why the Daily News runs all those editorials deifying the NYPD, even as the department arrested the paper’s own reporters during the Occupy Wall Street protests? Or why these editorials praise the NYPD’s fight against terrorism in such slavish terms that not even the News’s own readers believe them? [See NYPD Confidential, Dec. 19, 2011.] Or why Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets like the New York Post and Fox TV are relentless NYPD cheerleaders?

The answer may lie in documents provided to NYPD Confidential that show the lengths the NYPD has gone to cultivate and indulge powerful media figures such as the Daily News’s owner and Fox News’s president. In late 2004, as this column has reported, Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman notified his friend, the NYPD Intelligence Division’s Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, that people were following him. So Cohen had Intelligence Division detectives tail the folks tailing Zuckerman. Recently, NYPD Confidential obtained a document confirming this police favor to the billionaire publisher.

Zuckerman was not the only police-friendly media big shot given VIP treatment by the Intelligence Division. Another was Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, which employs Commissioner Kelly’s son, Greg, as co-host of “Good Day New York” on Fox Five. Fox News is currently given police protection not extended to other television stations, according to The Daily Beast.

PBS Frontline, Murdoch’s Scandal: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the World, Lowell Bergman and Neil Docherty, March 27, 2012 (53 minutes, 40 seconds). Frontline goes inside the struggle over the future of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s reputation and his family’s fortune.

Reuters, Murdoch's media empire strikes back, March 29, 2012. An angry Rupert Murdoch on Thursday declared war against "enemies" who have accused his pay-TV operation of sabotaging its rivals, denouncing them as "toffs and right wingers" stuck in the last century.

Guardian (United Kingdom), What the police now know about Milly Dowler hacking, Nick Davies, Dec. 12, 2012. Operation Weeting investigation confirms most of original phone hacking story, but it is no longer clear what prompted initial deletion that gave Dowler family false hope Milly was still alive

OpEd NMichael Collinsews, Murdoch in Free Fall -- Credibility Gone, Billions to Follow, Michael Collins, left,  Aug. 20, 2011. Rupert and James Murdoch conjured up a fictional report that serves as the fig leaf used to cover the naughty secret of News Corporation -- they never investigated phone hacking in general and they never tried to clean house. Their contempt of Parliament may cost News Corporation 33% of its gross revenue.

FireDogLake, Murdoch Phone Hacking Scandal: Private Investigator Ordered to Reveal Who Gave Hacking Orders, Kevin Gosztola, August 19, 2011. A court has ordered Glenn Mulcaire to disclose information on who gave him the order to hack the phones of Elle Macpherson and at least five other public individuals, including a Liberal Democrat deputy leader. The Guardian reports, “Mulcaire has lost an attempt to appeal against a court order obliging him to identify who instructed him to hack the phones, something he has resisted since February.” Mulcaire worked for News International and was jailed for phone hacking in 2007. Leading the charge to force Mulcaire to share details is Murdoch Empire via Creative Commonsactor Steve Coogan, who was reported to be a hacking victim in 2006. The Murdoch business empire is summarized in a chart courtesy available via Creative Commons.

Daily Beast, Murdoch’s Lawyers Turn on Him, Sam Bungey, Aug. 17, 2011. First came the ex-staff lawyers, and now the London solicitors Harbottle & Lewis are firing back. But the real danger for Rupert Murdoch is if City firm Burton Copeland joins in. What the Murdochs need right now are some mob lawyers. They should have discreet counsel on how to limit exposure, on what to do and say if they are arrested, and maybe the occasional use of an unbugged room in which to conduct business under the protection of the attorney-client privilege. Instead, what the family is getting is less Corleone consigliere, more Fredo Corleone, rat.

Huffington Post, Phone Hacking: News Of The World Reporter Clive Goodman Alleges Huge Cover-Up, Wide Knowledge Of Hacking. Jack Mirkinson, Aug. 16, 2011. A former News of the World reporter has alleged that there was a massive cover-up of phone hacking at the paper. The account continues as follows: Clive Goodman, the former royal reporter jailed for his role in phone hacking, wrote a letter in 2007 claiming that phone hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial meetings, and that former editor Andy Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed to say in court that he was a rogue element within the paper. The claims are deeply damaging to Coulson, who has always maintained that he did not know about the hacking going on at his paper. They are also politically perilous for UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who hired Coulson even as evidence mounted against him. Moreover, they raise fresh danger for James Murdoch, who claimed to Parliament that he did not know hacking at the paper was widespread until 2010.

Truthout, Me and Piers Morgan: Hacked and Attacked, How Morgan's Fabricated Story Almost Ruined This Reporter, Greg Palast, Aug. 8, 2011. I am not surprised that Piers Morgan has been outed for hacking phones (listening, in one case, to personal messages between Heather Mills and Paul McCartney). I learned about the creepy antics of this one-man TV-host crime spree the hard way: as a victim of his crime-and-slime form of "journalism." On September 29, 1998, Piers Morgan's Mirror ran a screaming full page headline: SEX SCANDAL ROCKS LABOUR CONFERENCE. His paper had caught a rival paper's reporter who'd broken into the hotel room of a comely young rising star of the Labour Party. The reporter was caught there half undressed. I was that reporter. And the story was a complete load of crap.  But Piers Morgan, "editor" of the Mirror, ran the report on Page One, and pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6—even though he knew it was fabricated.  He knew because he had fabricated it.

OpEd News, What Rupert Murdoch Means For You Personally, Russ Baker, July 26, 2011. Rupert Murdoch has had a profound influence on the state of journalism today. Here are 12 "take-away" points that are being obscured in the daily rush of revelations, and the related specialized coverage (his wife's wardrobe and demeanor, the effect on his company's stock price, etc.): 1) He has transformed world politics for the worse...Click link to read more.

White House Chronicles, Murdoch is felled by a disease he once cured, Llewellyn King, July 25, 2011. In the 1960s, even to an old union man like myself, British newspaper unions had reached a point at which they were a threat not only to the newspaper industry, but also to the freedom of the press itself. It took someone as ruthless and sociopathic as the unions to find a way to break their hold. That man was Rupert Murdoch and he did it with outstanding courage, cheek and military-like planning. So there is a fine irony that the Murdoch’s News Corp. now stands accused of many of the sins of the unions he disciplined: sociopathic arrogance; a desire to control the news as well as cover it; and a thuggish corruption that reached into the highest levels of at least three British administrations, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron; and has brought low the world’s largest and most storied police force, the Metropolitan Police, known as Scotland Yard.

Huffington Post, Sean Hoare Dead: News Of The World Hacking Whistleblower Found Dead In London, July 18, 2011. Sean Hoare, a former reporter for the News of the World who was the first to go on the record about Andy Coulson's alleged knowledge of the phone hacking there, has been found dead, according to the Guardian. He was found by police at his London home. Hoare was known to have problems with drugs and alcohol, and the police said that they were not treating the death as a suspicious one, though they did not reveal what caused Hoare to pass away. But it still comes as a grim coincidence during a period when the phone hacking scandal is escalating seemingly every day.

New York Times, British Police Arrest Rebekah Brooks in Phone Hacking, Alan Cowell and Ravi Somaiya, July 17, 2011. The British police on Sunday arrested Rebekah Brooks, the former chief of Rupert Murdoch’s media operations in Britain, according to a former associate at News International, the newspaper group at the heart of a phone-hacking scandal that is convulsing the Murdoch Rupert  Murdoch and wife Wendi empire, the British political elite and the police here. The timing, two days before a separate parliamentary inquiry into the crisis, drew a skeptical response from opposition lawmakers who said the arrest might inhibit Ms. Brooks’s ability or readiness to testify before the panel while she is the subject of police inquiries. David Wilson, a lawyer representing Ms. Brooks, said she “maintains her innocence, absolutely.” The photo at left of Murdoch and his wife, Wendi, is courtesy of Wikipedia. Born in China, she is not known to be especially active in his UK and U.S. operations. But his children, especially his son, James, have held key posts at various times.

Huffington Post, Rebekah Brooks Arrested In Connection With Phone Hacking Scandal, Dina Rickman, July 17, 2011. Rebekah Brooks has been arrested, the Metropolitan Police confirmed on Sunday. The former News International chief executive went to a London police station by appointment and was arrested on suspicion of corruption and phone hacking. Brooks is the 10th person to be arrested in connection to the new investigation into allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

Guardian (United Kingdom), Murdoch's worst hours are yet to come, Matt Wells, July 15, 2011. No relationship is safe, no loyal bond strong enough for Rupert Murdoch who – looking more than the sum of his 80 years – is mounting a final battle to save the company he built from nothing. His decision to throw Les Hinton to the wolves is his most dramatic move yet. For more than 50 years, as a journalist and then an executive, Hinton loyally served the Murdoch empire from its roots in Australia to the height of its power in New York. Hinton was ditched because he was the crucial link between Murdoch's valuable US businesses and the tainted operation in Britain. He was at the helm of NI – the holding company for his UK newspapers including the News of the World and the Times – when it seemed that everyone who was in sniffing distance of a significant news story found their phones being hacked.

Washington Post, FBI opens inquiry after report that News Corp. tried to hack phones of 9/11 victims, Jerry Markon and David S. Hilzenrath, July 14, 2011. The FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations that News Corp. employees sought to hack into the phones of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and tried to bribe law enforcement officers for information, U.S. officials said Thursday. FBI agents are reviewing information on the phone-hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s British media operations and trying to determine if U.S. laws were broken, the officials said. Murdoch is chairman and chief executive of News Corp., which is based in New York and has extensive U.S. operations.


Catching Our Attention

Update: Washington Post, Britain weighs proposal to allow greatly increased Internet ‘snooping,’ Anthony Faiola and Ellen Nakashima, April 2, 2012. Under daily observation from thousands of surveillance cameras mounted everywhere from street corners to taxicabs to public parks, Britons rank among the most-watched people on Earth. But a new government plan is poised to take the gaze of this nation’s security services dramatically deeper: letting them examine the text messages, phone calls, e-mails and Web browsing habits of every person in the country. The “snooping” proposal set to be presented in Parliament later this year is sparking an uproar over privacy in Britain, fueling a debate over the lengths to which intelligence agencies should go in monitoring citizens — a debate that has resonance on both sides of the Atlantic.

Independent (United Kingdom), Man whose WMD lies led to 100,000 deaths confesses all; Defector tells how US officials 'sexed up' his fictions to make the case for 2003 invasion, Jonathan Owen, April 1, 2012.  A man whose lies helped to make the case for invading Iraq – starting a nine-year war costing more than 100,000 lives and hundreds of billions of pounds – will come clean in his first British television interview tomorrow. "Curveball", the Iraqi defector who fabricated claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, smiles as he confirms how he made the whole thing up. It was a confidence trick that changed the course of history, with Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi's lies used to justify the Iraq war. He tries to defend his actions: "My main purpose was to topple the tyrant in Iraq because the longer this dictator remains in power, the more the Iraqi people will suffer from this regime's oppression." The chemical engineer claimed to have overseen the building of a mobile biological laboratory when he sought political asylum in Germany in 1999. His lies were presented as "facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence" by Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, when making the case for war at the UN Security Council in February 2003. But Mr Janabi, speaking in a two-part series, Modern Spies, starting tomorrow on BBC2, says none of it was true. When it is put to him "we went to war in Iraq on a lie. And that lie was your lie", he simply replies: "Yes."

New York Magazine, Is the Fighting Spirit Between the New York Post and Daily News Dead? Joe Coscarelli, March 30, 2012. That's what former New York Daily News editor Martin Dunn writes today in the Guardian. Yesterday, the New York Observer reported that not only had alleged Manhattan madam Anna Gristina bragged on tape about being "very, very close friends" with New York Post editor Col Allan, but the tabloid's supposed sworn enemy the Daily News had the story and decided not to run it. It all gets complicated because current News editor Colin Myler is a friend and former deputy to Allan at Rupert Murdoch's Post, but his predecessor Dunn insists that a few years ago there would've been blood. Dunn remembers the good old days:

During my time as the editor-in-chief of the Daily News, it wasn't a case of the gloves occasionally coming off — they were never on and no one bothered looking for them! Even though Col Allan has labeled the allegations "outrageous" (a complaint that somehow never seems to generate much sympathy for a butt-kickin' tabloid editor), the fact that the story was generated from law-enforcement sources would normally be a green light to get ink on paper. Tabloid editors have traditionally never been able to resist a punch at a rival and still raise a glass in the bar afterwards. When Myler took over at the Daily News, it seemed like the war might really get going again because of his split with the Murdoch family over phone-hacking allegations at the News of the World, where Myler worked as editor for four years until its sudden closing. This incident shows the opposite.

In addition to the personal connection between Allan and Myler, Dunn suggests that maybe "in a climate where print products are struggling, there is a quiet understanding between News and Post owners Mort Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch not to trash each other's organizations. Better that dirty laundry stays hidden in the closet."