September 19, 2020

Murdoch Aides Long Tried to Blunt Scandal Over Hacking

Now, with their most trusted lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks, arrested on suspicion of phone hacking and paying police for information, the broadcasting bid abandoned, the 168-year-old News of the World shuttered, and nine others arrested, Rupert and James Murdoch are scheduled to face an enraged British Parliament on Tuesday.

It is a spectacle that Rupert Murdoch’s closest associates had spent years trying to avoid.

Interviews with dozens of current and former News Corporation employees and others involved in the multiple hacking inquiries provide an inside view of how a small group of executives pursued strategies for years that had the effect of obscuring the extent of wrongdoing in the newsroom of Britain’s best-selling tabloid. And once the hacking scandal escalated, they scrambled in vain to quarantine the damage.

Evidence indicating that The News of the World paid police for information was not handed over to the authorities for four years. Its parent company paid hefty sums to those who threatened legal action, on condition of silence. The tabloid continued to pay reporters and editors whose knowledge could prove embarrassing even after they were fired or arrested for hacking. A key editor’s computer equipment was destroyed, and e-mail evidence was lost. Internal advice to accept responsibility was ignored, former executives said. John Whittingdale, a conservative member of Parliament who is the chairman of the committee that will question the Murdochs, said they need to come clean on the depth of the misdeeds, who authorized them and who knew what, when.

“Parliament was misled,” he said. “It will be a lengthy and detailed discussion.”

Mr. Murdoch has indicated he wants to cooperate.

“We think it’s important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public,” he said last week. “It’s best just to be as transparent as possible.”

Ms. Brooks’s representative, David Wilson, said she maintained her innocence and looked forward to clearing her name, but declined to answer specific questions.

As a trickle of revelations has become a torrent, the company switched from containment to crisis mode. Ms. Brooks and others first made the case, widely believed to be true, that other newspapers had also hacked phones and sought to dig up evidence to prove it, interviews show. At a private meeting, Rupert Murdoch warned Paul Dacre, the editor of the rival Daily Mail newspaper and one of the most powerful men on Fleet Street, that “we are not going to be only bad dog on the street,” according to an account that Mr. Dacre gave to his management team. Mr. Murdoch’s spokesman did not respond to questions about his private conversations.

Former company executives and political aides assert that News International executives carried out a campaign of selective leaks implicating previous management and the police. Company officials deny that. The Metropolitan Police responded with a statement alleging a “deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation into the alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers.”

Mr. Murdoch was attending a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in early July when it became clear that the latest eruption of the hacking scandal was not, as he first thought, a passing problem. According to a person briefed on the conversation, he proposed to one senior executive that he “fly commercial to London,” so he might be seen as man of the people. He was told that would hardly do the trick, and he arrived on a Gulfstream G550 private jet.

Inquiries on Several Fronts

The storm Mr. Murdoch flew into had been brewing since 2006, when the tabloid’s royal reporter and a private investigator were prosecuted for hacking into the messages of the royal household staff in search of juicy news exclusives. For years afterward, company executives publicly insisted that the hacking was limited to that one “rogue reporter.”

Don Van Natta Jr. contributed reporting from London.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cbe3c872074461bb94642eedbe710af0

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