Arrests shake major media conglomerate

Paul Schwietering
Bribing police, wiretapping phones, lying under oath to committees of elected representatives investigating criminal activities. The actions of Michael Corleone? No, these activities – normally associated with mob bosses – were “business as usual” for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire since at least 2002.

In addition, Murdoch’s underlings deleted millions of e-mails and hacked into the cell phones of at least five senior police investigators to thwart an investigation into one of Murdoch’s London newspapers, The News of the World.

The investigation was launched in 2006 due to allegations that The News of the World had hacked into the cell phone messages of the wives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and also murder victims and their families. One case that became notorious was that of Milly Dowler, 13, a murder victim whose voice mail was hacked by “reporters” at The News of the World while “she was still listed as missing” (New York Times).

These reporters proceeded to delete “phone messages after her mailbox had been filled so they could collect more messages from concerned family members” (New York Times).

The lead investigator into the hacking case, Andy Hayman, resigned in 2007 when it became public knowledge that Hayman was involved in a controversial relationship with a woman who worked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and was claiming expenses.

Mr. Hayman was questioned by the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons about his oversight of the investigation. Mr. Hayman, like several other London police officials, had a cozy relationship with reporters from The News of the World.

This was highlighted when Mr. Hayman admitted during the hearing that he had private dinners with reporters from The News of the World during the “investigation.” When he defended that by saying that “to have turned it down would have been potentially more suspicious than to have it” laughter erupted in the hearing room.

Murdoch’s underlings at The News of the World maintained at the time of the “investigation” that the phone hacking was due to the misconduct of “one rogue reporter.” John Yates, an Assistant Police Commissioner who “spent only one day in a formal review of an earlier investigation before concluding in 2009 that there was nothing more to it” (New York Times), was compared by the Committee Chairman to “Clouseau.”

Now that five current and former employees of The News of the World have been arrested, with, it is reported, more arrests on the way, the truth is out. Sue Akers, the top Scotland Yard officer assigned to take over the inquiry this year, said that her team had lists of 3,780 names, 5,000 land-line phone numbers and 4,000 cell phone numbers. Far from being the result of the actions of “one rogue reporter,” criminal activities were standard operating procedure at The News of the World.

Murdoch’s two other London newspapers are now involved in the controversy as well, as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has charged that The Sunday Times, one of Murdoch’s most prestigious newspapers, employed “known criminals” to gather personal information on his bank account, legal files and tax affairs.

In 2006 Ms. Rebekah Brooks, who was then the Editor of The Sun, another of Murdoch’s tabloids, told Brown that The Sun was going to publish an article about his infant son’s medical condition (cystic fibrosis) which the Browns had not discussed with anyone except the medical professionals caring for the boy. Ms. Brooks was forced to resign Friday as Chief Executive of Murdoch’s British media operations.

In perhaps the most problematic news for Murdoch, Scotland Yard is investigating allegations that The News of the World reporters had passed more than £100,000 in bribes (about $160,000) to police officers for inside information. Andy Coulson, former editor of The News of the World, was arrested Friday. Rebekah Brooks is expected to be interviewed by police this week.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) has called for an F.B.I. investigation into allegations that U.S. subsidiaries of Murdoch’s media empire hacked into the cell phones of 9-11 victims and their families.

Paul Schwietering is a resident of Union Township.