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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Murdochs abandon ship, announce that News of the World tabloid will shut down

The News of the World, the Rupert Mur­doch-owned tabloid at the cen­ter of the phone-hack­ing scan­dal that has rocked the Unit­ed King­dom, will be shut down fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of this Sun­day’s edi­tion, News Cor­po­ra­tion said today.

The week­ly tabloid is accused of hack­ing into the mobile phones of crime vic­tims, celebri­ties and politi­cians. On Thurs­day, the Met Police said it was seek­ing to con­tact 4,000 pos­si­ble tar­gets named in seized doc­u­ments. The UK’s biggest sell­ing paper has been in cir­cu­la­tion for 168 years. The News of the World, which sells about 2.8 mil­lion copies a week, is famed for its celebri­ty scoops and sex scan­dals, earn­ing it the nick­name, the News of the Screws.

In a state­ment to News of the World employ­ees, James Mur­doch (son of Rupert Mur­doch) admit­ted fault and attempt­ed to explain why News Cor­po­ra­tion was cut­ting the paper loose.

The News of the World is in the busi­ness of hold­ing oth­ers to account. But it failed when it came to itself.

In 2006, the police focused their inves­ti­ga­tions on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News Inter­na­tion­al failed to get to the bot­tom of repeat­ed wrong­do­ing that occurred with­out con­science or legit­i­mate pur­pose.

Wrong­do­ers turned a good news­room bad and this was not ful­ly under­stood or ade­quate­ly pur­sued.

As a result, the News of the World and News Inter­na­tion­al wrong­ly main­tained that these issues were con­fined to one reporter. We now have vol­un­tar­i­ly giv­en evi­dence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who act­ed wrong­ly will have to face the con­se­quences.

He went on to say:

This was not the only fault.

The paper made state­ments to Par­lia­ment with­out being in the full pos­ses­sion of the facts. This was wrong.

The Com­pa­ny paid out-of-court set­tle­ments approved by me. I now know that I did not have a com­plete pic­ture when I did so. This was wrong and is a mat­ter of seri­ous regret.

The extra­or­di­nary deci­sion to sac­ri­fice News of the World seems to have been made in the hopes that it will quell ris­ing pub­lic anger in the Unit­ed King­dom against Mur­doch and his media empire. Of course, noth­ing is going to stop the Mur­dochs from turn­ing around and direct­ing addi­tion­al resources into their oth­er prop­er­ties. The Sun, described as the News of the World’s “sta­ble­mate”, is now expect­ed to begin pub­lish­ing on Sun­days. Some Mur­doch crit­ics are already call­ing the deci­sion to close NotW “cyn­i­cal”. And Hacked Off, a group that has been watch­dog­ging News Cor­po­ra­tion, says there still needs to be a full inves­ti­ga­tion.

The announce­ment by News Inter­na­tion­al that this Sun­day’s News of the World will be the last does not alter the need for a full pub­lic inquiry into phone hack­ing and relat­ed mat­ters.

Indeed, James Mur­doch’s state­ment rais­es fur­ther ques­tions about the con­duct of senior fig­ures at the com­pa­ny. We feel that the clo­sure of a 168-year-old title, with the con­se­quent loss of jobs, is a destruc­tive act which actu­al­ly under­lines the need to get to the truth. Hacked Off will con­tin­ue to press for a judge-led pub­lic inquiry, with full pow­ers to estab­lish:

  • The extent of the use of ille­gal infor­ma­tion-gath­er­ing meth­ods by the press, direct­ly and through inter­me­di­aries;
  • The con­duct of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police Ser­vice in inves­ti­gat­ing these mat­ters, and its rela­tions with the press;
  • The com­mu­ni­ca­tion between press and politi­cians in rela­tion to these mat­ters;
  • The con­duct of the Press Com­plaints Com­mis­sion and of the Infor­ma­tion Com­mis­sion­er, and of oth­er rel­e­vant par­ties such as mobile tele­phone com­pa­nies;
  • The lessons to be learned from these events and actions to be tak­en to ensure they are not repeat­ed.

Labour’s Tom Wat­son, one of the more out­spo­ken Mur­doch crit­ics in Par­lia­ment, is sug­gest­ing that there is evi­dence still to be made pub­lic which could impli­cate more of News Cor­po­ra­tion’s prop­er­ties in the scan­dal. If so, that helps explain why the Mur­dochs made an overnight deci­sion to sac­ri­fice News of the World. They’re obvi­ous­ly try­ing to get ready to weath­er what­ev­er fall­out is com­ing down the pike. They seem to have real­ized they can­not escape from this.

Roger Ailes’ Fox Noise Chan­nel deserves the same fate as the News of the World. Actu­al­ly, it’s prob­a­bly more deserv­ing, because its hosts and employ­ees con­tin­ue to mas­quer­ade as a news orga­ni­za­tion when they are real­ly just the unof­fi­cial pro­pa­gan­da arm of the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee. Ailes’ oper­a­tion has delib­er­ate­ly and repeat­ed­ly spread mis­in­for­ma­tion in the hopes of dam­ag­ing pop­u­lar sup­port for Demo­c­ra­t­ic office­hold­ers and weak­en­ing elec­toral prospects for Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates. As far as we know, they’ve nev­er hacked into peo­ple’s voice­mail box­es, but they cer­tain­ly have done many awful things.

POSTSCRIPT: So we know that many News of the World employ­ees appear to be on the verge of los­ing their jobs. But no News Cor­po­ra­tion exec­u­tives are step­ping down or resign­ing over this.

Rebekah Brooks, a for­mer NotW edi­tor, is keep­ing her job, despite loud calls for her res­ig­na­tion in the Unit­ed King­dom. And Media Mat­ters notes that anoth­er for­mer NotW edi­tor, Les Hin­ton, has faced no scruti­ny at all. He’s now in charge of run­ning the Wall Street Jour­nal here in the U.S. MM’s Eric Boehlert observes:

[P]rior to tak­ing over Murdoch’s Amer­i­can pub­lish­ing jew­el, Hin­ton ran the mogul’s British news­pa­pers, includ­ing News of the World. And Hin­ton ran the news­pa­pers at a time when the tabloid was hack­ing mobile phones at an aston­ish­ing rate.

That in and of itself is a prob­lem, giv­en the week’s extra­or­di­nary events.

But per­haps even more trou­bling is the fact that Hin­ton over­saw News Corp.’s ini­tial inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into the phone hack­ing scan­dal and came away con­vinced there was no evi­dence of wide­spread wrong­do­ing in the com­pa­ny, and that the hack­ing had been con­fined to just one reporter.  (The com­pa­ny went to “extra­or­di­nary lengths” to uncov­er any crimes, Hin­ton boast­ed at the time.) And that’s the hap­py line Hin­ton told to mem­bers of Par­lia­ment who pressed him in 2009 about the long-sim­mer­ing con­tro­ver­sy.

It sure sounds like Hin­ton was one of the “wrong­do­ers” iden­ti­fied by James Mur­doch in his state­ment. Will he be held to account? Or will the Mur­dochs stand by him as they have stood by Rebekah Brooks?

Anoth­er for­mer NotW edi­tor, Andy Coul­son (who was hired by David Cameron to help man­age his P.R.) is report­ed­ly going to be arrest­ed today, The Guardian is report­ing.  That’s bad news for Cameron’s gov­ern­ment, which now looks irre­spon­si­ble for hav­ing brought Coul­son aboard and defend­ed him from crit­ics.

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