Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hacking scandal: It's hard to believe Rupert Murdoch, his son and Rebekah Brooks were not in loop

Juan Gonzalez

Wednesday, July 20th 2011, 4:00 AM

Rupert Murdoch (center), son James Murdoch (right) and Rebekah Brooks were all grilled on the hacking scandal by British lawmakers on Tuesday.
AP
Rupert Murdoch (center), son James Murdoch (right) and Rebekah Brooks were all grilled on the hacking scandal by British lawmakers on Tuesday.

Humble Pie

What's your reaction to seeing Rupert Murdoch hit with a pie during his testimony at Parliament?

Rupert Murdoch, the world's biggest media mogul, has been called many things over the years - but never humble or naive.

Decades ago, he brought to America a brash, no-holds-barred kind of journalism he perfected at his Australian and British newspapers.

Those of us from this country assigned to cover major news events suddenly started coming across British and Australian tabloid imports who would arrive at the scene with wads of cash, ready to pay on the spot for exclusive access to sources, determined to beat all competitors to a story.

He didn't invent the practice, but he sure honed it well.

As the Murdoch empire grew - from the New York Post and Fox Broadcasting to Fox News Channel and Twentieth Century Fox Films, to Harper Collins and The Wall Street Journal - so did his enormous sway over American politics.

That same kind of influence was wielded in other countries. In Britain alone, more than 40% of all newspaper circulation belongs to Murdoch publications.

Now, the house Murdoch built has been rocked like never before.

There was the boss himself Tuesday, claiming before a committee of the British House of Commons that he was "shocked" to learn one of his empire's flagship papers, the News of the World, may have systematically hacked the phones of thousands of English citizens for years while also paying police for information.

In what he called "the most humble day of my life," a contrite but combative Murdoch sought to deflect the blame instead to unnamed people under him who had "behaved disgracefully and betrayed the company and me, and it's for them to pay.

"Perhaps I lost sight of [the News of the World] because it was so small in the general frame of our company," Murdoch said.

Small?

Before Murdoch closed it last week, News of the World was the largest Sunday newspaper in Britain. Its editors were courted and feared by the country's political elite.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of Scotland Yard who resigned this weekend, told another House of Commons committee Tuesday he had 18 lunches or dinners with officials of Murdoch's British properties over the past few years - far more than any other media company.

Stephenson made another astonishing revelation: 10 of Scotland Yard's 45 public relations workers are former employees of Murdoch companies.

Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor at News of the World who has been arrested in the scandal, also worked as a media consultant for Stephenson's agency. And Wallis' daughter also got a job there.

Meanwhile, Andy Coulson, another former editor of News of the World who has also been arrested, worked for a time as spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.

For a "small" paper, the News of the World packed quite a punch with the police and the politicians.

Still, Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks - another former editor of the paper who was arrested - assured the committee they never approved or knew about the rampant violations of the law that occurred under their watch.

Rupert went so far as to say he would not accept "ultimate responsibility" for what happened.

Really?

If the head of the company isn't responsible, who is?

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com

HEARINGS ON HACKING SCANDAL

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