Lord knows what Rupert Murdoch and his son James were thinking a couple of weeks ago when they provided their bullshit testimony to Parliament over the phone hacking scandal at the now defunct News of the World. But if the documents released by Parliament yesterday are any indication of what information still has yet to emerge, either both were lying outright to Parliament, or neither one has a clue regarding what goes on the organizations they each run—News Corporation in the case or Rupert, and its subsidiary News International and its British satellite broadcasting subsidiary BSkyB in the case of James. In either event, the recent expressions of support by the BSkyB board for James are starting to look a bit premature, as does Rupert’s refusal to split his current Chairman/CEO roles at News Corp.
So what did we learn from the new documents released by the Parliamentary subcommittee overseeing the entire phone-hacking mess that we didn’t already know?
Well, first of all, the reporter sent to prison for phone hacking, Clive Goodman, received a payoff for keeping his mouth shut. Goodman also indicted that phone-hacking was regularly discussed at editorial meetings until reference to phone-hacking was banned by Andrew Coulson, who became David Cameron’s communications chief for a while, much of which is being made here by the British press, but is actually the least interesting aspect of the whole affair. Cameron, remember, took on Coulson only after receiving personal assurances from Rupert Murdoch that Coulson had no involvement in phone hacking, none. So now Cameron knows exactly what Murdoch’s personal assurances are worth. Moreover, News International executives were told four years ago that phone-hacking was rife. And just today, James admitted that News International did, indeed, pay hush money to another phone hacking victim, Gordon Taylor, in spite of previous testimony to Parliament to the contrary.
Then there are the lawyers. In the Murdochs’ testimony, they made much of the clean bill of health they had received from their lawyers, and then they said the lawyers had obviously screwed up. Well, the lawyers cited by both Rupert and James as having given the company a clean bill of health called time-out on that claim. Rather, they called the Murdochs’ testimony “inaccurate and misleading.” Lawyers are generally pretty precise in their wording of things, so one can assume that the lawyers here know exactly what they are saying. Both The Independent and The Guardian have extensive coverage of what was released, and its import, and The Guardian, to which we owe a debt of gratitude for following this when everyone else had dropped it, provides an elegant timeline of events. As Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism notes, there’s no reason to pay any attention whatsoever to the anemic US media coverage of this.
All of this leaves Labour salivating, although it shouldn’t, since it was under Labour that all these cozy relationships between News International and the Metropolitan Police were allowed to flourish. This is the other real scandal here–the compromising of the police, which News International appears only too happy to have pursued, and which some members of the Metropolitan Police appear only too happy to have gone along with. Which, of course, explains the complete fiasco of the earlier investigations into this by the police. It’s the age-old question—who will police the police? On the basis of their handling of this, it’s certainly unclear whether the police can police themselves. At some point, I suspect, there will be a massive housecleaning—there has to be. The recent riots have provided a welcome diversion, I imagine.
The more interesting question is how much trouble are the Murdochs in on the basis of this. Actually, quite a lot, I imagine. It now appears that, in spite of constant denials, News International has continued to withhold material information from those investigating the phone-hacking mess—at the very least, from Parliament, and has persistently provided misinformation. Consistently, it would appear. And, as we intimated in a previous post, all of this has implications for News Corporation’s US businesses, potentially quite negative ones. Those who thought Rupert did a good job in his testimony a couple of weeks ago might want to reconsider—it looks like both Murdochs have a bit more explaining to do. Frankly, it’s not clear to me how they can explain all this away. I would be very surprised if, in six months time, either one of them is still running anything.