Tom Watson: The Loneliest MP Investigating Phone-Hacking
The tabloids are a fact of life here for you. And you became a target at one point yourself, right?
My difficult relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid started when I resigned as a minister in 2006. I was told that they would never forgive me for what I did. I resigned and caused difficulty for the then-prime minister, Tony Blair. And a senior News International journalist told me that Rebekah Brooks would never forgive me for what I did to “her Tony.” …
And what did that mean?
What it meant to me was, every story that was written about me as a politician was negative. And then during a scandal that afflicted the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, one of his press officers had attempted to set up an attack website.
It’s led to a campaign of vilification for a week in The Sun newspaper, Rupert Murdoch’s best selling tabloid in the UK, that meant that I had to take legal action [PDF] and to force the company in the courts to apologize [PDF]. …
So Rebekah Brooks wouldn’t forgive you for embarrassing Tony Blair?
The phrase they used was they wouldn’t forgive me for what I did to “her Tony.” Rebekah Brooks was the chief executive of News International until a few months ago, and she was very close to Tony Blair, our former prime minister.
Has anything like this happened to you before in your political career?
No. I was elected at quite a young age. I was only 34, so I’d only been an MP for about five years. And it got to the point where I thought I couldn’t remain in Tony Blair’s government, and I resigned. And the firestorm was unleashed.
Did you talk to your colleagues? Did other people have similar experiences?
When you first go through something like that, you deal with it in a very solitary fashion. But I’ve subsequently talked to a lot of colleagues who said yes, they lived in fear, and they felt that they had to moderate their political opinions for fear of retribution from Murdoch’s tabloids in particular.
When you say you dealt with it in isolation, do you remember what happened, the first indication to you that there was going to be pain?
The first time I realized that it had gone too far was quite far down the line. There was a moment when my 3-year-old son — there was a knock at the door. and my son hid behind the sofa at our home in the Midlands and said, “Daddy, Daddy, there’s another nasty man at the door.”
And it was at that point that I realized that things had gone too far, that this was unacceptable, and that in politics, yes, there’s going to be [robust] holding to account of politicians. That’s the way you keep democracy clean. But for that level of fear and intimidation, it was just too much.
What did he mean, “nasty man at the door”?
We’d had incidents where neighbors had found people going through our bins, and they’d got into our garage and looked at private papers. And you know, we’d been pursued on the phone, and people were knocking at our home, asking for information.
So it was a sort of relentless campaign that went into family and home life in a way that I think people would be surprised about if they didn’t really understand how British tabloids worked. …
So you took them to court.
Yeah, I took them to court. I wrote to them privately and asked them to apologize and said the stories they were [writing] were damaging and inaccurate. And they dismissed my polite request for them to issue a retraction, so I took them to court.
And they finally admitted [PDF] that they’d written a story incorrectly and told untruths about me that were damaging. …
They called me a liar [in The Sun in 2009] and various other stories like that. They portrayed me as some kind of ferocious attack dog in a car to their columnists, you know, wrote dismissive things about me. They ridiculed me because of my weight [in The Sun in 2009]. It was just a relentless attack.
And you know, when you’re a British politician — I don’t want to give you the impression that we’re shrinking violets — we’re used to that level of satirical holding to account and robust sort of language in these papers. But this was focused and targeted and done over a period of time that it just ultimately grinds you down. …
And I then went to what I thought would be a quieter life on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is a back-bench scrutiny committee in Parliament.
Not exactly the center of high tension.
No. I thought I’d be looking at the future of the British Arts Council for a few years. I’d previously worked in Number 10 Downing Street in quite a hothouse. And I guess, unfortunately for me, what happened was, the committee was about to complete a report into press standards in the United Kingdom.
And then two days after I got on the committee, The Guardian newspaper broke the story of phone hacking. And so the chairman extended the inquiry so that we then started to look at it.
On my first day on the committee, we had the company lawyer, Tom Crone, and the editor of The News of the World, Colin Myler, in front of us. They tried to remove me from the committee and said that I wasn’t an objective inquisitor because I was suing the company for libel because they’d lied about me in The Sun. And at that point, I realized that they were never going to go away and that we needed to get to the bottom of the scandal.
And so from then on in, I tried to get to the bottom of the scandal, and then that took me to the News Corp. AGM [annual general meeting] in Los Angeles a few months ago. …
What concerned me was that our first inquiry found that the senior executives of the UK arm of News Corp., News International, were all guilty of a collective amnesia. And we found that it was inconceivable that others in the company did not know about phone hacking, but failed to act.
So I was concerned that at board level they were not aware of what was being done in their name, so I went to the AGM and raised it in front of Rupert Murdoch at the shareholders’ meeting and made sure that Viet Dinh, who is responsible for corporate governance on the board, and some of the other industrialists that sit on the board, were in no doubt of my concerns and the concerns of many other people in Parliament about the way the company behaved.
You went through this process where there was harassment, surveillance and so on, and that was before you went on the committee?
The covert surveillance by a private investigator happened when I was on the committee. They followed me for at least a week, and one of the former senior reporters on the paper has said there was also another period of time when all members of the committee were followed. And there’s currently an internal inquiry in the company, trying to confirm whether that was the case or not.
So there were certainly two occasions that I believe that they put me under covert surveillance, yes.
I was surprised, but it didn’t come as a shock. What you have to understand is there had been a criminal inquiry in 2006 and 2007 where a private investigator and a reporter on News of the World had gone to jail. And what surprised me, having then gone into it, was I knew so little about the case.
And what I realized was that actually there wasn’t a newspaper in Britain that had given this story the prominence it deserved. After all, Andy Coulson, the then-editor of The News of the World, had resigned, but it didn’t make the front pages. The story didn’t run on. So I knew very little about phone hacking until that story in The Guardian. …
When The Guardian actually wrote the story and said that there could be many others that were victims of crime that didn’t know about it, I realized the significance of it there and then and realized we had a big job to do to try and uncover it.
And that also got the attention of Fox News in the United States?
Initially, no. In fact, initially the Guardian [stories] were dismissed by everyone, including other newspapers. And the story was actually dismissed by the regulators, the Press Complaints Commission over here, who said there was nothing new in the Guardian story. And thankfully, members of my committee didn’t feel that way, and we investigated in a little bit more depth.
So the reaction, generally, to the story was, “No one cares; this probably is just The Guardian, a left-wing critic of the News Corporation, carrying on out there.”
That’s exactly how it was characterized by many people in the UK. And we know that other papers didn’t run it. Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, has privately said he thought other editors in some way felt that they couldn’t run it because they were worried about upsetting the apple cart with their fellow editors.
Like an old boys’ club: We don’t criticize each other. This is not cricket, what Nick Davies just wrote in The Guardian.
There’s a bit of an old boys’ club, but also, you know, Rupert Murdoch controlled 45 percent of the Sunday newspaper market. He was a very powerful player, and if you were an ex-editor of a newspaper, you know, you would very often end up working for News International at some point in the future.
So I just sensed it was a very small newspaper world based in London, and editors didn’t want to fire shots at each other.
So why did your group take it seriously?
Well, we were faced with the facts. We didn’t really have a lot of choice. In fact, we very clearly understood early on that the wrongdoing was more widespread than the company admitted. We got forward a series of witnesses who basically had lost their memories. We had witnesses —
What do you mean, witnesses?
None of the senior executives who gave evidence could remember anything about the phone-hacking scandal at all. They all adhered to the single line: “It was the work of a single rogue reporter.” So over the period of nearly a year, we knew there was more to the story than met the eye, but we couldn’t get to the facts.
And we had certain witnesses that refused to attend, including Rebekah Brooks, who was the chief executive of the company. On three occasions, she turned down an invitation to come and give evidence to the original inquiry.
This is the same Rebekah Brooks who you understood held a grudge against you for abandoning “her Tony.”
That’s right, yes.
… You mentioned Tom Crone and Colin Myler. It turns out that they actually did know a lot more than they told you.
That’s right. … What we now know is that after the Guardian story was written in July 2009, there were a number of conversations in the company. In fact, the former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, has told me that the weekend after the Guardian story, he raised it with Myler and Crone and explained that there were others involved in phone hacking, but he was not in receipt of the now infamous “For Neville” e-mail.
But there’s another executive in the company who had commissioned phone hacking. So they must have had a suspicion within days of the Nick Davies story being published in The Guardian. They didn’t really give us the full picture when we did the original inquiry.
Is the House of Commons in England sort of like Congress in the United States? If you aren’t forthcoming, if you don’t tell the truth, there are consequences?
There are. What this actual scandal has taught the UK Parliament, though, is that we need to update our rules. Theoretically, Parliament has ultimate power and can throw these guys in the Tower of London if we like. Realistically, we only have the power to admonish people for misleading us.
You mean take the ruler out and admonish them?
It’s quite arcane, but we can drag them before the bar of the House of Commons and the speaker can publicly admonish an individual. And obviously, if you’re a rogue and a criminal, that probably won’t mean a lot. But if you’re a corporate lawyer or a big hitter in the city, it causes huge reputational harm.
But what we don’t have is really sort of criminal sanctions for misleading Parliament, and I think that Parliament will want to look at this inquiry in slower time, and we’ll probably update our own rules.
This has been a long, intense saga that you’re still living. But as of now, what was the first key moment for you when you knew that there was something; that this was going to break; something was going to happen?
Quite early on, by the way the company executives behaved, we knew that they were covering up something bigger. We just didn’t know what it was back in 2009.
But I guess for me, there was an episode where I met the victim of a serious sexual crime who believed that she’d had a phone hacked. Her partner’s phone had been hacked and that of her mother and father. And I realized pretty quickly then that if she believed that, there would be others in a similar situation to her., and that when the public understood that, and that it wasn’t just about celebrities and politicians, their reaction would be huge, and it was just a question of time before the story came out.
It eventually transpired that the story that did enrage the public was the story of Milly Dowler, who had her phone hacked after she’d been abducted by, ultimately, her killer. But there were others as well. In fact, I believe that at least one of the parents of two children who were murdered in Soham, in Cambridgeshire, were also the target of criminal private investigators working for News International.
And so throughout 2010, I felt that it might be the Soham murder case that would be the scandal that cracked it open. But it was only a matter of time before one of these serious and infamous crimes in the UK was associated with phone hacking.
No one ever came to you and said: “Do you know who you’re really dealing with here? This is never going to get anywhere”? …
Every friend and adviser I spoke to in 2009 to ’10 said: “You’re not going to get to the truth of this. There are too many people at the top with a vested interest for this story not to come out.”
Back in 2009, it was a very lonely place to be pursuing the phone-hacking scandal in the UK. And I would come into work — I’m laughing about it now; it didn’t seem funny at the time — but I’d say: “The people were outside my flat again. There’s that funny man on the motorbike. I think I might be followed.” And colleagues in Parliament would say: “Who the hell do you think you are? No one’s going to put a private investigator on a member of Parliament during an inquiry of that nature.”
And of course it transpires that actually they did hire a private investigator to follow me. So the world is a very different place now, but at the time it was very tough.
We’re talking about a publicly traded, Fortune 400 international corporation putting members of Parliament in Britain under surveillance [PDF] —
Yes. That’s exactly what we’re talking about.
— who were in the midst of an inquiry about that company?
Yes. They hired a former Metropolitan police officer, … and he followed me around for at least a week in 2009. And James Murdoch has subsequently said that the action was completely inappropriate and apologized unreservedly. But at the time, it didn’t feel that the company had such humility when it came to following politicians around.
The day Rupert and James Murdoch came before you [in Parliament in July 2011], did you believe that was ever going to happen?
I hoped it would. … In fact in 2009, I’d suggested to committee members that we invite Rupert Murdoch to come and give evidence. They didn’t seem that keen on it, so in fact then —
Would they laugh at you, or …?
They kind of said: “Look, that’s just not going to happen. Don’t even go there.” … But after the Milly Dowler story, there was such a head of steam among the British public that it was inevitable, and we invited James and Rupert Murdoch to attend.
Rupert Murdoch declined, so we sent the deputy sergeant-at-arms by Tube train to News International headquarters in Wapping, in East London, to deliver a formal request that they attend. And he changed his tune and then turned up.
The sergeant-at-arms is usually someone who’s around the House of Commons.
The sergeant-at-arms is a mainly ceremonial position, but runs the House of Commons and makes sure that we’re kept in good order and secure.
So you sent a medieval messenger to Rupert Murdoch.
… In fact, the sergeant-at-arms quite often wears a medieval sword and buckled shoes. But on this occasion, I think we let him go in a suit.
How did Murdoch respond?
He had no choice. He had to come and address us. If he’d have said no again, there would have been such an outcry in the country that I’m sure there would have been a consumer boycott of the other newspaper titles.
What happened that day that stays with you?
I’d been spending all weekend and the day before preparing my line of questioning. So I didn’t really think about the buildup; I was just focusing on trying to get as much information out of the two of them as I could.
And for me, it was all about cultural leadership, institutional leadership. Something had gone very badly wrong at The News of the World that meant that journalists felt they could sort of casually listen in on private conversations of children and families. …
So you prepared all weekend.
I spent three days reading all the background material and preparing a question plan. So I didn’t really think about the buildup. I’m realizing, you know, outside the room there was a lot of activity, but I was just focusing on making sure my question plan was right.
What was your biggest question?
For me, it was all about institutional leadership in the company. Something terrible had happened at The News of the World. There was a suspicion that there was a culture in the other newspapers that was, if not as bad, similar. There was a disregard for people’s privacy.
And that has to come from somewhere, and I figured that Rupert Murdoch was the guy who sets the tone for the company as the boss, so I focused on him and his views of corporate governance. And it caused some trouble, because obviously their game plan was to ensure that James Murdoch answered most of the questions and Rupert Murdoch was protected.
What was your impression of James Murdoch?
He gave me the impression that at all points in the first inquiry, he was suppressing irritation or even anger and felt that he didn’t have to be in front of us. He was like a fish out of water.
The most interesting character was Rupert Murdoch, who clearly was immensely powerful, perhaps the most powerful media figure on the planet, and also, having never been held to account or not held to account in that way for many, many years, felt uncomfortable, but also terrifically charismatic, but also with big memory losses as well.
He wasn’t even aware of the report we’d published in 2010 that found executives guilty of collective amnesia. So it really showed that any form of corporate governance that I think most company leaders would understand to be the norm did not apply to him or his company.
He mumbles, apparently.
He mumbled. There was a lot of hesitation. There were a lot of pregnant pauses. He was clearly a man who had not been interrupted for many, many years. And you know, he didn’t really answer many of the questions I put to him. But that in itself I thought was revealing.
And then, of course, there was the pie.
The pie actually took away from some of the serious detailed questioning we were taking part in. And in fact, one of the executives — I don’t know which one — I had them lean over while the cameras were off. The cameras switched off while he was being cleaned up. One of them leaned over and said, “Don’t worry about it; this looks good for us,” which gave me a real impression of the sort of cynicism that PR people have got when it comes to these kind of issues.
You attempted to ask why they put you under surveillance?
Well, at the time, I didn’t have it confirmed that I’d been followed by private investigators. I just thought that those were some kind of strange sense of paranoia forced out by fear of the company.
You were convinced that you were paranoid, and these people really weren’t going through your garbage.
I knew they were going through my garbage; I didn’t know who had gone through [it]. I didn’t know whether it was the News International journalist had gone through my garbage, but we’d had a really tough time with the company.
But I didn’t have the evidence to show that they’d actually paid a private investigator to follow me around. That was only admitted in the second inquiry [PDF], when James Murdoch came back before the committee the second time. …
That was a bit of a shock, because he confirmed that in answer to a question from another colleague. I was kind of trying to deal with the fact that he’d actually just admitted to the fact that I was followed by private investigators and apologized to me within the committee.
I’ve still not had anything in writing from him admitting it, but I’d like that. So it was just, you know, in one sense it was a shock. In another it was a relief that the sense of paranoia I was feeling in 2009 wasn’t misplaced. …
Mr. Myler and Mr. Crone, the editor and chief counsel at News of the World respectively, that they had come before you earlier, and how it turns out that they are in a sense witnesses against James Murdoch, can you explain that?
The whole crux of the argument now is, did James Murdoch know when he authorized the payment that came with a confidentiality clause of a football agent, Gordon Taylor, did he know that he was the victim of hacking and that a transcript existed that showed other members of staff were involved in the practice?
Myler and Crone contradicted James Murdoch’s denial within 24 hours of him attending the committee. …
What happened in the last few hours?
We’d just published … an e-mail trail from Myler to James Murdoch that shows that they did rate it with him before their meeting on June 10, 2010, which is significant, because Murdoch said that’s the first recollection he has of discussing hacking. …
We’re told that the Gordon Taylor settlement was unprecedented: hundreds of thousands of pounds for a story that never ran.
… He was paid hundreds of thousands of funds in a private settlement, out of court, for a story that was never published, but it came with a confidentiality clause. …
So James Murdoch denies any knowledge of the fact that the payment to Taylor was related to the fact that there was strong evidence that suggested others were involved in phone hacking at the company, and his version of events has been contradicted [PDF] by the former company lawyer, Tom Crone, and the former editor, Colin Myler, and they’re now in a standoff.
Over the weeks since his original testimony to the committee, there’s been more and more documentation that shows there was greater knowledge within the company of what was going on. There was legal advice from the leading counsel that said there was a strong suggestion that illegal information gathering was widespread in the newsroom at News of the World.
And then we’ve heard revelations that James Murdoch has just found an e-mail that was sent to his BlackBerry by Colin Myler that suggests that the payment should be made to Taylor because he was going to be very vindictive, should he take the case to court.
There’s documentary evidence that the editor of News of the World sent a message to James Murdoch saying that this gentleman was going to be “very vindictive.”
Yes, it’s an e-mail trail of discussion between Myler and Crone that reflects what the external lawyer had advised them. And then Myler forwarded the e-mail trail to James Murdoch. He responded two or three minutes later to say: “OK, fine, let’s discuss it. You can phone me tonight, or I’ll see you next week.”
We’ve now had a cover letter [PDF] from James Murdoch explaining that he didn’t read the e-mail trail; he only read the e-mail from the editor, and that he still has no recollection of agreeing to sign the payment off in the way that is described by Myler and Crone.
A kind of willful blindness, it sounds like.
It could well be construed as willful blindness, yes. The very best interpretation you can make [of] it is that he failed to exercise corporation leadership and ask the questions that a chief executive of a company should ask in those circumstances. …
What do you think was key to all of that happening? …
I think the revelation that hacking extended to the families of victims of very serious crimes was definitely what cracked it open. You know, the British public are still totally appalled by the [Milly] Dowler story. They’ve got to be appalled by other similar incidents that took place, as the criminal investigations revealed.
And what it really shows, it’s not so much about the negligence or failure of leadership of Rupert or James Murdoch. What they want is the UK to put its house in order, for us to stop this ever happening again, and ultimately that’s down to politicians to sort that [out].
To stop the press from publishing?
No, to make sure that when legitimate journalistic inquiry takes place, it doesn’t break the law.
But hacking wasn’t illegal for a long time.
Hacking has always been illegal. It’s also an invasion of privacy, too far.
You’ve also got to remember that Glenn Mulcaire, the phone hacker hired by News International, was only one of a number of private investigators, each of whom had different skills, be it blagging [pretending to be someone else to obtain private information] or computer hacking or other forms of covert surveillance.
So it’s almost a fluke that the scandal erupted around phone hacking. To me, I think we’re only halfway through the scandal unfolding, and what is likely to come next is, you know, it’s very possible that we will see that computer hacking is the next scandal afflicting the company and that they’re going to have to explain how some of their executives were associated with private investigators who were involved in hacking computers. …
You’re saying that the indications are, to you, that we’re just at the beginning?
Yes. I mean, we already know that a former prime minister was the victim of blagging. …
We know that there were other blaggers employed by News International. And we know that there were private investigators known to News International who were associated with computer hacking. So there is a lot more to come out, and I suspect that throughout 2012, these revelations will be afflicting News Corp. for sometime to come.
Is there any indication that they’re doing it, or have done it, in the U.S.?
It certainly is a view of some of the lawyers that there’s a case to be made that people were hacked while they were in the United States, and that that may mean that American laws have been breached. I think it’s early days to test that notion in the courts, but obviously, if that is the case, then that’s very, very serious for News Corp.
Because they’re a U.S. company.
Because they’re a U.S. company and, frankly, in the U.S., they deal with these kind of crimes better than we do in the United Kingdom. The laws are clearer, and people’s expectations of obeying the law is higher.
But Murdoch’s political influence in the United States, while maybe not as great as it was here, is still substantial.
He’s a very big player in the United States, and I would imagine that any scandal that potentially breaks around hacking in the U.S. would weaken his political position over there as well as his corporate position. ..
I’m trying to understand how this could all be happening inside a news organization. News organizations monitor their people. And most of all, editors want to know: “What did you find out? Do you have the story yet?” And then they came before you and said, “We don’t know anything.” What are they going to do?
But it’s now absolutely clear that there were many others at the company who were at least aware that wrongdoing took place on one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. The real challenge for us in the UK now is to identify those individuals and make sure they’re brought to justice.
Do you have a sense of how high up the knowledge went of what was going on?
It’s very clear that very senior executives had knowledge of phone hacking before they admitted to it. The real challenge for us is the devil is in the detail. And we have got a criminal inquiry taking place, so it would be wrong to name the names now. But I think it’s going to go very high up the food chain indeed in this company.
They’re already under investigation for paying money to the Metropolitan police for information and to influence them, right? … If they were able to do that, why do you have any hope that they won’t be able to influence the prosecution? … Why should I believe anything’s going to happen now?
So even today, after all the revelations, there are still fears that the company will try and get the lid back on this scandal. After all, they’re not just being investigated for phone hacking. People are being investigated for computer hacking, for perjury, for bribery of public officials.
There is a huge array of wrongdoing that the police are currently investigating that will cause huge reputational harm for News Corp. throughout the world. And there are some, a very large number of people who are trying to convince the public that this was just a little local difficulty that took place on a small newspaper in a tiny part of the News Corp. empire. And they’re trying to make sure that it’s an isolated incident.
I don’t think it is, and I think we have many more questions that will be answered throughout 2012 that show that.
What they’re saying is that this is a partisan attack by a left-wing newspaper, a competitor and the political opposition, who don’t like the politics of News Corporation.
The one thing that Rupert Murdoch managed to do is unite Parliament. All three party leaders called on him to withdraw his bid for BSkyB and supported a judge-led public inquiry into phone hacking. And that’s not about being politically partisan; that is Parliament uniting to say enough is enough. …
And the moment that really started the firestorm was Milly Dowler.
It took the revelation that the victim of a very serious crime was targeted by this company for this scandal to be cracked open.
And when it came out, it was also reported that apparently News International employees had deleted phone messages, which created this tragic situation for the family. … But now we know that’s not necessarily true, right?
We don’t know the whole story around the hacking scandal and Milly Dowler’s phone. What we think is clear is that executives at the company had knowledge of information held on the voicemails of Milly Dowler, that there was conversations between executives and senior police officers in 2002 and that police logs exist to show there was a conversation between Surrey police, who were investigating the abduction at the time, subsequently murder, and somebody at News International regarding the publication of the story to do with Milly Dowler.
And the first edition of The News of the World ran a story on Milly Dowler that appeared to have quotes from a voicemail left on a phone, and the second edition, those quotes were dropped. So what is absolutely clear is the company had knowledge of the phone. We don’t know whether they actually deleted messages or not.
We don’t know that they were the immediate cause of the false hope of her mother.
That’s right. The significance of the allegation that they deleted a message was there was a point in the timeline in the buildup to the murder when Milly’s parents felt that she was still alive because voicemail messages had been deleted.
But can you understand by reporting that News Corp. was responsible for that pain, you were inflaming the whole story?
Yes, there’s no doubt about it. People were deeply upset at the particular allegation that the voicemail of Milly Dowler was deleted. But the shock to the nation was the fact that a journalist would think that it was in any way right to even listen in on the voicemail messages of a teenage girl that had been abducted.
And what we now know is Milly Dowler was not the only person in that category that was targeted in that way. At least one of the parents of the children that were murdered at Soham sits within the evidence file of the convicted private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire.
And there were other victims of crime who have suffered egregious invasions of privacy. The Milly Dowler story just happened to be the story that cracked the scandal open, but there were plenty of other invasions of privacy that could have done that.
So Milly Dowler is not alone. There are other examples and more, probably, that will surface.
Yes, there are other examples of ordinary families who just happened to be the victims of crime, or related to the victims of crime, that were targeted by at least one of the private investigators of News International. And any one of those stories could have inflamed public opinion in the way that it did.
Some of the former News of the World reporters and editors and others have said: “Look, this is a competitive business. Everybody’s doing it. We’re not alone. And we’re giving the public what they want to hear, the intimate details of these moving stories about ordinary people.”
The law is the law in this land. If you ask any ordinary citizen who believes in fairness, they would say: “Yes, we need a free press in Britain. Yes, they’ve got to hold powerful elites to account. Yes, I quite like the satirical way and the humorous … way that our tabloid press work; it’s unique to Britain. But no, I don’t expect journalists to break the law.” And it’s pretty clear about that. Even Rupert Murdoch says he doesn’t expect his journalists to break the law, and that’s what we’re trying to make sure never happens again in the UK.
[Explain what the phenomenon of News Corp. is like.]
When I interviewed James Murdoch the second time, I tried to describe the characteristics of a closed organization, where information was held at the top, where there was a bond of silence between the people who led the organization. I offered him a description of a Mafia-like organization. He denied my analogy and thought that it was inappropriate that I would describe it in such terms.
It’s a little over the top.
It probably was over the top. But look, you know, we’d had a two-and-a-half-year inquiry. … It was a way that I wanted to characterize a closed organization who had held information to themselves that should have been revealed to the public, who operated under the cloak of secrecy, who used activities like covert surveillance and intrusions of privacy.
And I wanted to try and characterize that kind of behavior and try and challenge James Murdoch to come back at me a little bit and explain — you know, understand how people felt very strongly about this. He didn’t come back at me. He closed the discussion down. …
So the frustration for all policy-makers is we started this inquiry back in 2009, and even today in 2011, after all that’s gone on all, we are still not in possession of the facts. And this is just about trying to get to the truth. And he, as the head of the company, I think has a duty to be more candid with Parliament and the public than he has been already.
… Their strategy may be, “This is all going to die down.” You can’t hold them; you can’t throw them in jail for not respecting Parliament or not doing what they maybe should do. And they may even get rid of some more of their newspapers because they’re not making any money. But this will end.
There’s no doubt that News Corp. are going to extraordinary lengths and spending a lot of shareholders’ money on lawyers and PR operatives to try and close this story down, to make sure that knowledge of what went on in the UK arm of News Corp. is not widespread in the United States and Australia.
I think the genie is out of the bottle now, and, unfortunately for the company executives in America, the directors of News Corp., I hope they’re aware that this scandal is going to bubble on throughout 2012. There are yet more revelations to come; there are more victims who will come forward.
It’s a potboiler. It’s not going to go away. And I think their PR strategy is flawed. What they need to do is just get the truth out as quickly as possible and let people form their own view, rather than have it dragged out over time, like they’ve had to do for the last three years. …
But is it possible for this company to do that if Rupert Murdoch is at the top, and he expects his family to succeed him?
Leadership is about making tough decisions as well as the easy ones. And if News Corp. want to do justice to their shareholders and move on from this as quickly as they can, then they should be doing a lot more to let Parliament know what went on and let the public in the UK know what went on back in 2005-06, when it seems that many hundreds of people were targeted through illicit means.
It doesn’t seem like there’s any way out for the company if the Murdochs remain in control.
… This is all about leadership. If Rupert Murdoch wants this information in the public domain, it can be in the public domain. But so far, for the last three years, we’ve had to drag every piece of information out of the company, kicking and screaming, and that’s not a great PR strategy, and ultimately it’s only going to cause more reputational harm for News Corp. on every continent.
Have you discovered now why you were under surveillance?
I can only assume that it was to try and find out information about me that would discredit me as a member of the committee investigating News Corp. You know, the private investigator that followed me, I’ve now got[ten] to know [him]. His name’s Derek Webb, and paradoxically, he lost his job when News of the World closed and thinks that his contract was not honored. So I spent some time trying to put him in touch with an employment lawyer so that he, too, can get justice out of Rupert Murdoch. …
He wasn’t detailed to find out positive things about you.
He actually said he had trouble following me because I was in the secure cordon of the Labor Party conference. So whatever he was after he didn’t get, in that week anyway.
I mean, he wasn’t given an assignment, find out whether he’s liked by his peers or his neighbors, you know.
No, I think his assignment was slightly more dubious than that. He was trying to dig up dirt on me, but he didn’t find any. …