Murdoch’s Scandal: The Essential Reads

by Hannah Mintz and Meghan Walsh

An Unfolding Scandal

The saga began in 2006, when News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and later jailed for hacking into the phones of Prince William and several other people.

The legal cases that followed — including one resulting in a 750,000 pound settlement for a story that never ran — garnered little attention, despite reporting from both The Guardian and The New York Times.

But after two years of publishing stories about phone hacking at News of the World, Nick Davies of The Guardian kindled mass outrage when he reported in July 2011 that the tabloid’s reporters hacked into the voicemail of a 13-year-old girl named Milly Dowler, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2002.

From there, other British papers picked up the story, reporting that among the hacking victims were the families of other murdered children, the families of those killed in the July 2005 terrorist attacks in London, and a British soldier killed in Afghanistan.

For more on how the story unfolded, check out this ProPublica guide; for a big-picture look at the scandal, explore the New York Timesinteractive timeline that traces the history of News Corp. from Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of News of the World in 1969 through the recent resignation of his son, James.

James is one of the many people — ranging from News Corp. executives to police officers to politicians — entangled in the scandal. The BBC has a fantastic graphic that shows how the major players — including three prime ministers, several top police officials, journalists and private investigators — are connected. For more on Rupert Murdoch’s circle, ProPublica created an actual circle that shows different relationships, as well as who has resigned or been arrested.

For longer, in-depth reads, try Sarah Ellison’s “The Dark Arts” (Vanity Fair); Don Van Natta Jr., Jo Becker and Graham Bowley’s “Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond” (The New York Times Magazine); Anthony Lane’s “Hack Attack” (The New Yorker); and Greg Farrell’s “Dinner at Rupert’s,” (BusinessWeek) a look at the fateful night in May 2011 when Rupert Murdoch and company decided how to manage the phone-hacking scandal.

The Milly Dowler Voicemail Deletion Controversy

In December 2011, a central component of Nick Davies’ story on Milly Dowler was called into question. According to Davies’ report:

[Dowler's phone] messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive. Police feared evidence may have been destroyed.

But London’s Metropolitan Police told an inquiry that they didn’t have evidence showing that News of the World journalists were responsible for the deletions. A more likely scenario was that the phone automatically deleted the messages after 72 hours.

Police are still investigating exactly how the voicemails were deleted, but they don’t dispute the fact that News of the World journalists hacked into Milly’s phone.  A police report released in January 2012 shows that police knew about the hacking in the weeks after Milly went missing.  In fact, the police even followed a lead from one of the voicemails stolen by The News of the World.

The Guardian has since issued a correction.

Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun and staunch Murdoch supporter told FRONTLINE that the error had “catastrophic” consequences.  “A piece of broadsheet crap like The Guardian manages to cost hundreds of people their jobs [when The News of the World shut down].” he said. “Nobody is trying to get things wrong, but people get things wrong. The consequence of him getting this wrong was catastrophic.”

Davies acknowledges that he reported what sources were telling him at the time, but argues that his story was not fundamentally wrong. “If you look back at the Milly Dowler story, the most important thing it’s saying is that The News of the World hacked into that little girl’s voicemail and listened to friends and family leaving heartfelt messages to get in touch,” he told FRONTLINE.

The Leveson Inquiry

The Leveson inquiry was established by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011, just weeks after news broke of widespread phone hacking by News of the World. The inquiry is presided over by Lord Justice Brian Leveson; other members of the panel include former Daily Telegraph and Press Association journalist George Jones and human rights advocate Shami Chakrabarti.

The goal, wrote Lord Leveson, is to make “recommendations on the future of press regulation and governance consistent with maintaining freedom of the press and ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards.”

Leveson has the power to call anyone — journalist, politicians, police officers — to testify. The lengthy witness list includes many of the main players in the phone hacking scandal, including former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, Guardian reporter Nick Davies and Sally Dowler, Milly Dowler’s mother, as well as a number of celebrities, including actress Sienna Miller, singer Charlotte Church and author JK Rowling.

The Leveson inquiry website has a full list of witnesses and their testimony, FAQs and video of each hearing, which can be watch live or archived.

News Corporation is doing its own internal investigation into the sandal led by board members Joel Klein and Viet Dihn. In February, five journalists from The Sun were arrested on charges of bribing the police and members of the military based on evidence stemming from News Corp.’s own investigation.

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