The Cover-Up, Not the Crime, Brings Down James Murdoch

by Zachary Stauffer and Hannah Mintz
Stay tuned for more information on Murdoch’s Scandal, a FRONTLINE film scheduled to air March 27 (check your local listings).

FRONTLINE’s Lowell Bergman appeared on The Takeaway this morning to reflect on the news that James Murdoch, son of media titan Rupert, stepped down from his role as CEO of News International, the British press arm of News Corporation. The younger Murdoch has slowly been transitioning to the company’s New York offices.

“I don’t think it’s really that significant a move, he’s been back in the United States for quite a while,” says Bergman. “He’s never really expressed, apparently, that much interest in the newspaper business. His real interest is in BSkyB TV and other broadcasting … aspects of News Corporation.”

This move doesn’t mean James is going to disappear into the Manhattan streets. Investigations into his role covering up crimes at News International are ongoing. “Revelations that keep coming out of this Leveson Inquiry … continue to show that the cover-up, as usual, is worse than the crime,” notes Bergman.

For years, in public and in testimony to British Parliament, James and other executives claimed that phone hacking and other illegal behavior was limited within the company. Revelations in the last year have undercut those claims.

The question remains: who knew what, and when? While neither James nor Rupert Murdoch have given in-depth interviews to the press (“I’m holding my breath,” jokes Bergman, after an extended radio silence), questions swirl: Did James tell the truth to parliament in July about his lack of knowledge about the widespread phone hacking? What about the 2008 “for Neville” email, in which a News of the World editor told James that one particular case looked bad?

“Unfortunately, it’s as bad as we feared,” Myler wrote.  “No worries,” James replied.

In that case, James reportedly approved a settlement of over $1 million not long after reading the e-mail. Business continued as usual at News International until last July, when it was revealed that News of the World hacked into the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered.

It goes way beyond, James, Bergman notes — and it’s shaking up Britain’s core. “We’re talking about the involvement of every prime minister in Britain for the last quarter century,” says Bergman. “Equivalent of the White House, the FBI and the largest press organization or media organization in the country, all colluding, money changing hands, cover-up and all kinds of black arts in between.”

These arts are the subject of Lowell Bergman’s upcoming FRONTLINE film Murdoch’s Scandal, slated to air March 27.

Photo: James Murdoch (left) and Rupert Murdoch giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the House of Commons in central London on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. James Murdoch is to step down as executive chairman of News International to focus on expanding international TV businesses, the company announced today. Issue date: Wednesday February 29, 2012. See PA story CITY Murdoch. PA Wire URN:12923472 (Press Association via AP Images)
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