How the Murdoch Gang Got Away


In 2003, Andy Coulson was appointed editor of the News of the World, the famous or infamous London Sunday newspaper that in the middle of the last century was the best-selling paper on earth, for which Winston Churchill long ago wrote regularly, and that is mentioned in passing by Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and Evelyn Waugh. Its staple had always been salacious court reports and the like, feeding a characteristically English taste of genteel prurience, but it had become much nastier and more brutal in recent decades. Coulson was obliged to resign his editorship in early 2007 but months later he was hired by David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, as communications chief for the Conservative Party. As if appointing a man who had just departed a seamy tabloid in cloudy circumstances weren’t error of judgment enough, Cameron then took Coulson to Downing Street with him in May 2010, although Coulson left within a year.

Rebekah Brooks
Rebekah Brooks; drawing by James Ferguson

Last June, a little more than four years after Cameron had become prime minister, Coulson was convicted at the Old Bailey in London of conspiracy while he was editor to intercept communications by hacking into cell phone voice mails, and sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment. He was one of several men and women on trial who had worked for the News of the World and its daily sister the Sun, the tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International group. Rebekah Brooks, who had preceded Coulson at the News of the World before becoming editor of the Sun and then chief executive of News International, was acquitted on the same charge; her husband, Charlie Brooks, was acquitted on a charge of concealing evidence.

While Coulson’s conviction was generally expected, Mrs. Brooks’s acquittal surprised many people, including the defendant herself, it’s said. After the trial was over, one didn’t have to read the news accounts too carefully to guess that they had been prepared on the assumption that she would be convicted and then hastily revised after the verdicts. That may have been true also of Hack Attack by Nick Davies, one of the few heroes of this dismal affair. An investigative reporter formerly on the staff of The Guardian but now writing for it freelance, Davies has broken a succession of stories. One was an exposé of tax shelters and the means by which multinational corporations avoid paying taxes. News Corp, Murdoch’s American company that controls all the others, would have had little to learn from Davies.

Then Davies turned to another scandal. Private suspicions that hacking cell phones was widely practiced by London tabloids, with victims including younger members of the royal family, had become public in 2006 when Clive Goodman of the News of the World was tried and imprisoned for breaking into phone messages. Davies begins his book in February 2008, with an altercation on the radio. He had just published Flat Earth News,…

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