Hypothetical question: If a major news media outlet hacked people's cell phones to get dirt on them and in the process caused family members of serial killer's victims to think their loved one was alive, would that be a major news story? If that story expanded to include possibly thousands of people -- celebrity, politician, and private citizen alike -- would that be news?
July 6, 2011

Hypothetical question: If a major news media outlet hacked people's cell phones to get dirt on them and in the process caused family members of serial killer's victims to think their loved one was alive, would that be a major news story? If that story expanded to include possibly thousands of people -- celebrity, politician, and private citizen alike -- would that be news?

If not, it should be. And across the sea, it is. In March, 2002, 13-year old Milly Dowler disappeared while walking home from school. While she was still missing, News Corp's News of the World operatives allegedly hacked into her cell phone and deleted messages, causing her parents and the police to believe she was still alive. How sick is that?

Via The Guardian:

The Guardian investigation has shown that, within a very short time of Milly vanishing, News of the World journalists reacted by engaging in what was standard practice in their newsroom: they hired private investigators to get them a story.

Their first step was simple, albeit illegal. Paperwork seen by the Guardian reveals that they paid a Hampshire private investigator, Steve Whittamore, to obtain home addresses and, where necessary, ex-directory phone numbers for any families called Dowler in the Walton area. The three addresses Whittamore found could be obtained lawfully on the electoral register. The two ex-directory numbers, however, were "blagged" illegally from British Telecom's confidential records by one of Whittamore's associates, John Gunning, who works from a base in Wiltshire. One of the ex-directory numbers was attributed by Whittamore to Milly's family home.

Then, with the help of its own full-time private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, the News of the World started illegally intercepting mobile phone messages. Scotland Yard is now investigating evidence that the paper hacked directly into the voicemail of the missing girl's own phone. As her friends and parents called and left messages imploring Milly to get in touch with them, the News of the World was listening and recording their every private word.

But the journalists at the News of the World then encountered a problem. Milly's voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.

What's truly shocking is that the editor of News of the World at that time was Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade), who is now the chief executive for News Corp. in the UK. New York Times reports:

If Mr. Lewis’s accusations about hacking during the Dowler case prove accurate, it would mean either that Ms. Brooks had no idea how the paper she edited was obtaining information about the Dowler family for its articles, or that she knew about the hacking and allowed it.

Ms. Brooks, in her memo, did not deny the allegations, but said she had had no knowledge of phone hacking on her watch. “I hope that you all realize it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations,” she added.

Amid a broader police investigation, the News of the World has admitted that it intercepted mobile phone messages in some cases that occurred after Ms. Brooks’s editorship, and has paid damages to the actress Sienna Miller and others. Numerous other people who say that their phones were hacked are suing the paper.

How convenient. How exactly did the private investigator's bills get paid? Despite her efforts at plausible deniability, everyone already knows her right-hand man, Andy Coulson, likely had full knowledge of what was going on.

The scandal has already claimed the job of one former high-ranking News Corporation official, Andy Coulson, who was Ms. Brooks’ deputy at the News of the World in 2002 and who later moved into the top editor’s role. Mr. Coulson resigned from that post in 2007 after a reporter at the News of the World was convicted of charges in connection with the scandal. Mr. Coulson later went on to serve as Mr. Cameron’s media adviser, but stepped down in January, following allegations from former journalists at the paper — denied by Mr. Coulson — that he was aware of the phone hacking.

As a side note, News Corp.'s Sun is covering the scandal in its typically even-handed fashion -- on page 2, toward the bottom, as a little tiny news blurb.

Readers, think about the smear job News Corp is doing on David Brock and Media Matters right now. Think about the racism and conservative tropes they put out day after day after day. Then look at what's being exposed in the UK right now and ask yourself whether this organization is anything other than a group of criminal thugs out to destroy their perceived 'enemies' wherever they can while making a buck or two in the process.

Advertisers in the UK are taking notice. Ford has pulled all advertising from News of the World; T-Mobile and other companies are considering doing the same.

This isn't happening in a vacuum. Read this Frontline transcript for an idea of how Rupert Murdoch thinks, works, operates.

GRAHAM KING: There was nobody about on Saturday morning except I bumped into Rupert wandering along the corridor and he said, "Hey, come here." So we went into the board room and he said, "I think we're going to buy a newspaper in England" and, of course, when he said The News of the World, I nearly fell on the floor. You're talking about the biggest-selling newspaper in the world-- it was then selling over six million copies a Sunday-- unassailable corporately, safe in the hands of a family. What was he talking about?

KEN AULETTA: Sir William Carr was the chairman and largest shareholder of The News of the World. His family had run the paper since 1891. But in 1969, the family was threatened by a corporate raider with a reptilian reputation.

GRAHAM KING: They'd had a bid in from Robert Maxwell, at the time, which they didn't like and didn't want and rejected. But the pressure was to find some kind of white knight to come and rescue The News of the World from the hands of the evil Robert Maxwell.

KEN AULETTA: Murdoch flew to London to meet at this restaurant with members of the Carr family. With the charm he can turn on and off like a light switch, he seduced them, telling the family, "I'll help you beat Robert Maxwell. We'll run the company together. Sir William can stay on as chairman. All I want is 40 percent of the stock and the job of managing director."

THOMAS KIERNAN: It came down to a battle between Maxwell and Murdoch at a special shareholders meeting to decide who-- which of the two would be the buyer. Murdoch's bankers and lawyers arranged for the shareholders meeting to be packed with friendly shareholders of the Carr family and all the shareholders were told in advance that the Carr family wanted Murdoch rather than Maxwell to win the battle.

KEN AULETTA: Although Maxwell was offering to pay a higher price, the vote went overwhelmingly for Murdoch. Robert Maxwell had been outflanked and perhaps for the last time the establishment would view Rupert Murdoch as a savior.

RUPERT MURDOCH: We will be the largest shareholder. Together with the Carr family, it would certainly be more than 50 percent.

INTERVIEWER: Was buying The News of the World your own idea or was it suggested from someone else?

RUPERT MURDOCH: Entirely my own idea.

INTERVIEWER: And what is your motive, to help the Carr family or to expand your newspaper chain?

RUPERT MURDOCH: To expand my newspaper chain.

KEN AULETTA: Six months after the merger, Murdoch reneged on his gentlemen's agreement with the Carrs. Despite a pledge not to seek majority control, he did. Murdoch says he had no choice. The Carrs were inept and he had to protect shareholders. The Carrs were outraged and called Murdoch a liar and the charge that his word was counterfeit would shadow him the rest of his career.

Ruthless. Disingenuous. Selfish. Slave to the almighty dollar. Read the rest of that segment about News of the World, where he turns gossip and innuendo into news. No matter how far Murdoch tries to run from Roger Ailes, Rebekah Brooks, and his other henchmen, there can be no denying the fact that what happens in Murdoch's news is Murdoch's doing.

I guarantee you there will be more to come on this story, and it will expose Rupert Murdoch's criminal empire for what it is. RICO statutes, anyone?

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