This Is Investigative Reporting? News Corp. Allegedly Hacked Into Phones, Paid Off People To Silence Them

from the hmm... dept

We keep being told that only newspapers can do “real” investigative reporting, even though we’ve seen plenty of evidence of others doing quite impressive investigative reporting without having a background in journalism. And, now, we find out that some investigative reporting by those “real” journalists apparently involved breaking the law, violating individuals’ privacy… and then paying people off to keep quiet about it. At least that’s the charge from The Guardian against Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. According to the Guardian’s report (and, yes, the Guardian is a real newspaper and appears to have done a nice investigative job here — we’re not saying newspapers can’t do good investigative reporting), there’s growing evidence that a lot of folks involved in Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers were involved in hiring people to hack into thousands of mobile phones to record and transcribe phone calls between various politicians and celebrities, and also involved tricking “government agencies, banks, phone companies and others… into handing over confidential information.” And? When that evidence started to come out, they apparently paid up a bunch of hush money and convinced a court to seal the files. Again, this isn’t to implicate all newspapers (the fact that another newspaper figured this out is great). But the idea that newspaper investigative reporting is somehow “pure” once again seems to be in question.

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Comments on “This Is Investigative Reporting? News Corp. Allegedly Hacked Into Phones, Paid Off People To Silence Them”

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33 Comments
Bob V says:

Re: Re:

I spend most of my day listening to a local news station on the radio. In any given hour there is maybe 5 minutes of factual news and the remained of the time is spent on editorial commenting and callers spouting off their opinions.

Sounds like a verbal blog to me, but somehow they are a news organization and a blog on the internet isn’t in the eyes of some. It doesn’t make sense.

If I print out 10-20 copies of some local news and gossip on a regular basis and leave the copies at the local convenience store does that make me a journalist. If i do the same thing but on the internet rather than physical copies would I sill be a journalist.

I’m all for those who say no to bloggers being journalist but I want to hear them say where the line is. What threshold has to be crossed. Just saying I’ll know it is unacceptable, that’s the same as sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting nanananana.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The day you, Scooble, or Arrogant put a local, or even better national, politician in jail due to your own investigative skills, is the day I’ll buy your argument.

Well I’m not a reporter, so I’m not sure why you would suggest that. But which part of the post did you not read, because you seem to have totally misread my argument?

And, in terms of online groups doing investigative reporting, have you looked at ProPublica, Voice of San Diego or TPM? All of them are doing impressive investigative reporting.

If it weren’t for click-through ads, you’d all be low-level programmers somewhere.

Well, (1) we don’t make much money off ads — esp not click through ads, so that’s demonstrably false and (2) I’m not a programmer, so that’s also false.

But… thanks for commenting!

Prosecutor says:

Re: hacked lol

Interesting. That’s no different than saying if someone doesn’t lock their door then it makes it perfectly legal for another to break in. As usual, no accountability and always pointing the finger away from the real source of the problem. Manstabber…sounds like a backstabber, nobody likes a backstabber.

Robert says:

This story is a politically motivated attempt to oust one of the Conservatives PR chiefs, the Guardian being an openly left-wing newspaper, which actively campaigns for its causes. Such behaviour is not unusual for UK newspapers, since they are all open about their politics.

Of course, this doesn’t stop the accusations being true, but it does mean they should be read with an eye to potential spin.

In this case, one News of the World journalist was convicted and imprisoned a few years ago, after he conspired with a private detective to hack phones. The paper’s editor resigned, saying that though he hadn’t known what his journalist was doing he was still responsible. Some of the victims tried to sue News International, on the theory that they were liable for the conduct of their staff, but that case was settled out of court, and the documents sealed.

Now, a few years later, when that editor is employed by the Conservatives, the Guardian have got hold of some of those sealed files. They say that several other journalists used the same private detective, so the editor must have known. Reading between the lines, they have no hard evidence to back up this inference, or indeed to prove that the other journalists used illegally obtained information, and that private detective also did work for other papers, including some on the left.

There is a real instance of corrupt journalism at the heart of this – that’s why one of them did a prison term – but the Guardian currently appears to have resurrected this story for sordid political motives, not because of anything new.

PT (profile) says:

“the Guardian being an openly left-wing newspaper, which actively campaigns for its causes.”

And Murdoch’s media are, um, openly right-wing and actively campaign for their causes. Your point is?

They were paying for illegal content at least twenty years ago. It was common knowledge that News Group would buy embarrassing or scandalous material on any celebrity, however it was obtained. Back in the day when cell phones were analog and you could listen in to the towers with a scanner, an ex sigint guy I worked with used to keep a recorder running all day. One day he recorded one of Princess Diana’s conversations with her lover, and sold it to News Group for a tidy sum. The Sun went ahead and published it. There was some critical comment, but no investigation or prosecution.

I submit that the publication is hard evidence of illegal activity. As for why there was no action taken, that’s an area for speculation, at least until another newspaper manages to uncover how the decision was arrived at, and by whom. Go Guardian.

Steff (Inari) (user link) says:

Regardless of the Guardian's motives...

… I think the most interesting point is that News International, which publishes The Sun and the News of the World, the two papers implicated in this affair, has not denied paying £1 million pounds of hush money. In fact, aside from a statement that failed to address the most important issues, this normally very aggressive organisation has not said much at all.

Robert says:

My point is that the political agenda of all the parties should be remembered.

We know the law was broken; that’s why the journalist got a prison sentence. However, it’s not just right wing papers that used this private detective. The Mirror did, as did the Observer, which is run by the same people as the Guardian. By their own logic, their own owners are guilty of corrupt journalism. For reason we can guess at, the Guardian is playing that bit of the story down.

The larger point though is that this is a deeply political story. While it exposes probable systemic low standards in British journalism, not restricted to one paper or even one conglomerate, the political angle means this is not a clear cut example of anything much.

Anonymous Coward says:

The big question is why a foreign national is allowed to own newspapers and television stations in the United States in volition of federal law. Oh, I remember now, the Republicans made an exception. Which also answers the question as to why Fox is such a strong supporter of the Nazi, er, Republican Party? This also explains their flagrant disregard for the law.

Let’s start by forcing New Corp to divest itself of either Murdock or all of its American holdings.

PT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The big question is why a foreign national is allowed to own newspapers and television stations in the United States in volition of federal law”

Well they’re not, of course, and Rupert Murdoch is no exception. He became a US citizen in order to buy a US newspaper. The only exceptional thing is that his citizenship was granted in less than 24 hours, whereas it takes about five years for anyone else.

BobinBaltimore (profile) says:

What is "pure?"

Mike, I agree with you that good investigative reporting can come from sources and efforts outside the mainstream media. And that goodness for that since the MSM is so loaded, bloated and biased (in various directions, but mostly left). But I don’t get your last sentence: that “newspaper investigative reporting is somehow “pure” once again seems to be in question…” I don’t think I’ve seen anyone here contend that newspaper investigative journalism is “pure.” Maybe I’m just not sure what you mean by “pure.” The fact is that The National Enquirer and TMZ – which nobody in their right mind believes is pure (which I interpret as being free from gray-line practices including paying for details, invading privacy) – offer some of the best deep dives of celebs and politicians. Now, I don’t think for a second either of those organizations have the depth or expertise to break a Watergate or Pentagon papers, but they clearly can handle the light stuff.

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