News of the ... Screwed?
September 9, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Last week, the New York Times magazine published an explosive article about the phone-hacking exploits at the Rupert Murdoch-owned British tabloid News Of The World under the then-editorship of Andy Coulson, now the the Government's chief of communications. Following the NYT's investigation, questions about the "unhealthy" relationship between the Metropolitan Police and the press (particularly Murdoch's News International, which also includes The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times), and further claims that an independent inquiry was abandoned so as not to upset the Metropolitan Police, assistant Met Commissioner John Yates was questioned [video; 4 mins] on Tuesday by the Home Affairs select committee. Following an emergency debate in Parliament today, which concerned the fact that MPs of all parties may have had their phones hacked (and therefore had their Parliamentary Privilege breached), the Standards and Privileges Committee, the most powerful committee in Parliament, is to open an inquiry which will be able to compel witnesses to give evidence. Meanwhile, former News of the World reporters are coming out the woodwork, claiming that hacking at the paper was "rife", and the pressure is on Coulson to resign his £140,000 job at No. 10, with a poll [pdf] which says 52% of the public says he should go.

Back in 2007, Clive Goodman, the News of the World's royal correspondent, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator employed by the paper, were jailed for hacking into the mobile phones of members of the royal family, and the newspaper's then-editor, Andy Coulson, resigned, though he denied knowledge of the hacking. Two years after Coulson was appointed as the Conservative Party's communications chief in summer of 2007, the Guardian published claims the the phone hacking at the News Of The World also covered MPs, actors, and sports stars. The Guardian also claimed that private investigators working for the News of the World also "gain[ed] unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and intemised phone bills", and alleged that News International, the paper's parent company, paid out more than £1m to keep it all hushed up.

In February of this year, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a report which concluded that the News of the World's crimes "went to the heart of the British establishment, in which police, [the] military, royals and government minister were hacked on a near-industrial scale", and noted the "collective amnesia" and "deliberate obfuscation of News of the World executives who gave evidence to them.

Two months later, Nick Davies, in the Guardian, wrote that despte the police having siezed material from Goodman and Mulcaire that contained the names of 4000 potential hacking victims, the Met failed to pass this evidence on to the Crown Prosecution Service, preferring to focus on a small number of cases – a strategy "omitted from all public statements, including evidence made to the House of Commons media select committee".

Full coverage – blogs, live updates, video, etc. – from the Guardian here.

A News of the World Timeline, from 1969, when the paper was bought by Murdocuh, until now, from the NYT here.

This story previously on MeFi
posted by Len (46 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
About DAMN time someone investigated all this!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:16 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm fantasizing that this ends with Rupert Murdoch in prison...
posted by ohyouknow at 9:19 AM on September 9, 2010 [12 favorites]


Andy Coulson was a Murdoch editor and is now the a Tory big wig. Roger Ailes was a GOP big wig and is now a Murdoch CEO.

....nope, I'm not sensing any pattern.
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


It should also be noted that apart from the Independent allthe other UK news sources ie TV and newpapers have ignored this (not sure about Radio). Thanks for the comprehensive post Len.
posted by adamvasco at 9:26 AM on September 9, 2010


I never thought I'd say this, but Murdoch might soon regret the day he decided to fuck with the New York Times.

Which is excellent.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 9:26 AM on September 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


To clarify the details of the hacking: When you get a mobile phone you have a voicemail service. You can access this voicemail service by calling a single telephone number for your mobile provider, say Orange, entering your telephone number, and then entering a PIN.

Of course, most of us never change their PIN, so the PIN is consistent across all Orange customers.

So the hack is a social one:

1 Get someone's 'phone number. This is the only hard bit using non-public information.
2 Call the provider voicemail number.
3 Enter the 'phone number and standard provider PIN.
4 Listen to their voicemails.

This is also very handy if you lose your 'phone or the battery is dead but you need to listen to your voicemail.

The next time they check their voicemail, of course, they might notice that the new messages are listened-to when they should not be. The NYT articles suggests this tipped off people eventually.
posted by alasdair at 9:28 AM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Excellent Post.

When I first heard about this scandal, I wasn't impressed with Labour carrying on the whole 'Attack the people, not the policies' bollocks.

Now I cackle with glee at each and every development, hoping it all causes Murdoch even a tiny bit of annoyance.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 9:29 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Couldn't happen to nicer guys.
posted by Artw at 9:29 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Len: that is a superlative post. Thank you for taking the time to make a comprehensive collection of summarized links covering so many aspects of the issue. You win at MeFi.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:31 AM on September 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


Of course, most of us never change their PIN, so the PIN is consistent across all Orange customers.

Sigh. Why isn't changing the default password mandatory?
posted by octothorpe at 9:33 AM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


I do not understand, although I love the story. if they had all this illegal access, why it NotW still such a shitty rag? surely they should have cracked hundreds of pullitzer prize winning stories by now, that would have changed the world irrevocably.
posted by shinybaum at 9:33 AM on September 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's been pretty prominent on the BBC website, adamvasco and featured on both their and Channel 4's news programmes.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 9:33 AM on September 9, 2010


The default PIN hacking wasn't the only thing going on - they had 91 non-standard PINs too. Jack of Kent has some good concise blog posts about the legal background and the dodgy relationship between News International and the Met.
posted by nja at 9:34 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


nice post
posted by andywolf at 9:34 AM on September 9, 2010


It should also be noted that apart from the Independent allthe other UK news sources ie TV and newpapers have ignored this


Total rubbish. The Guardian has run loads on it and the BBC and C4 have covered it pretty exhaustively; the Telegraph has even covered it and they're Tory. In fact, everyone's picked up on it, except the Murdoch media.
posted by rhymer at 9:39 AM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's a post.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:44 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was a good interview with Chris Huhne MP about this, that's now on youtube
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:48 AM on September 9, 2010


Full coverage – blogs, live updates, video, etc. – from the Guardian here.

I assume that link is a mistake... it simply links back to this post. It's a funny mistake, if it is one. If it's not, then it's maybe a sly commentary on thin coverage of this story?

Anyway, as others have said, this is a great post.
posted by dammitjim at 9:51 AM on September 9, 2010


The Guardian full coverage link doesn't work.
posted by enn at 9:52 AM on September 9, 2010


dammitjim: I assume that link is a mistake... it simply links back to this post. It's a funny mistake, if it is one. If it's not, then it's maybe a sly commentary on thin coverage of this story?

Sorry, editing cock-up. Should go here.
posted by Len at 9:53 AM on September 9, 2010


My understanding of European privacy laws is somewhat lacking, but I have read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I'm pretty sure this is all above-board as long as the people hacked were bad guys. Also all the information gained would be usable in huge exposé articles and in court.
posted by graventy at 9:57 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm fantasizing that this ends with Rupert Murdoch in prison...

It's an image I just can't get my head around... like, the Emperor in handcuffs or something.

Though the more I probe at the idea, the more my brain seems to want to accept it.
posted by quin at 10:00 AM on September 9, 2010


That should have read apart from the Guardian and Independent up to the wekend BBC had this tucked away in the UK news section. I am referring back to the weekend when I last accesses any form of news apologies for not being clearer
posted by adamvasco at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2010


What the Coulson affair tells us about Murdoch's lust for power
posted by adamvasco at 10:11 AM on September 9, 2010


It's the story that gives in so many ways quite apart from the problems for NI noted above...Clegg standing in for the recently bereaved Cameron at PM's questions probably pissed off the few left-leaning Lib Dems who've not already jumped ship with his defence of Coulson; even if Coulson avoids criminal charges surely he'll be resigning sooner rather than later from the Tory PR job; and Cameron's judgement in hiring him in the first place comes into question.
posted by Abiezer at 10:12 AM on September 9, 2010


shinybaum: "I do not understand, although I love the story. if they had all this illegal access, why it NotW still such a shitty rag? surely they should have cracked hundreds of pullitzer prize winning stories by now, that would have changed the world irrevocably."

Because they don't want to change the world, they only want to harm their opponents, simple and plan.
posted by NiteMayr at 10:40 AM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


This was all done by a couple of lowly reporters working for a tabloid with a budget probably less than a million a year for professional services to do this kind of work. The NSA, FSB, the Chinese, etc have unlimited budgets for this kind of stuff; not to mention non-state actors such as terrorists organizations. Not to mention the next Watergate situation. Remember when Newt's cell phone calls ended up in the newspapers when some politically active couple with a radio frequency scanner decided to listen in. Eric Schmidt was right. People need to realize they have zero privacy regarding any digital communications.
posted by humanfont at 10:43 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


humanfont: “This was all done by a couple of lowly reporters working for a tabloid with a budget probably less than a million a year for professional services to do this kind of work.”

I take your larger point about digital communications being increasingly unprivate - but I don't think it's relevant here. Specifically, you're wrong about this. We're talking about the press secretary to the Prime Minister of Britain, and it's in the context of a paper that's owned by one of the wealthiest and most powerful human beings on the planet. It's not just some dinky thing here. This is the NSA, FSB, Watergate, etc stuff.

More to the point: the illusion that government actors are the big players when it comes to delving into private information has pretty much evaporated at this point. Eric Schmidt may have been right, but what he didn't say was that, while no digital communication is private, the first and foremost people who have access to your digital communications to use however they'd like aren't going to be working for the government. They're going to be working for private companies.
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


More to the point: the illusion that government actors are the big players when it comes to delving into private information has pretty much evaporated at this point. Eric Schmidt may have been right, but what he didn't say was that, while no digital communication is private, the first and foremost people who have access to your digital communications to use however they'd like aren't going to be working for the government. They're going to be working for private companies.

This. If you're paying attention, you note that the British Police force backed off, and pushed other government departments to back off, so they could keep Rupe happy. The Met feel more answerable to Uncle Rupe than to parliament. The only comparable figure in recent history might be Hoover.

This is what make Libertarians and Tea Partiers so risible to me: wetting their pants about big bad government which pretending corporate power can do no real harm.
posted by rodgerd at 11:43 AM on September 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


a poll ... says 52% of the public says he should go

I wonder what that figure would be if Murdoch's media were loudly trumpetting the story?

For those outside the country, The Sun, which has easily the biggest newspaper circulation in the country, would have no editorial qualms with openly framing the story in terms of their perception of guilt and their desired(demanded) outcomes - think front-page, multi-page features headlined "DODGY SNOOP MUST GO" etc.

Sure, they'd stay within the laws of libel with judicious use of words like "allegedly", and constructions like "It is up for the courts to decide on Mr Coulson's guilt, but the mere existence of the scandal shows dubious judgement, unfairly brings his colleagues under suspicion, he should do the honourable and resign". But that doesn't really hold so much sway compared to the 72pt DODGY SNOOP MUST GO.

They've done this to countless other figures in the past.

As it is.... I'm pretty sure they have featured the story in the paper. I think I remember seeing a 1 paragraph breakout box saying something like "Nick Clegg will handle PMQs, expected to involve Labour attacks on a government advisor, while brave David Cameron is away grieving over the tragic loss of his heroic father" tucked away inside a double page spread of said latter story.

It would be really, really lovely if this all went to court and as a result, besides the particulars of this particular case, people cottoned onto the extreme variation of coverage from the media on otherwise similar cases, depending on whether it suits the owner(s) or not. Wishful thinking, though, perhaps.
posted by Slyfen at 11:51 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Life imitates art... There's a bit in The Thick Of It, where Tucker gets caught fiddling with the opposition's blog.

The trouble here is that the Scotland Yard and Met didn't want to investigate this properly, which suggests collusion. Coulson is a Tory weasel, so his behavior is expected. But it's a bigger problem for British of all stripes if the authorities won't investigate cases of this sort, because of a cozy relationship with the press.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:18 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This story illustrates as nothing else could the utility, indeed the indispensability, of the Royal Family.

Murdoch and thugs would have gotten away with this completely if they hadn't stepped over that line into the precincts of the sacred. It's like touching the Ark of the Covenant. Let's hope the consequences will be approximately similar.
posted by jamjam at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Related, and hilarious: Chris Bryant (Labour party) vs. Kay Burley (Sky News)

"I have just said it!"

Priceless.
posted by Slyfen at 12:51 PM on September 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Murdoch and thugs would have gotten away with this completely if they hadn't stepped over that line into the precincts of the sacred. It's like touching the Ark of the Covenant. Let's hope the consequences will be approximately similar.

You mean, the royal family gets locked away in a warehouse by the government so that they don't fall into the wrong hands? Well, I guess Buckingham Palace is a kind of warehouse...
posted by No-sword at 2:12 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


You mean, the royal family gets locked away in a warehouse by the government so that they don't fall into the wrong hands? Well, I guess Buckingham Palace is a kind of warehouse...

You mean, after dealing the current outbreak of world wide fascism a fatal blow?

Offer accepted.
posted by jamjam at 2:20 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


shinybaum I do not understand, although I love the story. if they had all this illegal access, why it NotW still such a shitty rag? surely they should have cracked hundreds of pullitzer prize winning stories by now, that would have changed the world irrevocably.

Aside from Nitemayr's point, it's because they only had access to voicemail. 90%+ of it will amount to "Uhh ... hey Brian, can you call me back when you get a chance, uh, it's Nick here, my number's 123456 ... bye" with the occasional "Sweetie, I have to work late so can you pick up the kids from Mum's and get bread and milk, love you." or "Fred where the hell are you and why do you even have a mobile if you're not gonna answer it ... bloody hell Fred, pick up why don't ya ..." and so on.

Out of the rest, anything 'incriminating' is probably going to be "just calling to say last night was so good, you make me so hot and I can't wait to see you again" or "hoping we're still on to meet at the Special Restaurant tonight, and I've told Fatso that I'm at a work conference, so I can stay at your place", ie circumstantial evidence of extramarital affairs. The chances of someone leaving a message along the lines of "Just checking in to let you know I've put the bomb in the target's desk drawer" or "Dave, your cocaine's come in, do you want me to bring it to you at work or at home tonight?" are approximately zero.

Same applies to government or corporation surveillance. Listening to people crap on to voicemail recordings all day every day would be a maddeningly dull job.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:37 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Relatedly. Partly recast as The Sharks vs The Jets, a game show & The Daily Rehash.
posted by chavenet at 2:49 PM on September 9, 2010


Slyfen that video is terrific.
posted by smoke at 5:59 PM on September 9, 2010


That is indeed quite striking. Wow. Go Chris Bryant.
posted by koeselitz at 6:16 PM on September 9, 2010


And since we don't so far have a Scottish link: Coulson has been asked to appear at the forthcoming (starts in less than two weeks!) trial of Scottish Socialist Party egotist Tommy Sheridan, and his wife Gail, for perjury. (This trial itself arose out of a defamation suit brought and won by the Sheridans against the News of the World when Coulson was editor.) Given that Sheridan's lawyer Aamer Anwar is a bit of a terrier, it'd be interesting to see what happens to Coulson under oath and a judge's watchful eye ...

This just keeps getting better and better.
posted by Len at 6:59 PM on September 9, 2010


More to the point shouldn't Bond show up any minute now? This is really bad for the franchise unless there are some big explosions at newscorp hqs.
posted by humanfont at 10:45 PM on September 9, 2010


So the hack is a social one:

1 Get someone's 'phone number. This is the only hard bit using non-public information.
2 Call the provider voicemail number.
3 Enter the 'phone number and standard provider PIN.
4 Listen to their voicemails.
Not much of a hack. I thought they were installing rootkits on the phones themselves to listen to live conversations or something like that.
posted by delmoi at 1:29 AM on September 10, 2010


I read the NYT story last weekish, and still have yet to figure out: did any non-Murdoch places do anything? It seems like the answer is "yeah, but we don't like him, so back to this Coulson fellow it is."

I accept the scummy, evil and oh, yeah, illegal actions on the part of this one tabloid are pretty much given at this point. But isn't the British press ridiculously cutthroat? I can't believe all the scum in London worked for just one guy.

So: did all the scum in London work for just one guy?
posted by SMPA at 7:00 AM on September 10, 2010


Update from Channel 4 News: [M]embers of the committee set up to investigate the phone hacking scandal shied away from forcing News International chief executive and former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks to attend a meeting with them.
After Mrs Brooks had repeatedly avoided being interviewed, four MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee wanted to ask the Serjeant at Arms, the Commons official in charge of security, to issue a warrant forcing her to attend.

In an exclusive interview, former Plaid Cymru MP, and a member of the committee, Adam Price says he was warned by a senior Conservative committee member that if the committee pursued this plan, the tabloids might punish him by looking into his personal life.

"We could have used the nuclear option. We decided not to, I think to some extent because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with NI execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us - which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them and I think that's part of the reason we didn't do it. In retrospect I think that's regrettable," Price said.

"It's important now that the new inquiry stands firm where we didn't. Politicians aren't above the law but neither are journalists including Rupert Murdoch's bovver boys with biros."

SMPA: I read the NYT story last weekish, and still have yet to figure out: did any non-Murdoch places do anything? It seems like the answer is "yeah, but we don't like him, so back to this Coulson fellow it is."

I accept the scummy, evil and oh, yeah, illegal actions on the part of this one tabloid are pretty much given at this point. But isn't the British press ridiculously cutthroat? I can't believe all the scum in London worked for just one guy.

So: did all the scum in London work for just one guy?


Oh, almost all of them were* at it, without a doubt, the Daily Mail in particular. I think one figure – mentioned in the hilarious video that Slyfen posted upthread – was maybe 800 instances on their part alone. And yes, the British press is insanely cutthroat – it's got one of the highest per capita number of papers in any market in the world. Indeed, it's the ferocity of the competition, not to mention the prurient, celebrity-driven-car-crash** nature of the fodder the public demands from their tabloids that drives them to break the law in the first place.

So no, not all the scum in London work for one guy. But conversely, none of the other proprietors of papers involved in illegal/dodgy behaviour have anywhere near the same political clout in this country – let alone the vast worldwide reach – that Murdoch has. And none of the rest of them were run by the guy who is now in charge of running the government's communications office.

*i.e. probably still are, but a bit less conspicuously
**metaphor*

*(Princess Diana excepted.)
posted by Len at 11:51 AM on September 10, 2010


A lawsuit alleging a police cover-up of phone hacking has been launched by one of Scotland Yard's own former senior officers, Brian Paddick, together with the former Labour minister Chris Bryant.
posted by adamvasco at 1:14 AM on September 14, 2010


Has Rupert Murdoch's paywall gamble paid off?
posted by Artw at 5:50 PM on September 14, 2010


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