comments_image Comments

The 12 Nastiest Villains in the Murdoch Phone-Hacking Scandal

Here's an incomplete guide to the villains in the drama that threatens to take down the Murdoch empire.

Sometimes the bad guys really do lose. For News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, a very bad guy who, until recently, enjoyed a long winning streak, the losing days have begun to be counted in weeks. Since the latest incarnation of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal erupted a bit more than a week ago (with the revelation that now-defunct British tabloid  News of the World tampered with the voice mail of teenage murder victim Milly Fowler), each day has brought devastating revelations that implicate a handful of top executives at News Corp. and News International, the division that comprises the company’s British newspapers. (News Corp. is a U.S.-based company that also owns Fox News, the  Wall Street Journal and the  New York Post, as well as the Fox movie and entertainment companies.)

Today Murdoch, his son, James (who is News Corp.’s deputy chief operations officer), and Rebekah Brooks, who, until Friday, headed News International, will appear before the British Parliament to provide their testimony about accusations of widespread phone-hacking and police-bribing by News of the World and possibly other News International papers. 

Over the weekend, Rebekah Brooks, a Rupert Murdoch protege and CEO of News International, stepped down, and was arrested as part of a police investigation of the illegal hacking of voice mail accounts belonging to as many as 4,000 different people, as well an inquiry into the alleged bribing of police officers during the time she served as editor of the tabloid, News of the World. Murdoch had mounted a fierce defense of Brooks, so her resignation comes as a bit of a surprise. Brooks maintains her innocence.

The bribery allegations this weekend also ended the career of the commissioner of the storied London Metropolitan Police Authority, also known as Scotland Yard. Sir Paul Stephenson stepped down as Scotland Yard’s top cop following reports that the department had failed to investigate allegations of widespread phone-hacking and police bribery by News of the World, as well as revelations that the police force had retained the services of a former News of the World editor, Neil Wallis, as a public relations consultant. Wallis also consulted at the time for a spa that provided the police chief with around $18,000 worth of free services.

The News of the World scandal involves a complex pattern of alleged wrongdoing by a long cast of characters, including some in British government, as well as other newspapers owned by News Corp. (For background, see AlterNet’s previous reporting, here and here.) Enterprising reporting by the Guardian, a British newspaper, and the New York Times continues to place the scandal ever closer to the government of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party.

In related developments breaking at press time, a whistleblower who implicated News of the World editors in the phone-hacking scheme was found dead at his home -- authorities described his death as “unexplained but not thought to be suspicious.” Also, a bag and computer that belonged to either Rebekah Brooks or her husband were found in a garbage bin in the parking garage of a mall near the Brooks’ home.

Here we offer an incomplete list of some of the villains in the drama that threatens to take down the Murdoch empire, and has weakened the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron.

1. Clive Goodman. The former News of the World reporter who covered the British royal family was the first News Corp. employee implicated in the scandal when it was revealed in 2006 that he had hired a private investigator to hack into the voice-mail accounts of aides to the royals. Goodman was arrested for the hacking, and subsequently fired by News of the World, whose editors claimed they were shocked, shocked to learn of his nefarious activities. When Goodman initiated a wrongful termination suit on the grounds that he was acting on the authority of his editors, News International paid him an undisclosed settlement, essentially buying his silence. He was sentenced to several months in jail. Goodman was arrested again on July 8 as part of the current police investigation into alleged illegal payments made to police officers for the purpose of gleaning personal information on people targeted by News of the World.