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Murdoch: Hacking Not My Fault; Everybody Done Me Wrong

Rupert Murdoch's refusal to take responsibility for the phone-hacking scandal now roiling his British newspapers exposes News Corp's culture of blame-laying.
 
 
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Note to Rupert Murdoch: When you're apologizing to an entire nation for wrongdoing by a company you own, it helps if you take responsibility for the wrongdoing. Otherwise, folks are not so apt to believe you're really sorry.

In a rather grueling day of testimony yesterday before a committee of the U.K. Parliament, Rupert K. Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corporation -- the second-largest media company in the world -- refused to take responsibility for the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed his company, saying that he had been failed "by people I trusted."

Murdoch explained that, well, he was a very, very important guy who couldn't be on top of every little thing that happened at his little newspaper,  News of the World -- a 168-year-old publication that, before Murdoch shut it down earlier this month, claimed to be the most widely read English-language newspaper in the world. News of the World, Murdoch told the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, constituted "only 1 percent of our business." He continued, "I have a much bigger ship to run."

One assumes he meant the rest of News Corp., and not his yacht. Yet both the yacht and News of the World are greater than the sum of their parts in Murdoch's accumulation of power: both were the means of subduing and strong-arming a long line of British leaders, dating back to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in ways that allowed for the virtually unfettered expansion of Murdoch's businesses in the United Kingdom. As his power grew, politicians grew more docile even as his publications hacked into the voice-mail accounts of people close to them, and perhaps even politicians themselves.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the former leader of the liberalish Labour Party, alleges that in 2006, when he served as chancellor of the exchequer (the British equivalent of the U.S. treasury secretary), another News Corp. paper, the Sun, published confidential information on the health of his infant son that could only have been gleaned through a hacked voice-mail account.

The information the Sun revealed, just hours after the Browns learned of it themselves, was that their baby had cystic fibrosis. Before the Sun published the story, Brown said, he received a call from Rebekah Wade Brooks, a close confidant of Rupert Murdoch, giving him advance notice that the paper was running the story. At the time, Brooks was the Sun's editor. She went on to lead News International, the News Corp. division of which the company's British papers are a part.

See No Evil

Brooks, who resigned the company on Friday and was arrested on Sunday, also appeared today before the committee, denying any knowledge of the phone-hacking, despite the fact that the voice-mail account of Milly Dowler, the missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, was hacked during Brooks' tenure as the  News of the World's top editor.

But this scandal doesn't begin and end with phone-hacking. Hardly. It's also about the corruption of the police force known as Scotland Yard by News International papers, which apparently paid bribes to police officers for personal information about the targets of their stories. With these practices apparently firmly rooted in both the Murdoch operation and London's Metropolitan Police Authority, both the police and the Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron hired former News of the World editors to advise them.

Brooks said she had never paid a policeman, but when pressed by an MP, described how the organizational chart of a newspaper would mean that the making of such a payment "was not my remit."

The day of hearings began with testimony from Sir Paul Stephenson, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and his deputy, John Yates. Both Stephenson and Yates tendered their resignations from their police posts over the last several days, but Stephenson's resignation has not yet taken effect.

In his testimony, Yates discussed his hiring of Neil Wallis, a former News of the World editor, as a public relations consultant to the department during the police investigation of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Wallis, says news reports, conveyed information about the investigation back to his former colleagues at News of the World. According to the BBC, Wallis also "informally" advised Andy Coulson while Coulson was the Conservative Party communications director during the country's last Parliamentary elections, which yielded Cameron his current position as prime minister. Coulsen is also a former  News of the World editor who led the paper during the later part of the scandal.