NPR's Folkenflik: Murdoch's Empire Shielded Hacking Crimes

Wednesday, 23 Oct 2013 02:47 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch's close ties with politicians and police paved the way for the high-profile trial in London next week of two of his former top newspaper executives accused of hacking mobile phone messages in pursuit of stories, says NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Folkenflik is author the new book "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires," published by PublicAffairs, about the meteoric rise of Murdoch's media empire from its humble beginnings in Australia to the notorious phone hacking scandal at his influential British tabloid papers.


The executives Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson were both former editors of the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid that served up a diet of exposes of celebrities and politicians. The paper, which once sold more than five million copies each issue, was shut down by Murdoch at the height of the hacking crisis two years ago. They have pled not guilty in the case, which will begin Oct. 28.

The trial is politically sensitive in the UK because the defendants were close associates of British Prime Minister David Cameron and spent weekends horseback riding and socializing with him at his country estate.

Murdoch still owns three national newspapers in the UK and controls Sky TV, a powerful satellite broadcaster. In the US his assets include Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and Harper Collins books.

"The Murdochs had built up this unrivaled staple of newspapers, these strong, private broadcasters, competitors to the BBC, and they were able to help influence elections," Folkenflik told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"Politicians in both major parties turned to them for help and support and it meant the political establishment didn't check with what appears now to have been widespread criminality. The police didn't do it."

Folkenflik said the dam burst when, in the summer of 2011, The Guardian newspaper revealed that Murdoch's journalists at the News of the World, the at the largest selling Sunday paper in the world, had been hacking into cell phones.

They captured the messages of not only politicians and movie stars, but of the victims of violent crimes and of soldiers who had been killed in combat.

"In addition … his journalists had been paying off cops for information that was supposed to be kept private under British law and also had been giving favors to very senior police officials, too," Folkenflik said.

"When there were investigations in years' past, they said 'we're not going to pursue this hard.' And it seems very hard to conclude anything but that that was influenced by their very close relationship with the police."

"There is no question that this was, essentially, ignored for years because of the support he had from both political parties, not just one, and also from the law enforcement establishment in the U.K."

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