Times: Culture of Illegal Surveillance Rife at Murdoch’s News of the World


In a lengthy reported piece that went online today, the Times takes aim at one of rival Rupert Murdoch's crown jewels: the sensationalist British tabloid News of the World. The paper retells the story of the 2007 arrest and conviction of a reporter, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who together hacked into the private voice mails of subjects — including Princes Harry and William, which is how Scotland Yard got on their tail. The two have claimed in court that their tapping was limited to a few royals and other high-profile Brits, and that other reporters and editors at News of the World did not practice these tactics. But the Times spoke with dozens of current and former employees, and reports that the usage of these voice mail fishing techniques was not only widespread, it was an open secret. “Everyone knew,” one longtime reporter told the paper. “The office cat knew.”

The Times elaborates:

Interviews with more than a dozen former reporters and editors at News of the World present a different picture of the newsroom. They described a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors. Andy Coulson, the top editor at the time, had imposed a hypercompetitive ethos, even by tabloid standards. One former reporter called it a “do whatever it takes” mentality. The reporter was one of two people who said Coulson was present during discussions about phone hacking. Coulson ultimately resigned but denied any knowledge of hacking.

There's also this anecdote, which is unrelated but awesome:

When a bottlenose whale became stranded in the Thames River in January 2006, the London tabloids raced to put reporters and photographers on boats. One News of the World reporter watched in horror as a wet-suit-clad rival from The Sunday Mirror jumped into the freezing water while a colleague snapped pictures. Back at News of the World, editors were not happy. “If he doesn’t get into that river and get a picture of us saving the whale by pushing it out to sea,” one journalist recalled Coulson saying of his reporter, “he doesn’t need to bother coming back.” Not to be outdone, Coulson dispatched another reporter to the North Sea to “find the whale’s family.”

Anyway, Scotland Yard has caught flak for not investigating the matter beyond the royal family, when allegedly hundreds of voice mails have been hacked by dozens of reporters. And now that time has gone by and more high-profile citizens have taken up legal inquiry, lawsuits are spreading. "Getting a letter from Scotland Yard that your phone has been hacked is rather like getting a Willy Wonka golden ticket," said Mark Lewis, a lawyer who has won a settlement from the News' parent company, Murdoch's News International. "Time to queue up at Murdoch Towers to get paid."

Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond [NYT]