Nearly six years to the day after suicide bombers killed 56 people and injured some 700 others in London, Scotland Yard has begun calling relatives of victims to tell them that a private investigator hired by News of the World had dug up private information about them, including their cell phone numbers. The tabloid (owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.) has already come under fire for allegedly tapping the phones of politicians, royal family members, and family members of other crime victims. It's merely the latest in an increasingly ugly series of revelations that is weighing down the punchy paper.
Yesterday, Vanity Fair reported that News of the World inappropriately paid off officers at Scotland Yard, an accusation the police agency confirmed today.
Rebekah Brooks is the CEO of News International, the News Corp. wing that runs Murdoch's British papers. She was also the editor of News of the World when the paper allegedly interfered in the case of a missing teenager by hacking into her cell phone and erasing messages. The Australian media mogul is under increasing pressure from the British Parliament to force her to quit. And he's under financial stress, too: Because of all the negative attention, Ford Motors has led an advertising boycott against the paper, and other big companies, like cellular providers T-Mobile and Orange, are reviewing their contracts. (News Corp. shares have also fallen nearly a dollar in trading today.)
But Murdoch is backing up Brooks. "Recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police with respect to the News of the World are deplorable and unacceptable," he conceded. "I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively cooperate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks’ leadership."
Even Prime Minister David Cameron, who employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as a communications director, is under pressure to do something. Ed Miliband, the Labour Party MP, lambasted him for a "catastrophic error of judgment by bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of his Downing Street machine." Cameron, for his part, tried to keep the focus on the tabloid. "We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities, we are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into," he said. "It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone in this House and indeed this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens." Coulson resigned from his position with the Conservative Party back in January.
Jeff Bercovici at Forbes thinks Murdoch will bolster Brooks to the end, because sticking up for his people is in his nature. But in the background of all this, Murdoch has been trying to convince the British government to let News Corp. buy the rest of British Sky Broadcasting, a pay-TV network of which it is already the largest shareholder. So far, government officials say that the deal is unrelated and is likely to go through. But if that outlook changes anytime soon, Rebekah Brooks may want to hold on to her hat.