In the high-stakes Murdoch family sibling rivalry, daughter Elisabeth appears poised to emerge out of the News Corp. scandal with a net gain on embattled brother James: As soon as the scale of the News of the World scandal became apparent, she and (aptonym alert) half-sister Prudence called for Rebekah Brooks's swift resignation, while James and father Rupert searched for ways to protect Brooks. In hindsight, of course, Elisabeth's recommendation of quick and decisive action would have made for far better damage control, and so her prescient judgment has Murdoch watchers arguing that the Shine Limited CEO might be the best hope for a familial successor to Rupert.
Meanwhile, James, previous occupant of that role, whose decision-making has been cast in a far less flattering light throughout the affair, will reportedly be asked to step down as chairman of BSkyB. (BSkyB has issued a denial.) One British editor told Newsweek, “I think James is not in a good place.” Indeed.
In the fallout from the hacking scandal, heads aren't done rolling: John Yates, assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, has resigned over the agency's handling of the NotW misdeeds, following his boss's resignation over the weekend. Underlining the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister David Cameron came home early from a trip to Africa and called a special session of Parliament, starting the day after testimony from Murdoch father and son.
For the gawkers watching the train wreck, juicy new details on how Rebekah Brooks ran her shop have emerged: Reuters has a dishy piece chronicling the general atmosphere of cutthroat lawlessness at the paper.
"We used to talk to career criminals all the time. They were our sources," says another former reporter from the paper who also worked for Murdoch's daily tabloid, the Sun. "It was a macho thing: 'My contact is scummier than your contact.' It was a case of: 'Mine's a murderer!' On the plus side, we always had a resident pet nutter around in case anything went wrong."
As for Brooks's denials that she knew about shady practices, her purse strings might have been too tight for them to hold any credence:
"No newspaper editor would not know what a 102,000 pound budget was used for. They knew about every 50 quid," said [one] long-term freelancer.
Eavesdropping on voicemail or obtaining call logs was initially a money-saving measure, according to the former employees. Rather than committing a reporter to stake out a venue for as long as it took to catch out a couple having an affair, for example, voicemails could first be scrutinized to establish the time and place of a rendez-vous, saving the reporter time and the paper money.
As its uses became apparent, it was employed more and more. The general news reporter said he was first shown how to listen in to people's cellphone voicemail by a colleague in the 1990s.
"It became the course of first resort rather than last," the long-term freelancer told Reuters.
While there might be a particular appetite for appalling NotW stories now — the reporter forced to parade around at a 9/11 story meeting dressed in Harry Potter garb, the contest to embed someone as a contestant on Big Brother — former journalist and London mayor Boris Johnson, at least, doesn't think the paper was alone in its shady practices. He told Newsweek:
"The confected outrage about the intrusions that you’re reading in some newspapers that I won’t mention by name, except to say that they’re the Daily Mail—I’d be amazed if these papers weren’t engaged in similar practices. "
But the practices of the Daily Mail aren't the Murdochs' concern just now, annoying as a shivving from their rivals might be. (And it annoys them.) It's convincing the world that practices at News of the World were isolated to that paper — and given how quickly the scandal has spread, that won't be an easy task.
Phone Hacking: John Yates 'to be suspended' over Neil Wallis links [Telegraph UK]
Special report: Inside Rebekah Brooks's News of the World [Reuters]
Elisabeth Murdoch comes to fore as family argue over phone-hacking crisis [Guardian UK]
BSkyB: Decision expected on James Murdoch's role [BBC]
Rupert’s Red Menace [Newsweek]