Five years ago, Colin Myler, now the editor of the Daily News, received a message from Rupert Murdoch’s people. At the time, Myler, a square-faced Brit, was a top editor at Murdoch’s Post. Now the bosses at News Corp. had an even better job in mind: Would Myler like to run Murdoch’s storied British weekly, News of the World, the largest-circulation paper in England? It was a plum job, the top of the English tabloid heap, but the offer came with a catch.
News of the World was at the lowest point in its illustrious 163-year history, in the early stages of a phone-hacking scandal that’s come to threaten Murdoch’s empire. Part of Myler’s brief as editor would be to clean up the mess or, in the euphemistic version of his paymasters, “to ensure that any previous misconduct was identified and acted upon.” Myler didn’t relish this Augean Stables part of his new job. “I felt that there could have been bombs under the newsroom floor,” he later said, “and I didn’t know where they were, and I didn’t know when they were going to go off.”
Still, for someone who’d been a Fleet Street editor for almost two decades, it was an irresistible offer, a chance to return to the British major leagues.
Myler excitedly phoned his mother, who lives a few miles from his English home in Kent. “If there was something you wanted, Mum, what would it be?”
“For you to come home,” she said without hesitation.
“Well, I’m coming,” he told her.
Now Colin Myler has returned to New York—to head the city’s other tabloid, the one Murdoch doesn’t own. Myler has come back with the deepest possible knowledge of his competitors at the New York Post, as well as ample reason to hold a grudge against its owner, Rupert Murdoch, who, it seems to many, was happy to let Myler take heat for the phone-hacking scandal in order to protect his own son. Myler has returned with a tarnished résumé. The scandal continues to threaten his reputation. Last week, a member of Parliament accused Myler of authorizing his reporters to dig up dirt on M.P.’s investigating News of the World. But New York is a new beginning. He’s no longer marching to Murdoch’s orders. Now he can put his own ideological stamp on the Daily News, score-settling of a different kind. For Colin Myler, these intertwining pasts are a prologue to the tabloid war he’s now joining. “It’s going to be fun,” Myler told a reporter.
The fun is going to be in competing against a man who first saved his career, then nearly ruined it. When Rupert Murdoch brought Myler to the Post, in late 2001, the move was a step down. For a decade, he’d been editor-in-chief of one British tabloid or another, most recently the Sunday Mirror, playing the Fleet Street game with brio. But then he crossed a line. In April 2001, in the midst of the trial of two soccer players accused of assaulting a Pakistani fan, Myler published an article that suggested racism as a possible motive. The problem was that the judge had prohibited consideration of a racial motive, and in England there are strict laws about honoring such prohibitions—“Journalism 101,” says one of Myler’s Fleet Street colleagues. The judge in the case immediately called for a retrial, and even though Myler had consulted company lawyers, he was pushed out in disgrace.
And that’s when Murdoch’s people came calling. “Rupert has always been a great rescuer,” says a former British colleague. Myler was thankful for the chance. “The Post,” another colleague says, “was a shot at redemption.”