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The Tabloid Turncoat


Post editor Col Allan  

At the Post, Myler was second in command to Col Allan, a longtime Murdoch editor who’d been imported from Australia to bring some juice to the paper and was already succeeding. Allan and Myler share a deep love for tabloid-making—neither graduated from college—but in others ways, they were very different. Allan is a fiery, sharp-tongued, counterpunching conservative. He’s soft around the middle, and his hair has grayed. Myler at the time was shaggy-headed and fit, a rugby-loving working-class kid with a charming manner, a gentle Liverpool accent, an oddly formal bearing, and an upbringing in the Labour Party—anathema to the politics of the Post.

For Myler, there was considerable pride to swallow—not to mention personal politics—and he swallowed it. “Around Col, he suppressed his ego because he had to,” said a fellow journalist who knew him well. There were benefits, though. Allan welcomed him into the Murdoch tribe. They became best mates, visiting each other’s houses, drinking together, and even engaging in the occasional brawl. Once, at Elaine’s, Lloyd Grove, a former Daily News writer, made the mistake of defending the News. “Myler told me I was a cheeky boy,” Grove says. He smacked Grove’s ear with the flat of his hand. “My ears rang afterward,” Grove says.

At the Post’s morning meeting, the two worked in a ritualized good-cop-bad-cop routine—though, in truth, both cops were pretty tough. Myler played setup man, posing sharp questions: Where’s the fun stuff? Why is there so much crime? Allan at times seemed inattentive, paging through the day’s newspapers, until something said by one of his editors set him off. Then he attacked, savaging the offender. “He was biting and sarcastic,” says a former Post editor. “He threw people out of the meeting all the time. You just get up and leave.”

It was Myler’s job to salve the hurt feelings. The task suited him. His diplomatic skills were well honed, the result of decades spent operating in large companies. “He can be quite cunning,” a colleague says. And at the Post, he filled a definite need. “Some of Col’s shit is so unreasonable, so insane, and there was no way to discuss anything with him. We would go to Myler,” says a onetime colleague. “ ‘I get it. Let me go to Col,’ he’d say.”

Myler thrived at the Post. Still, a few years into his tenure, he began to feel warehoused. To newsroom observers, he didn’t seem to have all that much responsibility. Allan set the mission, and Jesse Angelo, the then–metro editor, executed. Myler wasn’t a complainer, but privately he chafed at his role. “He certainly felt that his place was not as a No. 2,” says a person who spoke to him in New York. Myler’s wife, who’d decorated their Central Park South apartment in the style of a British country house, made the point more forcefully. “My husband is a Fleet Street editor, you know,” she pointed out.

Then, as 2007 arrived, Myler’s fortunes changed again. The year before, News of the World reporter Clive Goodman had admitted hacking into the voice-mails of the royal household and publishing stories based on the information. Goodman was eventually sentenced to four months in prison. In January 2007, the editor of News of the World, Andy Coulson, resigned, taking responsibility while claiming he knew nothing about the crimes. With Coulson gone, Murdoch needed a new editor, and there, waiting in the bull pen, was Colin Myler, well versed in the ways of Fleet Street, untainted by the scandal, and a News Corp. soldier of proven loyalty—“He owed Rupert his career,” says a journalist who knew him well. For Murdoch, he was, as several people later said, “a safe pair of hands.”

Myler arrived at News of the World in January 2007 and found that the phone-hacking scandal was only one of the tabloid’s problems. Circulation was dropping, advertisers were restless, and the newsroom was a boys’ club—“very loutish, very laddish,” Myler said in testimony to the Leveson Inquiry, established by the prime minister to investigate the scandal. To get the paper back on track, he promoted women, put ethical controls in place, and set in motion ambitious plans to broaden the target audience, launching an upscale women’s magazine and expanding political and foreign reporting. He didn’t abandon the traditional working-class ­reader—indeed, Myler believes a tabloid’s job is to advocate for this constituency. “The only people standing between the readers and the bullshit of marketers and politicians is the journalist,” one of his editors explains.

Of course, social conscience doesn’t sell papers. For that, Myler knew, you need scandals, and he pursued them with a passion, spending heavily to get the story. “There’s a duality in his nature,” says a colleague. “In person, he’s nice, warm, decent. In the newsroom, he puts that aside and goes after whatever the sensational story is.” About a dozen years earlier, Myler had been blooded in national scandal when, as editor of the Sunday Mirror, he was approached by an enterprising London gym owner peddling secret photos of Princess Di working out in a leotard—he’d planted a camera in the wall. Myler’s company reportedly paid £100,000 for the photos. The story was denounced by the government, the royal family, and even parts of the press—but the paper flew off the newsstand, which was the point.

At News of the World, Myler’s go-to guy for scandal was his investigations editor, a man named Mazher Mahmood, whose sobriquet was “the fake sheik” (in Britain, sheik rhymes with fake). Mahmood’s specialty was the disguise; his most famous one was of a wealthy Arab businessman. Myler sent the sheik in pursuit of Fergie, the cash-strapped Duchess of York, who promised access to her former husband, Prince Andrew, after Mahmood brandished a valise full of cash (fergie ‘sells’ andy for £500k was Myler’s headline). In another sting, the sheik delivered £150,000 in cash to a person who claimed he could fix cricket matches. The story earned News of the World an award for “scoop of the year.”


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