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The Tabloid Turncoat

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Post owner Rupert Murdoch  

Pursuing scandal didn’t always go so well. Myler authorized a £25,000 payment to a dominatrix to film an S&M orgy featuring ­foreign-looking military uniforms. The organizer was Max Mosley, an Oxford grad and the son of a famed Nazi sympathizer, who oversaw Formula One racing in Europe. Myler, a former altar boy who said he was offended by Mosley’s depraved behavior, ran the resulting story under the headline F1 BOSS HAS SICK NAZI ORGY WITH FIVE HOOKERS.

Mosley sued, admitting a passion for S&M but denying an affection for Nazis. The court awarded him £60,000, which humiliated Myler but didn’t seem to bother Murdoch one iota, possibly because Murdoch needed Myler more than ever to quell the growing hacking scandal.

When Goodman was released from prison in early 2007, he immediately contacted newspaper executives and told them he expected to be rehired as a reporter. “It was quite an extraordinary and surreal experience,” Myler later testified. The ex-con claimed that he’d been promised his job back if he didn’t implicate anyone else. Goodman said he knew others who’d participated in or known about hacking at News of the World. He said he was planning to pursue an appeal—which might have led to his allegations’ becoming public.

News International, News Corp.’s British newspaper division, had claimed that Goodman was a “rogue” reporter, a lone operator who worked with a private investigator and no one else. And Myler himself had defended that story in an official hearing. On February 22, 2007, he’d answered questions for the Press Complaints Commission. Phone hacking, he told the commission, was “an exceptional and unhappy event in the 163-year history of the News of the World involving one journalist.”

After Goodman’s reappearance, the task of investigating his charges fell to Myler. Privately, he resented being tossed into this bizarre affair. “It was a case that I inherited,” he said in testimony. Still, he wasn’t one to shirk his duty, and he quizzed the people named by Goodman. “[I] talked to them about the allegations, and they denied every single one of them,” Myler later testified.

Goodman didn’t get his reporter’s job back, but he did receive compensation—£243,000. Myler later told a committee that he hadn’t known about a payment, though another executive told the same committee that Myler had known.

Then, in the spring of 2008, the scandal erupted again, this time with even more violence. Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, threatened to sue a division of News International, claiming his phone had been hacked. He went further: “What happened to him is/was rife throughout the organisation,” his attorney told a legal adviser for News International. Taylor had obtained a copy of an e-mail, dated June 29, 2005, that contained transcripts of 35 voice messages left on Taylor’s phone. The e-mail was addressed to Neville Thurlbeck, News of the World’s chief reporter. (Thurlbeck denied receiving the e-mail.)

Myler was made aware of the “for Neville” e-mail in May 2008, and the significance struck him immediately. “[The rogue-reporter defense] couldn’t be correct,” he later acknowledged to the Leveson Inquiry.

Myler pushed the matter up the chain of command. “Responsibility regarding the corporate governance of a company goes beyond my pay grade,” he later noted. On June 7, 2008, he forwarded the troubling news to James Murdoch, Rupert’s son and the chairman of News Corp. Europe and Asia, which oversees News International.

“It is as bad as we feared,” he wrote to James, referring to Taylor’s vindictiveness. Taylor wanted the paper “to suffer” or he wanted to be “made rich.” He was demanding seven figures “to keep the matter confidential,” according to one account.

For Myler, James wasn’t an ideal person to be in a foxhole with. “They were like alien life-forms,” said a veteran Fleet Street editor. James doesn’t care about newspapers, which don’t make the company much money. He considers himself a numbers-driven, unsentimental modern ­executive. “James would be at a meeting with editors, and he’d talk about ‘direct transactional relationships’ with ‘customers,’ not ‘readers,’ ” recounts a journalist. To Myler, James spoke a foreign language. “He came into a party sighing, ‘Oh, I just met with James for an hour, and I have no idea what he was saying,’ ” reported a fellow editor.

But on June 10, 2008, Myler and James huddled together in James’s office to decide the fate of the Taylor case. Tom Crone, the paper’s lawyer, joined them. What was clear to everyone was that it would be best if Taylor’s lawsuit disappeared. For James, too, phone hacking was a problem created by others—he’d been in charge of the newspapers for only six months at the time. “Nobody was very keen on [a trial],” Myler testified. Myler, like others, insisted that the suit was a business matter. “[Newspapers] deal with very complex and significant negotiations throughout the course of their business very regularly,” Myler testified. News International agreed to pay Taylor roughly £700,000, an extraordinary sum, in Myler’s view—after all, the paper hadn’t published a story using the phone messages. Myler had another concern—he’s a newsman who trades in secrets for a living, so he knew better than anyone that anything, even a secret settlement, can become public.


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