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The Tabloid Turncoat

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Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman  

And it did. On July 8, 2009, The Guardian published a story with the headline revealed: MURDOCH'S £1M BILL FOR HIDING DIRTY TRICKS. The Guardian outlined the Gordon Taylor settlement in embarrassing detail, but it went further: The paper quoted sources saying that thousands of phones had been hacked, the implication of which was that phone hacking extended well beyond one reporter.

The story was explosive, and in the summer of 2009, Myler answered questions to the Press Complaints Commission and appeared before a parliamentary committee. At the committee hearing, Myler was in his usual smart executive look: suit, white shirt, and blue tie—“He scrubs up well,” says an editor who worked with him. With his shopkeeper’s features and North England accent, Myler often strikes people as guileless. That day, he turned in an artful performance. He didn’t deny the existence of the damaging “for Neville” e-mail, but he pivoted, going on the attack. He explained that he’d personally investigated the allegations, and told the panel that “no evidence was found [of a wider scandal].” Neither, he noted, could News International’s lawyers or the police, who had swiftly questioned The Guardian’s allegations. At the hearing, Myler seemed exasperated, at times almost contemptuous. “I have never worked or been associated with a newspaper that has been so forensically examined,” he said. In an editorial, Myler’s paper accused The Guardian of “deliberately misleading” the British public.

Later that year, the Press Complaints Commission sided with Myler, asserting that there was no evidence to corroborate The Guardian’s story. But The Guardian persisted, and two years later, on July 4, 2011, it published another explosive story. News of the World had hacked the voice-mail of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler while police were searching for her. Her despairing family knew messages on her cell phone had been deleted, which had given them hope that she was still alive, when in all likelihood she was already dead.

To the British public, hacking the royal family was naughty, but the royals had long been a national soap opera and so were fair game. Taking advantage of the grief-stricken parents of a teenage girl was another matter. The story reignited the scandal. Murdoch, who owned 40 percent of the British newspaper market, had long been the single most influential person in British political society, cowing politicians who feared retribution. After the Dowler story, politicians sensed weakness. M.P.’s rose up, calling for an investigation, as did Prime Minister David Cameron, who later admitted he’d gotten too close to Murdoch and media proprietors.

In the executive offices of News Corp., panic set in. The scandal wasn’t just bad public relations. It was damaging business, always Murdoch’s principal concern. A deal for News Corp. to gain complete control of BSkyB, the largest pay-TV company in the country, was soon scuttled. Bold action was called for. On July 7, 2011, three days after the Dowler article, Myler was summoned from the second-floor newsroom to the tenth-floor executive offices, where he met with Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch favorite and chief executive of the newspaper division. She informed Myler that damage control was the order of the day. A decision had been made: News of the World was to be closed after the next issue.

“Colin had no idea it was coming,” recalls a former colleague. He was furious. The alleged crime had occurred years before—the Milly Dowler case dated from 2002—but now he and some 200 journalists were to be tossed out of work, their reputations tainted, their futures uncertain. On July 9, 2011, the day the staff put the last issue to bed, Myler climbed atop a table in a large, wide newsroom as journalists gathered around. Myler was a dignified, respected, but distant editor. Now he seemed emotional, channeling the indignation of his troops.

“Not your fault, boss,” someone shouted.

“You are the best professionals I’ve ever worked with,” he told them.

Shuttering the paper did little to halt the scandal. The dominoes kept falling. Myler’s chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and his former news editor, Ian Edmondson, had been arrested in April. And the investigation began to target higher-ups. Coulson, the editor before Myler, was arrested on July 8, Rebekah Brooks on July 17.

Then, on November 10, James Murdoch was called before a select committee of Parliament and asked if the huge payment to Gordon Taylor had been designed to purchase his silence about a wider hacking scandal. James claimed he was merely following the advice of lawyers and of Myler. He’d never even looked at the damaging “for Neville” e-mail, he claimed. “If [Myler] had known that there was wider-spread criminality, I think he should have told me,” James said. “We have to rely on these people, and we have to trust them.” Later James added that Myler had concealed important information from him.


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