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The Tabloid Turncoat

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Colin Myler holding the last issue of News of the World in Thomas More Square in front of the paper's offices last July.  

Myler was angry. He’d done everything asked of him, even participating in what he later agreed could be perceived as “a cover-up.” And through it all, he’d put out a superior newspaper. Now apparently he was supposed to “be the bunny,” as one colleague put it.

On July 21, with the press circling, Myler and Crone conferred. James’s assertion in his testimony “was very damaging to our reputation,” Crone says. “We were going to get crucified. One has an obligation to the truth and to self-preservation.” Later that day, Myler and Crone issued a brief, carefully worded statement. James was “mistaken,” it said. They had warned James about the “for Neville” e-mail, which indicated a wider phone-hacking problem. “As far as I am concerned, there was no ambiguity,” Myler told the committee on September 6. The goal of their statement, they claimed, was merely to correct the record. But the significance was clear to them: They were calling James a liar. “We knew we were challenging the executive chairman … That’s inevitably going to be serious,” says Crone.

On December 15, 2011, five months after the paper closed, Myler was called before the Leveson Inquiry. In earlier appearances he’d gone to war for Murdoch, but this time his allegiances had changed. He’d gone a bit gray; he looked tired. When a government lawyer pointed out that his 2009 testimony to the Press Complaints Commission had been “disingenuous,” Myler didn’t disagree. “I had no reason not to give them a full and frank answer,” Myler said. “For that I apologize.”

Then the chairman of the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson, quizzed him. Myler had argued that settling the Taylor lawsuit was a simple strategy to “limit reputational damage.”

“What one person might describe as a cover-up, another person would describe as an attempt to limit reputational damage?” said Leveson.

“Absolutely, sir,” said Myler.

Myler was not the only one who felt betrayed. “When people are shooting at you, you keep your head down. You stand together,” Col Allan said to an old friend. “Colin panicked to save his own reputation.”

Allan had a word for Myler’s behavior: “Weak.”

Myler had spent three months out of work when another savior appeared: Murdoch’s Manhattan rival, real-estate magnate Mort Zuckerman, owner of the Daily News. Like Murdoch, Zuckerman is a lifelong newspaper junkie. Like Murdoch, his fortune comes from elsewhere. “Wisely, I didn’t go into publishing to make a living,” he says.

The Daily News has not exactly brought him journalistic glamour, either. In Zuckerman’s circles on the Upper East Side or in the Hamptons, it’s the Post that animates dinner-party conversation. Zuckerman told me that his proudest accomplishments with the paper were to help elect Rudy Giuliani and then Michael Bloomberg to their first terms—impressive feats, to be sure, but not exactly recent ones.

Zuckerman has constantly juggled the names at the top of the masthead, employing two new editors in the past two years. Last fall, he was searching yet again, this time to replace the Boston newsman who’d taken over just a year earlier. (“How many saviors does he get?” Allan quipped to a colleague.) Zuckerman turned to Britain. “Mort believes that the British are the only people who know how to do tabloid journalism,” says one of his advisers. Zuckerman summoned Myler to a meeting.

At the time, Myler was cooling his heels at home in Kent, spending time with his family and brooding. He visited his new grandson, stopped by his mother’s for tea, and wondered if he’d ever work again. In Britain, he was seen as damaged goods, says a fellow journalist. Yes, he’d stood up to the Murdochs, but he’d also admitted that he hadn’t been entirely frank in the past. “No one believes Colin Myler is a truth-teller,” said M.P. Tom Watson, who is helping to write the select committee’s report on the phone-hacking scandal.

Zuckerman dismissed concerns about phone hacking. “He’s not involved,” he told me categorically. In any case, Zuckerman had other priorities when he sat down with Myler. “I had a three-hour conversation with Myler about every single aspect of the newspaper business,” says Zuckerman. “It was the best three-hour conversation about a newspaper I’ve ever had. He understands detail as well as broad content. And he knows New York. You can’t find a lot of editors who can fill those criteria.”

Myler had another appealing trait. His drive to succeed more than matched Zuckerman’s—“He’s extraordinarily highly motivated,” Zuckerman crows. “The Post will have a much tougher competitor than it’s ever had in the Daily News.

Myler was thrilled by the offer, but he hesitated to leave his family behind, especially his aging mother. But she assured him she understood. “He needed this for his self-esteem,” she told me by phone. When Myler’s appointment was announced, Allan sent Myler a message: You bastard, let the battle begin.


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