Arresting Development

Carrot Top Rebekah Brooks was arrested Sunday on suspicion of phone hacking and bribing police.  This might be why:

(Reuters) - “It was the kind of place you get out of and you never want to go back again.” That’s how one former reporter describes the News of the World newsroom under editor Rebekah Brooks, the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive who ran Britain’s top-selling Sunday tabloid from 2000 to 2003.

Original DVD cover

Journalists who worked there in that period describe an industrialized operation of dubious information-gathering, reporters under intense pressure attempting to land exclusive stories by whatever means necessary, and a culture of fear, cynicism, gallows humor and fierce internal competition.

“We used to talk to career criminals all the time. They were our sources,” says another former reporter from the paper who also worked for Murdoch’s daily tabloid, the Sun.

…snip…

The 168-year-old paper published for the last time last Sunday after exposure of its widespread use of phone-hacking triggered a scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper group News International, its New York-based parent company News Corp, and Britain’s political classes and police.

Brooks, one of two top Murdoch executives who resigned on Friday, has maintained she neither sanctioned nor knew about the phone hacking.

…snip…

Four former employees of Britain’s best-selling Sunday tabloid have told Reuters that Brooks’s denials are simply not credible. They say people on the paper’s newsdesk, the hub that directs news coverage, were regularly grilled about the top stories by Brooks and later by her successor Andy Coulson, who resigned over the phone-hacking scandal in 2007 and went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman.

“They went in and they were cross-examined for two hours every day. And it was all about the genesis of all the stories,” the first ex-reporter, who worked at the paper for seven years, told Reuters.

The News of the World’s reporting methods were first questioned when it published a story about an injury to Prince William’s knee in 2005, prompting fears his aides’ voicemail messages were being intercepted. The royal family complained to police. More than a year later the paper’s royal editor Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for six months for conspiracy to access phone messages.

Coulson, by then the newspaper’s editor, resigned immediately, although like Brooks he has repeatedly denied any knowledge of phone-hacking. Until recently, the paper continued to maintain that the hacking was isolated to Goodman.

Former employees say that’s hard to believe, not only because of the story approval process, but also because budgets were so tightly controlled that payments for such services would not have gone unnoticed.

…snip…

When Brooks became editor, at age 31, she had a brief to broaden the paper’s appeal by intensifying the focus on celebrity and showbusiness news and publishing fewer of the harder stories the paper had been known for — politicians caught taking illegal drugs or footballers caught with their pants down.

…snip…

At the same time, the pressure to get exclusive stories was so intense that dubious practices were barely questioned. “They were ‘dodgy business HQ’. I’m not sure if people even realized it was illegal. It was a don’t-get-caught culture,” said the reporter of seven years’ standing.

…snip…

“It was no place for anyone to pipe up and say: ‘This doesn’t seem ethical to me.’ That would have made you a laughing stock.”

Journalists didn’t explicitly ask for private investigators to get involved in their work, but help would be provided if a reporter got stuck on a promising story. “How it arrived on your desk was a bit of a mystery. You didn’t know and you didn’t ask,” said the reporter.

…snip…

A fifth former News International employee who worked with News Of the World journalists at this time said its reporters were under “unbelievable, phenomenal pressure,” treated harshly by bosses who would shout abuse in their faces and keep a running total of their bylines. Journalists were driven by a terror of failing.

…snip…

“The News of the World was much more secretive than the Sun. At the Sun, you knew what was going on, what people were working on. In the News of the World you never knew what anyone was working on. They’d send you out to a job and wouldn’t tell you what it was for. It’d be: ‘You’re going to meet a man. Don’t ask his name and whatever you do don’t get him excited. Just take his statement and leave,'” he said.

…snip…

Charles Begley, an ex-News of the World reporter, has spoken out about the bullying culture. He said he felt close to breaking-point when, three hours after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s twin towers, he was ordered to appear at the paper’s daily conference dressed in a Harry Potter outfit he had been given to help the tabloid capitalize on the craze for the books about the boy wizard.

“At that time, we were working on the assumption that up to 50,000 people had been killed,” he said then, according to tapes published in 2002 by the Daily Telegraph of a conversation between him and assistant news editor Greg Miskiw. “I was required to parade myself around morning conference dressed as Harry Potter.”

It was during this conversation that Miskiw made a comment that was to become notorious in Britain: “That is what we do — we go out and destroy other people’s lives.”

…snip…

Contrary to a popular perception that the tabloid threw large sums of money around to get stories, the news budget was extremely tightly controlled, the journalists said.

…snip…

This is another reason it was hard to believe senior editors were not aware of phone hacking and other expensive illegal services provided by outsiders, the ex-reporters told Reuters. Mulcaire, the private investigator later jailed for phone hacking, was paid more than 100,000 pounds a year by the News of the World.

“No newspaper editor would not know what a 102,000 pound budget was used for. They knew about every 50 quid,” said the long-term freelancer.

Eavesdropping on voicemail or obtaining call logs was initially a money-saving measure, according to the former employees. Rather than committing a reporter to stake out a venue for as long as it took to catch out a couple having an affair, for example, voicemails could first be scrutinized to establish the time and place of a rendezvous, saving the reporter time and the paper money.

As its uses became apparent, it was employed more and more. The general news reporter said he was first shown how to listen in to people’s cellphone voicemail by a colleague in the 1990s.

“It became the course of first resort rather than last,” the long-term freelancer told Reuters.

…snip…

Editors would [...] often use damaging stories as bargaining chips, trading them for future access to public figures or to build relationships with stars. Often, the paper would drop the story they had altogether and publish something more sympathetic.

“It would be things like: ‘We know you were sleeping with your secretary but we’ll keep it out of the paper if you give us the story about how you were given away as a child,” said the long-term freelancer.

“They used to call stories ‘levers’,” said the general news reporter. “They weren’t necessarily interested any more in using the story you’d proved or got past the lawyers. They were interested in using the story as leverage in order to get a different story.

…snip…

“It was relationship-building for them. Basically, she (Brooks) was trading in your hard work to be friends with influential PRs. They used the stories to bank credit with influential people. It then made the whole raison d’etre of the place something different.”

…snip…

It became practically a matter of honor not to use respectable journalistic methods, the reporters said.

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44 Comments

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44 responses to “Arresting Development

  1. jeb

    The ignorance defense. It’s old, time tested and a guaranteed winner. You’ve made your career by portraying yourself as the smartest person in the room who knows everything. Then when the crap hits the fan, you’re shocked to find gambling in Casablanca. If that doesn’t work, I’d recommend they try the Twinkie defense. It should be as credible as this bullshit.

  2. jeb

    oh, and appropro of nothing, i was laughing my ass off tonight watching the Friday episode of The Daily Show where BBB phonetically pronounced Chutzpah.

    Batshit, a small word of advice, get someone smarter on your staff who’s not terrified to death of you who you can bounce your dumbass off of before you take it out for a walk in public.

  3. Nonnie …. actually a question for you. How can you continue focus on these people?

    • oh, frank, my dahhhling, i’ve been grinning from ear to ear since this story came out. i just can’t get enough of it, and it keeps getting better and better. :D

      • Hang around, I’m betting ten to one it gets even better before it’s over. You know if they were hacking over there they were hacking over here. If they have no qualms about hacking the royal family’s phones, then what about the President of the United States phones? They don’t have any loyalty to this country, or to any country. They’re after money and that’s all. If something would win them a story, they’d jeopardize the entire planet if that’s what it took.

        Oh, and just a personal opinion, but I would argue that karma always wins. Sometimes it just takes a while :D

        • oh, mad one, there are so many layers to this onion, and each one stinks more than the last. i think this story is going to be huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge! this is way bigger than watergate. if so many british politicians were tainted by their association with uncle rupie, you can bet that there are a lot of american politicians pooping in their pants right now.

  4. johncerickson

    Wow. Trade the name “Citicorp” for “News International”, and trade the words “lines of code” for “bylines”, and you’ve pretty much described the attitude around our office after Citi bought us. Prior to that, everybody worked together like family, since we started out as a branch of Sears with about 2 dozen people. I wonder if Ms. Brooks ever worked for Citi?

    • did you read the whole article, john? employees are treated like cattle. that really says it all. uncle rupie thinks he’s above the working slobs, and nobody deserves any respect at all unless you’re one of his buddies. it’s so sad when a happy workplace gets taken over and becomes a horrible place to be. been there, done that more than once. when will employers figure out that happy employees are better employees?

  5. jean-philippe

    I prefer to compare Brooks to Joan of Ark. They both were hearing voices. Rebekah may not like the end of the story…

    • she’s nothing at all like joan of arc. joan of arc might have been delusional, but she had the greater good in mind. brooks only worried about herself and uncle rupie. she’d step on anyone to get ahead. there’s nothing in the least bit saintly about that piece of shit.

  6. “It was no place for anyone to pipe up and say: ‘This doesn’t seem ethical to me.’ That would have made you a laughing stock.”

    Great!

    I’m trying to come up with word play here… help me out oh quick witted Nonnie & fellow Raisinettes!

    The news hack hacked the phone and now is in jail all alone?

  7. “It’s a Soaraway Life” what if Rupert Murdoch had never been born……
    (hope the link works, it’s funny)

  8. HEY, NONNIE! I’M IN TAMPA! CAN YOU HEAR ME DOWN THERE? :-D

    I’ve been catching up on the story since I spent most of the day on the road. Seems a whistleblower went got himself killed. Police are sayin’, “no biggie.”

    Too much.

    • what are you doing in tampa?

      this story just keeps getting better and better, but i hope that people don’t start weaving conspiracy theories around the dead whistleblower until it’s determined how he died. if it turns out it was natural causes, then uncle rupie will be more firmly rooted in his faux victimhood.

      • I’m helping Alexa set up house. :-D Right now, I’m on her balcony overlooking the Manatee River. She has boat slips in her backyard. :-)

        It’s been a popular thing lately to call victims drunks, prostitutes, and addicts. Police aren’t saying how he died…just dropping red herrings which inevitably fuel cynicism.

        It’d be a healthy move, a service to journalism for the Murdoch empire to decentralize, break up.

        • what a good mommy you are! :D

          the reporter who died has a history with drugs and alcohol. i suspect his will be one of those deaths that will always be under a cloud of suspicion, and we’ll never really know what happened unless someone talks.

          i think it would be a very good thing for uncle rupie and his minions to be charged under the rico act. i’d love to see them lose their assets before they went to jail. at first, i thought it was just a pipe dream that they could be charged under rico, but the more i hear and read, the more it sounds like his was a criminal enterprise.

  9. I need more popcorn. This just gets better and better.

  10. Only 6 hours until that bunch of rogues have to appear before the committee of inquiry. Current will cover it live. I always dreamed this day would come when Evil Rupert went down. Now the climate of fear and destruction is burned off like a morning fog. And like a fellow quoted in a book about the USMC in ‘Nam—“Payback is a motherfucker!”

    • i’m so excited, i can’t stand it. i probably won’t be awake for the hearing, but current is repeating it again at 9 in the evening. payback is a motherfucker, and no motherfucker deserves as much payback as uncle rupie. i love that he and his gang of criminals are shitting bricks.

      i wonder at what point uncle rupie will have some doctor swear that he’s in ill health and can’t testify or show up in court if he’s indicted.

      • jeb

        If it gets to close, will he conveniently do a Ken Lay and croak before they can take him to trial?

        • i’m watching the testimony now. if the murdochs think they’re doing themselves any favors, they’re mistaken. they come off arrogant, coached, and untruthful. if they ever do have to go to trial, i expect uncle rupie to show up in a bathrobe with an oxygen tank and a doctor who will swear that he’s suffering from dementia.

  11. Bringing down Rupert could revive newspapers…. if there are any left that he hasn’t killed. It could be interesting if he starts to divest some of his properties.

    • i think he’s tainted newspapers for a very long time. even some papers, like the washington post, that are not owned by uncle rupie but sprang to his defense are suspect now, too. why defend him? did they do something similar? is this all business as usual now?

  12. johncerickson

    I’m loving the pie-in-the-face attempt. Absolutely perfect – one Stooge, creamed! :D

  13. Suddenly, the movie NETWORK comes to mind . . .

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