Journalism in the Public Interest

Our Reader’s Guide to the Phone Hacking Scandal

With the new details emerging in the Murdoch empire’s scandal, it’s getting hard to keep track of it all. 


Copies of Britain's News of the World (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Though News of the World shut its doors on Sunday, the UK's hacking scandal is deepening. Allegations of illegal activity have spread beyond News of the World to other Murdoch papers, and far beyond hacking into people's voice mails. With all the new details emerging, it's getting hard to keep track. Here's a brief rundown of the latest revelations. (See our first reader's guide for an explanation of the early days of the phone hacking scandal.)

News of the World drew fresh outrage last week as news broke that the family members of dead soldiers, murdered children, and 7/7 terrorist attack victims may have had their phones hacked by the paper. There have also been allegations that the paper hacked the email account of a soldier who died in Iraq.

Scotland Yard has been combing through 11,000 pages of documents seized from the home of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who hacked phones for News of the World. The papers include around 4,000 names of potential phone hacking victims. Investigators are working through the list and contacting the victims—as of yesterday, they'd only gotten in touch with 170 of them. Meanwhile, a News International senior executive is suspected of deleting "massive quantities" of phone hacking-related emails.

The Guardian reported yesterday that private investigators hired by News International papers targeted former Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the past decade, attempting to access his bank account, legal files, tax forms, and his son's medical records. News International today denied that they had "commissioned" anyone to obtain the son's medical records. Though it's still unknown exactly how this information was accessed, these revelations could implicate other News International papers, particularly the Sun and the Sunday Times. Update (7/15): The Guardian has since apologized for suggesting that the Sun obtained the medical records of Gordon Brown's son through illegal means. The Sun has an affidavit from an unnamed individual who says he leaked the information about Brown’s son to the paper.

Since late June, investigators have been trying to identify which Scotland Yard officers reportedly received a total of £100,000 in bribes from News of the World between 2003 and 2007. Yesterday, reports came out alleging that the News of the World bribed police officers in order to obtain contact information for members of the royal family. Scotland Yard accused News International in a press release of intentionally leaking this information to the press to undermine their investigation. (As we’ve reported, if they did in fact make these bribes, Murdoch employees have violated U.S. law.)

Today's New York Times also reports that top Scotland Yard investigators' phones had been hacked during the initial police inquiry in 2006, raising questions about whether police limited the scope of their now-famously flawed investigation for fear that News of The World might start airing their dirty laundry. According to the New York Times, some investigators' secrets did indeed make it into the media:

The lead police investigator on the phone-hacking case, Andy Hayman, left the Metropolitan Police in December 2007 after questions were raised in the news media about business expenses he had filed and the nature of his relationship with a woman who worked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

At the time, Channel 4 News [not owned by Murdoch] reported details of 400 text messages and phone calls that Mr. Hayman had sent to her.

John Yates, the assistant commissioner who has become a lightning rod for the police's handling of the phone-hacking case, had reportedly used frequent flier miles earned in the line of duty to pay for flights for his relatives.

Through all this, News Corporation has been gearing up to take over British Sky Broadcasting Group, also known as BSkyB. News Corp currently owns over a third of the company. The New York Times breaks down the details of the BSkyB deal and the actions Murdoch took this week to help its chances for survival. Parliament is expected to pass a resolution tomorrow opposing the takeover, but it would have no legal effect.

Though the weekly News of the World has closed, Murdoch's Sun seems geared to expand their operations to Sundays, raising concerns that the closing is merely symbolic.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are meeting tonight to discuss the details of an inquiry into the way the original police investigation was conducted and a review of the U.K.'s current system of self-regulation of the press. Currently, an independent body called the Press Complaints Commission exists as an arbiter to help the press regulate itself and to maintain national standards of journalistic ethics in the U.K. (Our managing editor wrote last week that "press commissions have never worked well" in the United States)

For breaking developments on the scandal, one of the best places to turn is the Guardian's live blog—they've been out in front of this story since 2009. We're also constantly adding stories about new developments to our MuckReads feature, which collects the best watchdog reporting. Here are all the phone hacking stories.

July 7, 3:20 p.m.: Rupert Murdoch’s News International just announced its decision to close News of the World, the paper that’s been accused of hiring private investigators to hack into cell phones and staging a widespread cover-up to conceal it.

We’ve invited two esteemed journalists who’ve been covering the story to guest edit our #MuckReads feature for the day: Don Van Natta, Jr. (@dvnjr), investigative reporter at the New York Times, and Sarah Ellison (@sarahlellison), contributing editor at Vanity Fair. They’ve been sharing the most essential reporting about the scandal and their thoughts on why each piece is significant. It’s a great resource for those just coming to the story to get oriented.

Here’s a brief summary to get you started:

The scandal goes back to 2005 (The Guardian has a useful timeline of the whole affair; here’s another from the Times), when Prince William and members of the royal staff suspected their voice mail was being tampered with and asked Scotland Yard to investigate. If you’re wondering how that’s even possible, the New York Times has an explanation of how phone hacking works.

In 2006, News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator named Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and charged with hacking the cell phones. The two men served some jail time, and the editor of News of the World resigned. Scotland Yard and the U.K. Press Complaints Commission, an independent body that oversees the self-regulation of the press, conducted inquiries that didn’t result in any shocking new findings. The story died down.

In July 2009, an investigative report by the Guardian’s Nick Davies drew fresh attention to the case. Davies found that, far from being a one-off event, the phone hacking had been more widespread—and that the paper had made massive payoffs to keep the story quiet. Ellison notes in #MuckReads that the payoffs were the News of the World’s “first and fatal step into denial that has led them to their untenable position today.”

In response, the Press Complaints Commission criticized the Guardian’s story, saying that there was no evidence the hacking was more widespread than News of the World initially said.

As court cases began to reveal new details about the extent of the phone hacking, a September 2010 story in the New York Times raised questions about how much News of the World editors and reporters knew and why Scotland Yard hadn’t been very aggressive in pursuing the case. Van Natta Jr., one of the three Times reporters on the story, recalls a top Scotland Yard investigator’s defense of the weak police response: “We were not going to set off on a cleanup of the British media.”

In April, Scotland Yard opened up a new investigation and arrested a former News of the World editor and two reporters. In a June Vanity Fair piece, Ellison took a broad look at the scandal, looking at what’s at stake and how this kind of thing could have happened.

This week, the Guardian reported that the News of the World had hacked into the voice mail of a murdered school girl and deleted some messages, triggering calls for a public inquiry.

Here’s a list of the reported phone hacking victims so far and a round-up of phone hacking-related denials.

What I wonder is will the American people take into consideration a very well-known fact:  Namely, that all entities comprised of groups of individuals - be they business, sporting, or government - take on the ethical and moral characteristics of their leaders?

If for no other reason than because leaders promote those who goals and methods are in alignment with their own?

Will the American people understand that reputations for emitting falsehoods and despicable acts like hacking the phones of victims are earned?  Will the American people understand that no organization tolerates a subdivision of itself that willfully and repeatedly - and publicly - violates its moral and ethical standards for years on end? 

Will the American people understand that the repetitious nature of these acts shriek that they are not “violations” but rather examples of the morality and ethics of the larger organization?

Will the American people understand that this closing of News of the World is not an assertion of redemption earned but of culpability?  That this closing is scapegoating and no more?

(P.S.  I wager there will be some largish “severance payments”....the kind that preclude further comment on motivations, directives, ethical environment, and so forth.)

Please let’s put Rupert Murdoch in jail. Can we please, please?

@pgillenw:  While it might indeed be justice, Murdoch’s ties…his web…includes a lot of governments.

See, for instance,

A man who routinely has prime ministers and members of Congress intercede on his behalf is effectively above justice…is effectively the leading figure in the new aristocracy the right is trying to build at the expense of democracy and justice.

There are at least 4000 people who may have been NOTW hacking victims! The UK is bracing for a Faux News UK (BSkyB), and a decision is about allowing Murdoch to buy out the channel is about to be announced.

Public repugnance with Murdoch is rising, and well captured in the British press. See


July 7, 2011, 5:34 p.m.

The hacking story is just the tip of the iceberg. It appears that the News of the World and other Murdoch news corporation have engaged in police bribery as well as intimidation of politicians and massive manipulation of the governments and governmental policy. Don’t believe me, here’s a link on the Lede on the NY Times website - here’s the link:

Be sure to go through the video reports on this website. You’ll turn pale especially when you consider what the Murdochs did in the UK, they more than likely have done in the US.

And, after the payoffs and “investigations”, all “records” will be sealed!

Can you imagine if this had happened in Italy?
Assuming that in Berlusconi sultanate worse things than these take place (Berlusconi’s media empire unleashed to destroy dissenters’ public personas, for instance), Ms. Brooks would’ve been recruited immediately and given the Department of Communications post…Not to mention Murdoch has interests in the Italian Tv camp.

Michele Moore - Happy1

July 8, 2011, 8:35 a.m.

Telephone and email hacking is being used to silence American bank whistleblowers see but the media will not report it.  Why?  See also
I was hired to be part of SunTrust Bank’s first McKinsey client team so I was able to see their entire operation from a very privileged perspective.  I did internal management and technology consulting for them for 20 years.

Three SunTrust Executive were fired for accounting improprieties during a major Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, the EVP I reported to survived.
I was told a trusted work colleague was pushed to suicide by all the
problems.  If someone pushed me to suicide, I’d want someone to speak up so I went to the SEC with other major accounting violations that were not mentioned in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Shortly thereafter a long string of thefts, threats, telephone and email disruptions, vandalism and a stalk and smear campaign intensified.
Ever wonder why we don’t hear more from bank whistle blowers given all the fraud in the banking and mortgage industries?  They are being silenced.  The media needs to do their job, investigate and report it.

FYI…the Bond movie,“Tomorrow Never Dies”, was a refection of the Murdoch empire and its underhand techniques. Wow, It makes this movie somewhat more creditable and factual. Was not Murdoch told to leave Australia many years sgo, due to his agressive style and corruption? We should kick him out of America, and close him down.

This has been Murdoch’s style of reporting since he started in the news business, so I’m not at all surprised that something like this is occurring. While he might have not been directly responsible, he seems to encourage the sort of environment where this kind of terrible action would seem reasonable. I saw a video earlier about the scandal, from Democracy Now!, they had a good analysis piece about it, check it out:

Pack Matthews

July 8, 2011, 7:55 p.m.

The leverage that brought News Of the World down was when a boycott was likely and advertisers were pulling funds.  Same leverage that finally took out Glenn Beck.  I’m keeping track of advertisers on Fox and letting them know I won’t be buying their products as long as they see Fox as a legitimate platform.

You think this does not happen across all of the MSM in the USA & all western MSM, your jaws will drop if you knew the whole story & truth. This is just a sample, if you read all of his writings & compare it with other truthful sources you would take a look at how you think. It not all about economics, it involves all components of time, like now, the future,the past & all things happening world wide & the desired out come of what you want to do.

The MSM has been in bed with the bankers, politicians & corporations since before the Civil War. If you do a real in depth study of the history of world events, climate extremes, earth quakes & such and how corporations used the media to turn opinion around to buy into their way!  Black opts propaganda became a lean money machine, the largest on earth.
You will not only see how the crooks work the system, but who ends up paying for it, the U.S. Tax Payers, our freedoms are used against us as the crooks walk free with all the loot. No bankers are up on charges for the crimes against the people or this Nation or the others they made trillions off of. If we had back what was took by hook or crook just from 1912 to now we would be ok, & great!

If you go back to when Woodrow Wilson got the be President, it was the MSM that helped put him in office along with the bankers, it’s there if you look, but the progressives have changed the history books or hid the truth & later to be found, but no one would listen, they were to busy living the good times or going hungery. It’s really time to set history right.

James B Storer

July 10, 2011, 1:36 p.m.

Ibsteve2u Jul7 (your first comment):  Paraphrasing the beginning of your post, “All entities of groups or individuals – business, sporting, or government – take on the ethical and moral characteristics of their leaders.  Why?  Because leaders promote those whose goals and methods are in alignment with their own.”  Absolutely.  Another man and I had conversation in another comment section of a ProPublica report regarding the rendition of a prisoner based entirely on “hunch.”  The guilty agent admitted as much, but she was later promoted.  We came to the conclusion that the explanation we must come to is that this behavior is probably acceptable and perhaps sought after, ethically and morally, throughout this particular “spy” agency.
  Your excellent comment gives the overriding philosophy of this characteristic applying it to all group and hierarchical endeavors.  I infer from this that nearly all corporate structures any of us ever worked for tended to accumulate a work force in agreement with the goals and aspirations of the corporate headquarters.  This applies also of course to the political world.  The question all this raises is:  Where does it ultimately lead us?
  The bad become progressively “badder,” and a government finally reaches a point characterized by a degree of debauchery and pure greed that is no longer able to function with any semblance of socially acceptable morality or ethic.  Does this hypothesis apply to, or partially explain, many past failed governments?
  Your ending paragraph is absolute truth:  The closing of News of the World certainly has nothing to do with anything but “scapegoating” by the Murdoch Empire.
  Skartishu, Granby, MO

James B. Stower I find myself agreeing with what you put forth and it left me with a sadness. Now what action do we the people take to topple our Gov’t speeding ever faster towards total disaster and be effective changing the Corporate cultures obviously Gov’t and Corporate are so intertwined that tackling the issues for the common good is monumental and perhaps not surmountable. I suppose both of the institutions are counting on these problems to one of which continues to make the masses powerless.

@James B. Stower:  Re “The bad become progressively “badder,” and a government finally reaches a point characterized by a degree of debauchery and pure greed that is no longer able to function with any semblance of socially acceptable morality or ethic.  Does this hypothesis apply to, or partially explain, many past failed governments?”

I would tend to state that the hypothesis applies to both government and societies.  That, I believe, is why the United States “roared” for two hundred years, only showing signs of decay whenever a wealthy “upper class” attained sufficient liquidity to afford the purchase of the politicians required to both manipulate our country and monopolize its wealth for their own benefit.

The period we had from 1940 to 1980 wherein our income and estate tax structure ensured that wealth and power both recirculated throughout our society and could not be monopolized by an artificial aristocracy was - far and away - our must successful.  With “flood-up/trickle-down” economics, that era of economic mobility and acceptance of change came to an end…and the assault on estate taxes (or “the death tax”, to use the right’s words) has only just begun.

Consequently we now see decadence and decay setting in as an artificial aristocracy emulates all of the failed civilizations and empires throughout history by insisting that everybody know - and remain in - “their place”...even as they shape their own behavior towards their fellow citizens to accord with their conception of what each class merits.  To be in “labor” in America - which is fully 80% of our citizens, to that aristocracy - is to be held in contempt by that aristocracy.  And as that aristocracy’s liquidity increases, their definition of “labor” becomes ever more all-encompassing.

Societies are like ponds…once the circulation of power and wealth - the human equivalent of oxygen-rich water - stops, the lake first stratifies, then stagnates, and then dies.  The corruption of government is but an indicator…like the green slime on you see on a stagnant pond.

@James B. Stover:  In support of my theory of an increasingly stratified America entering into stagnation as a prelude to death, as one piece of evidence I would quote G. William Domhoff, Professor of Sociology and UC-Santa Cruz

[begin quote]
In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.7%.
[end quote]

Italics and emphasis are mine.

James B Storer

July 11, 2011, 9:14 a.m.

pgillenw and ibsteve2u (re your comments above).  I fully agree that our government (all three branches), and our yoyo economic system, are completely owned by, and dance to the tune, of “corporatism.”
  I occasionally reread the incomparable opening five paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence.  This reading always opens the tear ducts, but crying is often good for the soul.  The DOC of course was the opening salvo that resulted in a great new nation with its revolutionary Constitution (with Bill of Rights added to gain ratification):  The United States of America.  As you say, Steve, during the decades preceding 1980 we were the most powerful and respected among nations.  I tend to add, however, that our greatest days as a democracy were perhaps the few years following our birth.  The almost power and corruption assumed by the political parties, followed by awarding permanent status to corporations (they were previously commissioned only for the duration of a specific large project) was the beginning of our downward slide as a democracy.  As you wrote, pgillenw, viewing the situation today tends to fill one with great sadness.
  I am to the point where I feel I must call it as I see it.  Today our government is the lackey of corporatism, and pays only a patronizing reference to the Constitution.  The most elevated hierarchy of this corporatism totally controls the flow of money.  Ergo, the name for this condition is simple:  Fascism.  We are now a near perfect fascistic nation, it seems to me.  To my mind there are two forms of government, Fascism and Democracy.  The root base of societies is fascism, and the degree to which democracy reigns is rated by how effectively a nation rises above fascism.  All other “isms” words are poorly defined and generally of practical use only to political science gurus.
  We have only the ballot box, and, as the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 indicate, the final results seem to somewhat follow an old saying of Stalin, that the vote did not matter to him:  It is the counting of the vote that was important.  We do have a few points of light, such as a relatively free press here and there, and ProPublica.  If there is a path to hope that we, the mass, can follow to right the nation, and then to rebuild our reputation in the world, we need to get on it.
  Skartishu, Granby MO

Barbara Mahon

July 12, 2011, 4:30 p.m.

Thank you so much for your accurate analysis.  Thank you Propublica for your investigations.  What does it take for we 80% to wake up and act collectively.  At 68years,  I am weary of the superelite,  whether individuals or corporations. .......  and the governments they seduce. How dare the Murdochs of the world act as they do.  Greed and oppression must be challenged.

Thank you Braden,
If poeple still can’t see the disaster behavior of ONE lunatic with money then they never will understand how capitalism works. If you let greedy monsters take too much power by steeling it from hardworking citizens there will never be an honest society. So start with putting Murdoch and his devoted gang in prison right now.
There will be also many politicians involved in this miserable outrageous
bribe story, that made this possible.

Dwight Widaman

July 13, 2011, 3:36 p.m.

Strange how this “regret” is a story. Would they have had similar regrets had they sold it to the parent company of CBS before Dan Rather knowingly used forged documents to damage George Bush’s election campaign? Would they have had regrets if they had sold it to the New York Times corporation after that newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists were caught in plagiarism and worse?  It seems the self righteous indignation displayed here and on the left doesn’t extend to the numerous foibles of media outlets owned by liberals. This type of invasion of privacy happens quite regularly. Liberal news outlets choose whom they will out for their crimes and it is rarely one of their own.

Bullshit, everyone knows what Rupert is about now today is your first day!

fran grossman

July 13, 2011, 5:03 p.m.

I find the previous owners comments to be interesting.  They got a lot of money and apparently did not do the due dillegence that Murdoch would have done!

Much of this about Murdoch and compny has been alluded to in the past, but it is easier t not dig too deep when you do not have a strong stomach and are unwilling to take some personal risk.

so no lets see what happens

What I said was not about Liberals or Democrats it was about breaking the law!! And surely Liberals always talks about, if any one who breaks THE LAW, he must be punished. Of course that’s not for all of them.
Surely not for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other members of the staff and most of all “the rich”.
I’ll be very surprised if there will come a subpoena for Murdoch because as I said “too many politicians are involved”
American citizens can do the job but there is not much time left to start.

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