Where Journalists Have Never Gone Before

If President Obama had to appear before a Congressional Committee about some transgression he might have been involved in, he would come alone and say what he had to say.

On the other hand, if an English king had to appear before Parliament about some transgression, he would come surrounded by aides who could hold his hand, wipe his brow and prompt him on what he had to say.

Thus did Rupert Murdoch, an Australian businessman, come before Parliament and say what he had to say about a scandal in his camp, not as Obama might, or as even an ordinary businessman in England might, but as a king might. And Parliament treated him like one. They fawned all over him. They were almost apologetic over the fact that they had to talk to him about this mess.

“Do you accept you are ultimately responsible for this whole fiasco?” he was asked.

“No,” he thundered. He explained that people he hired and trusted and the people who they hired and trusted were responsible.

As he talked about what he would do to them, those who had betrayed his trust like this, he reinforced his commentary by, at appropriate moments, banging on the table with his fist. [expand]

The Members of Parliament were taken aback. Hear! Hear! one of them was heard to shout. Murdoch was on THEIR side.

It’s easy to forget what this is all about. This is about reporters—private investigators is their official title—listening in on hundreds and thousands of phone calls and reading e-mails written by private citizens throughout England, from the lowliest of dustbin collectors to the staff in the Royal Palace, looking for juicy tidbits about anybody to put in the paper. After that, Scotland Yard, gathering all the evidence about these transgressions, nevertheless, obviously at the request of the government, kept them in plastic bags untouched for four years.

Murdoch may or may not have known his reporters were going to such lengths, but there is no doubt he encouraged them to do so in every way possible. He was determined to beat his competitors to the punch.

At one point, a man walked over to Murdoch to try to bash a cream pie into his face. Murdoch’s young wife stood up and slapped the man in the face before he was able to do so. And then a policeman hauled him away.

After this “grilling” was over, commentary mostly consisted about the wonderful way the Old Lion had conducted himself and did you see how brave his wife was in the face of that shameful attack?

Before Murdoch’s appearance, it was considered possible that Murdoch might be forced to resign as Chairman of News Corp. After it was over, Wall Street breathed a sigh of relief. Others further down the News Corp chain would pay the price. The shares of News Corp leaped up 5% in just one day.

How far down the food chain became apparent when, later in the day, I watched Rebekah Brooks, the editor of the now defunct News of the World, appear before Parliament.

“So what you’re saying,” an MP said to her, “is that although you were the editor and there were 17 private investigators employed doing more than 200 ‘investigations’ of the sort we are now talking about, you only knew and dealt with one of them?”

“Yes, and that was on another matter entirely. We were trying to get some addresses for people.”

Someday, the man who empties the dustbin will be carted off to jail.

Well, if nothing else, and there will likely be nothing else, although reporters will continue to get information in other ways, the business of tapping people’s telephones, instant messages and other things will probably now come to an end. So that’s a good thing.

The other ways, of course, are that you call somebody up who might know something, ask them about it, and if they tell it to you you can write it down and write about it later. And for the juicy bits, it’s the same thing, and sometimes it’s somebody calling in, but money changes hands.

There have been some people who have suggested that the New York Post, which is owned by Murdoch, has been doing the same thing their British counterparts are doing. As a newspaperman with 51 years standing, I tried to find out if by reading the paper I could see any evidence of this. I could not.

Here is a summary of some of the juicier stories that appeared in the front of the New York Post on Thursday, July 21 that might have benefited from phone hacking, together with my opinion if any of the stories were gotten from phone hacking.

PAGE ONE

The former bodyguard of Brittany Spears says that when he was in her employ she engaged in nose picking, chain smoking and excessive episodes of farting in public. The former bodyguard is suing Spears for sexual harassment. No phone hacking here.

A Brooklyn-based escort service, which usually has 25 escorts available at any time, 24/7, was shut down. Info came from the police. No phone hacking.

PAGE THREE

A man crashed his small plane into the roof of his mother’s house in Oberhallau, Switzerland because, it seemed, he hated her. He called her from the cockpit saying, “Are you home, Mom? I’m just about to drop in,” just before the crash. He was killed. She was in the basement and survived. Info does involve phone hacking, but was probably done by an English publication, then republished in the Post. I can’t imagine a Swiss publication doing this.

Soon we will no longer have to endure a full, accurate x-ray scan of our bodies on a TV screen when we go through airport security. There’s going to be just an outline of a generic body with the dangerous stuff, such as a bomb in your underpants, highlighted. Came in a TSA press release. No phone hacking.

PAGE FOUR

The Army psychiatrist who is accused of 13 counts of premeditated murder in a Fort Hood rampage will be defended by three military lawyers. So we all pay for this with taxpayer money. Came from court papers over the AP wire. No phone hacking.

The rear door of an armored car swung open as it was driving down the Van Wyck Expressway and out fell a big bag of 10,000 quarters ($2,500), which broke open and spooshed the quarters all over the northbound three lanes. Traffic was stopped for a while. Came from a police report. No phone hacking.

Tagged onto this story is the recollection of the time when 48,000 potatoes spilled onto the Hutchinson River Parkway near Scarsdale last month after a crash. No phone hacking here either.

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which has collected $21 million for charity since it began in 1997 after her death, has been closed. “It was never intended to last forever,” a member of the charity said. Story came from an English paper, probably Murdoch-owned. No phone hacking.

PAGE SIX

SAME-SEX SOUVENIRS READY FOR GAY WEDDERS is the headline on this story that shows pictures of gay couples on coffee mugs, wine stoppers and rubber duckies. Gathered up by a Post reporter. Good work. No phone hacking.

Here’s an item that almost PROVES the Post does no phone hacking. The apartment of the guitarist of the Brooklyn-based band Broken Glow was raided by the FBI last Tuesday, who said they were investigating possible phone hacking. Guitarist Garrett Deming said he felt “shock and awe” at their being there but that it was also true their wireless router was not password protected so it could be someone in an adjacent apartment. What can I say. Probably phoned in by Deming looking for a mention of Broken Glow.

PAGE SEVEN

Paris Hilton of Southampton, interviewed on “ABC News” by reporter Dan Harris, walked off the set when asked, “do you ever worry your moment has past?” Probably phoned in to the Post by a viewer. No phone hacking here.

PAGE EIGHT

A high-speed bicyclist has been terrorizing women on the streets of Astoria, Queens by zipping by them and as he goes either giving them a grope or a little pat on the butt before rushing off. There have been more than 25 reports of this. Probably came from a reporter checking out the day’s happenings at the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit. No phone hacking.

Former NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, after attending a party to watch the fireworks at Devon at the home of Ben Krupinski on Gardiner’s Bay to watch the fireworks at Devon, hit a tree while trying to back her SUV out of his driveway. Hmmmm. But I don’t think it’s phone hacking.

Conclusion: The Post does not cross the line. [/expand]

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