Last month on my own blog I wrote that there seemed to be a bizarre game of international keeping up with the Joneses going on in that every nation with a significant News Corp presence seemed determined to be able to say “Yes, yes, those evil Murdoch hacks have, er, hacked our phones too”. 9/11? Yes, they must have done it then, surely. If they did for the London bombings four years later then they’re bound to have done it for the much bigger 9/11, right? Cue investigations carried out by people who almost certainly have something better to do despite the phone hacking not being known outside the UK and not actually being hacking at all and, to me at least, not all that likely to begin with.
… in the immediate aftermath there was a lot of confusion and some estimates of the number of dead were as high as ten thousand,
more than five times what it turned out to be(correction: 10,000 is not five times 3,000 – my mental arithmetic was clearly not all that flash when I originally wrote that – AE). Nobody knew who was missing, who was dead and who was lucky enough not to have been anywhere near the place after all, and in all that confusion and not really knowing it seems like use of the NotW style not-hacking voicemails would have been much trickier than the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. I might be wrong but I can’t help thinking that the identities of the dead in an incident that killed so many more people… well, where would you even start? Supposedly someone from the NotW tried to bribe a cop or an ex-cop for phone records, but that seems a little odd. If it happened in 2001 or maybe 02, which is when it would have been newsworthy, then how come it’s only now that we’re hearing about it?
On the other hand if this is supposed to have taken place more recently then you have to wonder about the sanity of the NotW still playing the same games when they’d already been caught once and were under the spotlight. You’d also have to wonder at how slow a news day it must have been to go on that kind of fishing expedition perhaps five or six years on and, if they were going to do the not-hack of voicemails again, whether there’d even be anything there after all that time. Obviously the idea is out there now and of course it needs to be looked into but if I was a betting man I’d put a few dollars on it being all smoke and no substance.
And I’d be feeling confident about those dollars coming back with company having seen this Wall Street Journal headline in The Australian yesterday.
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INVESTIGATORS haven’t found hard evidence so far in probing whether News Corporation’s UK-based journalists might have hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, but US authorities have expanded their query to see whether they can establish a broader pattern of more recent misconduct at the company’s US operations, say people familiar with the matter.
British police investigating the sweeping phone-hacking scandal at the company’s now-closed News of the World tabloid have told the Federal Bureau of Investigation there are no names or telephone numbers of September 11 victims among the evidence they have gathered to date, according to people familiar with the case.
London’s Metropolitan Police Service, known as Scotland Yard, has examined voluminous phone records of what could be thousands of potential phone-hacking victims, but those records don’t suggest 9/11 victims were among the targets of the hacking, according to the people familiar with the case. A Scotland Yard spokesman declined to comment.
The New York Police Department also has told the FBI it has no indication such attempted violations occurred, and the FBI’s own crime-victims assistance office has said the same. Attorney General Eric Holder plans to meet later this month with some September 11 families, to discuss their concerns about the issue.
So they’ve looked, and for the time being will continue to do so, but there’s not a shred of evidence that any not-hacking went on in relation to 9/11. This should not come as a surprise, not because we have any reason to think that the people covering that story must have been saintly types who would never stoop to but because it would have been extremely difficult while it was still worth doing and no longer worth doing by the time it became a lot easier. Now I realise that both the WSJ and The Aussie are owned by News Corp itself and that they may be a little biased in favour of reports that don’t drag their parent company further down the swannie, but news is a competitive industry and the same holds true, though in reverse, for their opposition. Despite The Age running a couple of related stories yesterday Fairfax Media doesn’t seem to have covered it yet, and nor has the Graun/Indie/Obs. Why should they be in a rush to see their rival off the hook a femtosecond sooner than absolutely necessary? As for the grubbier end of the market, and again turning to the WSJ/Aussie piece for lack of anything else, let’s not forget where the 9/11 hacking thing came from.
The allegation stemmed from an article in the UK’s Daily Mirror, based on unnamed sources, that reported News Corp journalists tried to hack the phones of 9/11 victims. It was among the most serious allegations made in the high-profile scandal that hit News Corp’s UK operations involving widespread phone hacking that targeted celebrities, politicians and a murder victim.
I’m not saying they made it up because for all I know those unnamed sources were real and otherwise reliable. I’m not even saying that this unnamed source wasn’t telling the truth that he’d been approached by NotW journos offering to pay for access to the phone records of 9/11 victims, though as I’ve said elsewhere it seems a little surprising that this has taken almost ten years to come out when the phone not-hacking scandal has been simmering away for the last five. I am saying that The Mirror’s article – in which they use a photo of Murdoch arriving in London wearing a Fedora and describe it variously as a ‘cowboy style’ and a Panama – was mainly a rehash of what was already known with a dash of shit stirring about 9/11 mixed in. Nothing solid, no names, no actual facts beyond ‘he alleges’ and ‘he said’, and for damned sure nothing at all about why it’s taken ten years for this to come out despite phone not-hacking first coming to light in 2005, how odd that appears and what might be a reasonable explanation for it. Nada. And fair enough because if the Mirror was paying me to write I’d be tempted to help kick the competition while they’re down.*
But of course investigations will continue, and the while the original one about 9/11 looks like it will be a dead end I thought it seems the powers that be aren’t content to let it lie there.
Now, US authorities are trying to determine whether they can find a broad pattern of misdeeds at News Corp that continued into 2006 or more recently, according to the people familiar with the matter. If they find evidence of such conduct, which could include rewarding executives accused of wrongdoing, for example, that would open the door to pursuing matters beyond the five-year time frame [of the statute of limitations].
As I said last month, if a government constitutionally bound to protect press freedom wanted to be able to bring the media more under its own control it needs a bloody good dose of public outrage and preferably a few people jailed for breaking the law, since breaking existing laws is the favourite pretext of most governments for making up some new ones. I’d hope that the Americans’ reverence for their Bill of Rights combined with the fact that the area of main outrage, the allegations about 9/11, appears to be a dud will prevent things going that far, but here in Oz and in the UK the governments have greater power to muzzle the press. In their desire to give their News Corp competition the shoeing the bastards so thoroughly deserve the other media groups seem to be forgetting this.
I hope it doesn’t come back to bite them, because if it does it’ll bite everybody.
* Nobody pays me, which is why I’m not fussy who I kick.