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Tricks of the Trade

Posted on Jul 11, 2012

By Ewen MacAskill

(Page 2)

Although The Guardian regularly reported on it in the years after Davies’ initial story, it was a lonely crusade, largely ignored by most of the British media. Frustrated, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in 2010 made an unusual move, seeking U.S. help, phoning then New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who obliged by sending a reporting team to Britain for five months. After a briefing by Guardian journalists, the Times produced some new material and helped kindle interest among the rest of the British media.

Even with the attention of The New York Times, the story still did not take off. That didn’t happen until July 2011, when Davies and his Guardian colleague Amelia Hill reported that the News of the World had hacked into the cellphone of a missing girl, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. A public outcry ensued, the media suddenly paid attention, and so, too, for the first time did the government.

book cover


Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain

By Tom Watson and Martin Hickman


Blue Rider Press, 384 pages


Buy the book

As a result, several investigations are underway: Lord Justice Leveson is holding a public inquiry into media culture, in particular its ethics, and police are studying a variety of alleged crimes committed by the media. There have been more than 20 arrests, most of them journalists. Murdoch has shut down the 168-year-old News of the World. Senior policemen have been forced to resign. Prime Minister David Cameron’s press spokesman Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor, quit. One of Cameron’s senior ministers is under pressure to resign.

Above all, Murdoch, for the first time since he began in newspapers in Australia in the 1950s, has been seriously damaged. He was described by a British parliamentary committee this year as “not a fit person” to run an international company. He has lost some of his closest business associates, including Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, who has been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. His younger son, James, who had headed the European wing of his company, including the British newspapers, has been demoted.

The story is set to run for years yet, and, as Watson and Hickman predict, “it is going to get worse.” Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” is quite tame by comparison.

Ewen MacAskill is Washington bureau chief of The Guardian.

© 2012, Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group

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