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.