Hacking Scandal Puts Spotlight On Murdoch's Tabloid

The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News Of The World is facing new allegations in a phone hacking scandal that has set off a fire storm in Britain. Murdoch's top news executive at News International is under increasing pressure to resign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's News of the World is giving us insight into how far the tabloids there will go to get the jump on the competition. It also shows how intertwined Murdoch's media empire is with the British power structure. We're going to talk about this with NPR's David Folkenflik, who joins us from London. Good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Good morning, Renee.

MOTNAGNE: So, tell us what it is that makes the British press rather different from the American press.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, if you think of the subset of newspapers, the tabloids that made Fleet Street famous, they're know for rough and tumble. Just think of combining, say, the National Enquirer and TMZ into a daily newspaper. The Sun, a Murdoch tabloid, is the most popular daily newspaper. News of the World is a Sunday - the most popular Sunday paper in the country here, and that's because they pursue news with a relentlessness.

MONTAGNE: Let's go back to the beginning of the scandal, and this much I know. The original hacking was into the telephones of celebrities and royals, people who are famous. That set off kind of a scandal, but nothing like what's happening now. Tell us about that.

FOLKENFLIK: It didn't really erupt into public consciousness in the same way until just a few days ago, where it turned out that a 12-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who had been abducted nine years ago, was also the target of the newspaper and its private investigator. He, it turns out, had hacked into her mobile phone voicemail in such a way at the time that police were desperately searching for her that it both interfered with their investigation and it gave her parents false hope that she was still alive.

And in very recent days there have been headlines saying that it appears that family members of British veterans slain abroad were subject to the same kind of phone hacking, and as Vicki Barker just reported, the family members of the terror victims here in London of the July 2005 attacks, they too were subject to the same kind of targeting by people working on behalf of News of the World.

MONTAGNE: So the scandal has gotten much bigger and it has also put the spotlight on News of the World's top, top editor. Her name is Rebekah Brooks. Tell us about her.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, she was editor-n-chief of News of the World at the time that that happened to Milly Dowler. And Ms. Brooks is now, of course, chief executive of News International; that's all of the newspapers published here in the U.K. by Mr. Murdoch's News Corp. She's also a friend of Prime Minster David Cameron, and she was a mentor to Andrew Coulson, who himself had to resign in disgrace from News of the World when some of these allegations initially surfaced, although he claimed no knowledge, and then went on to be a very close aide to Mr. Cameron in his bid to take over 10 Downing Street.

MONTAGNE: Murdoch's News Corp - and I think many people know this - also controls U.S. journalistic entities, the New York Post, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal. Is there any indication at this point in time that this sort of hacking that so many people are decrying has moved across the water?

FOLKDENFLIK: There's no evidence at all that these practices jumped the pond, as it were. But the one thing that you will say is that a number of the news executives at the three properties that you mentioned did serve under Mr. Murdoch in some of his properties here in the U.K., or in Australia. So there is some co-mingling of DNA, as it were.

MONTAGNE: Well, News Corp is already feeling a lot of pain. Some big advertisers have canceled. What about long-term fallout?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it may be a lot more severe than that. There are reports now that some former editors or journalists of News of the World may well be arrested.

There's also the question of Mr. Murdoch's pursuit of a major private British broadcaster here. He has a minority stake in it. He wants to take that over. The government of Mr. Cameron had telegraphed that it intends to give him that approval. It was supposed to happen tomorrow and now there is just a backlash happening in the Houses of Commons, where leaders of the opposition Labour Party, but also some back benchers in Mr. Cameron's government, have question whether the executives of News Corp should be trusted when the judgment to behave so badly seems so rife at one of their major proprieties.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking with NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik, who's in London.

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