Documents Revive Focus On Phone-Hacking Scandal

In London, a parliamentary committee has released documents that question James Murdoch's July testimony about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. A newly revealed letter from a jailed reporter claims hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial meetings at the now closed British paper.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

A new letter by a former reporter at the now defunct tabloid News of the World has reignited the scandal over phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. That 4-year-old letter released yesterday by a parliamentary committee was written by the disgraced royal correspondent who ended up in jail for hacking into the phones of the royal household. It suggests a cover-up by News Corp.

For more, we go live now to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

And, David, the documents are being described - or this letter and other documents that have come along in the last few days are being described as devastating and even explosive. Taken together, what do they say?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's think back to what News Corp. and Rupert and particularly James Murdoch have said in defense of the company. The pillars of their defense is Clive Goodman, the royals editor, was a rogue reporter. That senior editors and that executives above the editors of News of the World didn't know, that they conducted an outside review with a law firm. And that they've cooperated with authorities all along.

Clive Goodman, the former royals editor's letter from early 2007 knocks out the underpinnings of all of that if taken to be true. Mr. Goodman alleges that the practice of hacking was widespread at News of the World, that it was well known there, that in fact the top editor Andrew Coulson had to shut down conversation of it at the daily editorial meetings.

And he challenged his firing in 2007, Clive Goodman, by saying, hey, look, I was told that I would be allowed to keep my job if I kept my mouth shut and I didn't implicate anybody else. I did that. I expect Tom Crone, then the top lawyer for the tabloid, and Andrew Coulson, then the top - who had been the top editor there, to keep their word. That certainly suggests a cover-up.

MONTAGNE: Well, you mentioned the law firm. And of course that's the law firm that Rupert Murdoch has said, you know, was called in to the bottom of this mess. Well, now it has come out saying something rather different.

FOLKENFLIK: Harbottle and Lewis felt that it had been badly misrepresented in its memos to the parliamentary committee investigating it. It said, look, it was asked a very narrow question. Was there evidence to prove that Clive Goodman's claims that this was widespread at News of the World could be verified?

And, in fact, it said it was only allowed to review the email accounts of a handful of people at the tabloid. It said it was never asked to give the paper a clean bill of health.

But James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch in the Wall Street Journal said, well, you know, this is what the law firm had said that we had - that there was no proof this was widespread. We relied upon that. We thought that that was evidence enough to show that in fact this wasn't going on at our newspaper. And they were mistaken.

The law firm says not at all. We weren't asked that question.

MONTAGNE: Now, Rupert Murdoch's son James has already defended his testimony in effect that he knew nothing and top people knew nothing. What does he and what does News Corp. say now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, James Murdoch said in documents submitted to the committee, he confirmed that indeed that Clive Goodman was given the equivalent of approximately $400,000 in 2007 as severance and fees - 13,000 pounds of which went towards his legal fees, even though Les Hinton, who was then over the British newspaper division of News Corp. said at that time he was entitled to nothing from the company. But they said because of his long service we're going to give you this big payout.

A lot of people are saying, you know, is that somehow a payoff to keep quiet. James Murdoch says, you know, still contests the truthfulness of what Clive Goodman says.

I think it's important to indicate these are allegations, not proven. But they do seem substantive. And, in fact, Goodman hasn't come forward publicly to say this. This was revealed in documents submitted to the committee.

MONTAGNE: What can we expect next?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the committee has indicated that it's calling back a series of executives and editors for the tabloid. And it's going to be asking James Murdoch - or looking closely at James Murdoch's testimony. And it has indicated it's likely to recall him as well. They really are calling into question some of the testimony that has been received before parliament this summer and in years past.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

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