Email Thread Challenges Murdoch's Credibility

News Corp's U.K. attorneys have provided Parliament with an email thread that establishes that James Murdoch was informed of the wide extent of phone hacking at News Of The World — on a date that is earlier than he has previously claimed. For his part, Murdoch has written to Parliament that he received — but did not read — the emails. This revelation is a serious challenge to Murdoch's already tenuous credibility. For more, Melissa Block talks to NPR's David Folkenflik.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

More potentially damaging disclosures today in London for top News Corp executive James Murdoch. He had been favored to take over the media conglomerate run by his father, Rupert Murdoch, until a tabloid phone-hacking scandal erupted over the summer. James Murdoch has overseen the company's British operations since late 2007, but he testified that he was not aware of the widespread nature of phone hacking at its tabloid News of the World until last year.

Well, now, attorneys for News Corp's U.K. division have revealed emails showing British executives at the company tried to inform the younger Murdoch back in June 2008 of damaging hacking allegations.

NPR's David Folkenflik has been following this story. And, David, tell us why that date is so crucial now, June 2008?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, June 2008, Colin Myler, the editor at the News of the World tabloid, sent a note to his boss, James Murdoch, say, hey, can I get five minutes of your time on Tuesday, three days later. The reason that's important is that that Tuesday meeting, a fairly short one, led to a confidential and, for that time, unprecedented private settlement equivalent to about a million dollars, in which News Corp's British divisions paid off the head of the Professional Footballers Association for claims that News of the World had hacked into his mobile phone.

That was a key moment. It was at a time when News of the World had basically said that an earlier hacking incident involved the royals, had been an isolated case involving a rogue reporter and rogue private investigator for the tabloid.

BLOCK: And a lot of the question here really is what did James Murdoch know and when did he know it. What is the implication of that email then?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the e-mail would suggest a couple of things. It would contradict the rogue reporter. I'm looking at a copy of the email in my hands. It says: James, unfortunately it is as bad as we feared. And he draws attention to the note from Julian Pike, who had been an attorney for News Corp in the U.K. And these were emails below that had been attached on this exchange, in which they were saying, look, there's nightmare scenario possible, there are some earlier incidents that may be real problematic for us that should be looked at.

James Murdoch himself says to the defense, look, this was sent to me on a Saturday. I read it on my Blackberry. I responded within two or three minutes - the timestamp showed that to be the case. And I never really looked beyond the original request by Colin Myler. He was the guy who should have been briefing me on all of this.

BLOCK: What do you think the effect of this is on James Murdoch and on the testimony that he gave earlier?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it is extremely damaging moment for James Murdoch. He has testified repeatedly to Parliament that this was the work of a rogue reporter. He has said this year on a number of occasions, he didn't really understand the magnitude until, as you mentioned, last year with the lawsuit from the actress Sienna Miller, saying her phone voicemail messages had been hacked into by the tabloid.

It now appears as though there was every effort by the executives below him to inform him, to let him understand that the threat to News of the World was significant and to News Corp in the U.K.

BLOCK: And, David, I gather that police investigation into the hacking that started this whole scandal has also yielded some new information. What's going on there?

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. The disclosure in July that the voicemails of a young girl who was abducted, and it turned out killed, nearly a decade ago, really triggered an outcry. Her emails had been hacked into, listen to and deleted, the police said then. They now say they can't prove - they aren't certain that it was done by somebody acting on behalf of the tabloid.

People linked to the News of the World, which was closed down amidst the scandal, have said, look, this shows that the Guardian, which has been leading the reporting on this, has been deeply unfair. But, in fact, the core elements of this have held up and shown to be true. In fact, Milly Dowler and many hundreds of others were hacked into, their voicemails listen to, and in fact their privacy invaded.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's David Folkenflik in New York. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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