Recordings Capture Murdoch's Anger At 'Sun' Investigations

Newly released audio tapes capture News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch expressing contempt at the investigation that has embroiled his top-selling newspaper in corruption charges in the U.K. Murdoch was recorded saying he probably panicked by cooperating so fully with Scotland Yard — and told reporters at the Sun that paying cops for information has been a practice in the British press for more than a century.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The chairman of News Corp has been caught by one of his own tabloid reporters in a seeming moment of candor. On newly released audiotapes, Rupert Murdoch privately expresses contempt for the investigations that have embroiled his top-selling newspaper. Murdoch says he probably panicked when he cooperated so fully with Scotland Yard.

And, Murdoch said, paying cops for information has been a practice in the British press for more than a century. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: As arrests of reporters and editors mounted at the Sun tabloid in March, Murdoch flew into London to rally the troops. The audio is tough to make out but here, Murdoch is expressing sympathy and asking for understanding.

RUPERT MURDOCH: In that first month, maybe there was panic, but we...

FOLKENFLIK: He goes on to say that panic led to the closing of the News of The World in 2011 but he believed the police were going to invade the building. It was two years ago the Guardian newspaper caused an uproar by reporting the Sun's sister tabloid, the News of The World, had hacked into the voicemail messages of a murdered girl's mobile phone. Police investigations ensued. That panic led not just to the closing of the News of the World, but also to the investigation of the Sun.

MURDOCH: We might have gone too far in protecting ourselves...

FOLKENFLIK: We might have gone too far in protecting ourselves, he told the Sun journalists. You were the victims. Murdoch set up a management and standards committee to root out wrongdoing at the Sunday tabloid News of The World.

MURDOCH: The lawyers just got rich.

FOLKENFLIK: The lawyers just got rich, Murdoch says, as they handed over millions of emails to police and prosecutors, and now dozens face prosecution. At that time, Murdoch was seeking to quell an insurrection at the paper from which he drew financial strength, political influence and personal satisfaction. The tapes show Murdoch told Sun journalists that what they did had occurred for more than a century. But two years ago, he sang a slightly different tune.

MURDOCH: Invading people's privacy by listening to their voicemail is wrong. Paying police officers for information is wrong.

FOLKENFLIK: Here, Murdoch was testifying before Parliament.

MURDOCH: This is why News International is cooperating fully with the police, whose job it is to see that justice is done.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch was seeking to protect his son, James, then the company's British chairman, but also his British CEO Rebekah Brooks. And he was seeking, too, to stave off prosecution under U.S. anti-bribery laws. The Sun journalists expressed a sense of betrayal. Here, a Sun advice columnist read aloud from a letter from a colleague.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There have been suicide attempts, all for what? A hideous political game, for what end? To save News International's integrity, put way before the well-being of its employees.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch's remarks were first disclosed by Private Eye magazine, then audio was posted by Exaronews.com, an investigative site. Labor MP Tom Watson has helped to lead the latest parliamentary inquiries.

TOM WATSON: He shows that he says one thing in public and a different thing when he thinks he's talking in private.

FOLKENFLIK: Watson said the tapes of the private talks show the true Rupert Murdoch, who, he said, knew much more than he let on before Parliament.

WATSON: I think he realized he had a very serious problem with his flagship newspaper and if he was going to lose that newsroom, then he would be in very, very serious trouble.

FOLKENFLIK: Watson is using the tapes to call for a renewed investigation of the News Corp chairmen in both the U.K. and the U.S. Yet, a News Corp spokesman has said the tapes reflect Murdoch's concern for his employees. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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