Tabloid Under Fire In Missing Teen Case A jailed private eye employed by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World admits he intercepted (and even deleted) a missing girl's mobile phone messages. Britain's prime minister and others were swift to condemn the paper — and a high-ranking Murdoch deputy is swept up in the scandal.
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Tabloid's Role In Missing Teen Case Sparks Outrage

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Tabloid's Role In Missing Teen Case Sparks Outrage

Tabloid's Role In Missing Teen Case Sparks Outrage

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

In April, the British tabloid News of the World apologized for hacking. The paper had accessed the cell phone voicemail messages of politicians and celebrities. The incident embarrassed Rupert Murdoch's News International, which owns the paper. It had originally denied the claims.

Now, as NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, a new twist has drawn harsh scrutiny to one of Murdoch's top executives.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The story this time centers not on coverage of a movie star nor a footballer, not a cabinet secretary nor a prince, but a schoolgirl: An abducted 13-year-old British girl, Milly Dowler, who disappeared in 2002.

SALLY DOWLER: At last, the man responsible for the cruel murder of our darling daughter so many years ago has been found guilty.

FOLKENFLIK: That was Milly's mother, Sally Dowler, on the courthouse steps just last month after a man was convicted of killing the girl.

Now, the British newspaper the Guardian is reporting that a private investigator hired by the Sunday tabloid News of the World, had been hacking into Milly's mobile voicemail messages days after her disappearance.

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor-in-chief, says British tabloids have gotten, if anything, hungrier for a scoop.

ALAN RUSBRIDGER: There's something ugly that has taken over in the last 10 years, driven by, I think, a feeling that people in public life didn't deserve any privacy at all.

FOLKENFLIK: As Rusbridger says, this hacking episode interfered with an intense police search for girl.

RUSBRIDGER: The private investigator started deleting the messages because the voicemail was full and they wanted to have a constant flow of messages. This raised the hopes of the parents who thought that that must mean that she's still alive. This took it onto a new level of revulsion.

FOLKENFLIK: Ford will no longer advertise in News of the World, that nation's largest circulation Sunday paper. And there are calls for the firing of Rebecca Brooks, the executive over Murdoch's British newspapers, who was editor of News of the World at the time.

British Prime Minister David Cameron took time at a press conference in Afghanistan earlier today to address the allegations.

DAVID CAMERON: If they are true, this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation.

FOLKENFLIK: Now listen to what Cameron also felt compelled to say.

CAMERON: The police in our country are quite rightly independent, that they should feel that they should investigate this without any fear, without any favor, without any worry about where the evidence should lead them. They should pursue this is in the most vigorous way that they can, in order to get to the truth of what happened.

FOLKENFLIK: Allegations have surfaced that police officials cut short an earlier investigation because of cozy ties they had with News of the World and other influential Murdoch papers.

The newest allegations have so far not been denied and they have led Rebecca Brooks to email her staff to say she was completely unaware of the hacking. Her signature issue at the News of the World was an anti-pedophile campaign. So the allegation that her paper interfered with the police inquiry into the abduction of a girl cuts at the heart of her record.

News International's Simon Greenberg, her spokesman, did not reply to my request for comment. But he said this in an interview with the BBC.

SIMON GREENBERG: We're absolutely shocked and appalled about what we read about yesterday, which was the first time we were aware of it. We're absolutely determined to establish the facts, to get to the bottom of it. And if they are true, then the strongest possible action will be taken.

FOLKENFLIK: It's a far more contrite tone than the company adopted in 2009. After paying a million-pound settlement to keep details of a similar hacking incident quiet, the company blamed a few bad apples and condemned the Guardian as a rival playing dirty. Now it says it wants answers and that News International, under former News of the World editor Rebecca Brooks, will find them.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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