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Rupert Murdoch Caught on Tape: “We Will Hit Back”
By Nitasha Tiku via Gawker
ExaroNews a British investigative web site, has just published the full transcript of a secretly recorded meeting between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the staff of The Sun, a U.K. tabloid owned by News Corp., in which Murdoch admitted that he was aware for decades that journalists from his newspapers had been bribing both police and public officials.
According to the site (which is behind a paywall), the meeting took place in a boardroom at The Sun‘s headquarters in East London with Murdoch at the head of the table. Present were nearly two dozen executives and reporters from The Sun, who had been arrested on allegations of illegal newsgathering practices.
In the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that shut down the News of the World—the Sun’s sister title—News Corp. established a management and standards committee (MSC) with the assistance of Linklaters, a law firm, in order to gather any evidence of purported wrongdoing on the part of its reporters and hand it over to the police.
The Sun staffers were irate over Murdoch’s decision to supply mass internal communications to the police “that had betrayed confidential sources, some of whom were public officials who received no payment for information,” reports ExaroNews.
The journalists felt that News Corp. had turned them into “scapegoats.” It was with that mindset that some entered the room with hidden digital recorders.
As the meeting began, Murdoch came across as angry at the authorities and said his newspaper group had been “picked on.”
Graham Dudman, The Sun’s former managing editor, began by telling Murdoch that everyone in the room was loyal to the company up until their arrest:
One thing that everybody in this room shares – everybody in this room shares – whether we are 20-something, 30-something, 40-something, 50-something or 60-something, is that we were arrested, thrown into police cells, treated as common criminals in front of our children, our families, and our neighbours, and our friends and our colleagues, for doing nothing more than the company expected of us – nothing.
“I’m just as annoyed as you are at the police, and you’re directing it at me instead, but never mind,” Murdoch responded, with no small bit of sympathy for himself:
“And if you want to accuse me of a certain amount of panic, there’s some truth in that. But it was very, very— I don’t know— it’s hard for you to remember it, it was such— but it was— I was under personal siege – not that that mattered – but it was—the whole place was— all the Press were screaming and yelling, and we might have gone too far in protecting ourselves. And you were the victims of it. It’s not enough for me to say you’ve got my sympathy. But you do have my total support. But go ahead, please.”
In response, Dudman asked what assurances Murdoch could offer about the individual’s future at News International in the event that staffers go to court or are convicted.
“I’ve been told that I must not give guarantees, but I can give you something,” said Murdoch, asking staffers to “just trust me“:
“RM: “Yeah, but emotional support is not enough. I’ve got to do more. I mean, at least, everybody will be paid. You’re all innocent until proven guilty. What you’re asking is, what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I’m not allowed to promise you- I will promise you continued health support- but your jobs – I’ve got to be careful what comes out – but frankly, I won’t say it, but just trust me. Okay?””
It’s at this point that Murdoch acknowledges that illegal newsgathering practices were a long-standing part of the culture (emphasis added):
I guarantee you that [medical support] will continue. And I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted and get six months or whatever. I think it’s just outrageous, but—and I don’t know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn’t being done across Fleet Street and wasn’t the culture. And we’re being picked on. I think that it was the old right-wing establishment, [Lord] Puttnam, or worse, the left-wing get-even crowd of Gordon Brown. There was a sort of—we got caught with dirty hands, I guess, with the News of the World, and everybody piled in. It was a get-even time for things that were done with The Sun over the last 40 years, 38 years, whatever it is.
He went further, specifically acknowledging he had long been aware of the News of the World’s routine practice of lining the pockets of cops for information:
RM: We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it….
I remember when I first bought the News of the World, the first day I went to the office… and there was a big wall-safe… And I said, “What’s that for?”
And they said, “We keep some cash in there.”
And I said, “What for?”
They said, “Well, sometimes the editor needs some on a Saturday night for powerful friends. And sometimes the chairman [the late Sir William Carr] is doing badly at the tables, (laughter) and he helps himself…”
Throughout the meeting, Murdoch tried to shift blame to officials: “But why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.” Murdoch also promised revenge. That vow came during an exchange with Geoff Webster, The Sun’s deputy editor, who referenced police corruption:
GW: Keir Starmer, the head of the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], making a statement today which relates to the Savile inquiry and historic sexual offences and all the rest of it, also includes children. The Met Police have got 13 coppers dedicated to chasing paedophiles, and they’ve got nigh-on 200 looking at us. And the support staff that goes with that 200 will be at least another 100.
RM: Yeah, I’ve heard bigger figures… They’ve had waves of people come in. The second wave has knocked over the first wave. It goes on, and on, and on. It doesn’t help you to know that the police are incompetent.
GW: It would be nice to hit back when we can.
RM: We will, we will.
The mood of the meeting, which began angry, turned sorrowful, reports ExaroNews, when Deidre Sanders, the Sun‘s “agony aunt” (advice columnist) began to speak. Sanders had been a source of emotional support for staffers during the ordeal and she read a letter written by the wife of a Sun journalist.
The heart-wrenching letter details the effects of her family after her husband was arrested:
After he’d been led away the police went into our house, room by room, looking for evidence. By then I was comforting my two-year-old grand-daughter, who was a witness to her granddad being led away to prison. The police left with all our old video-tapes: ‘If you can’t prove what’s on it, we have to take it,’ and a small bag of expenses sheets and letters from the editor etc. Seven hours later, after most of the TV crews had gone, he came home shattered by the unending questions, as well as by the betrayal at the hands of the MSC.
The letter goes on:
And one 15-year-old girl has had her hair fall out in clumps because of the stress. Characters have changed. There have been suicide attempts. For what? A hideous political game: for what end? To save News International’s integrity, put way before the well-being of its employees. They deserve better, these are… not the debris. They’ve been on the firing line, literally for you, and have loved every minute. Those people will never come back, they’ve been lost forever.
In response, Murdoch directs the blame at the lawyers he employed in order to keep the blame out of the executive suite:
Thank you very much. That’s very moving… I’ll go and shove it down the throat of the company lawyers. That was the most ups—
[Sun executive sobs.]
It’s a very, very moving letter. Alright?
Another revelation from the meeting, besides Murdoch’s self of victimization and thirst for vengeance, is an indication of his succession plan. He laid that out in response to a question from Dudman, the Sun‘s former managing editor, making it clear that his son James Murdoch is not in the picture.
GD: “Will the company’s support vanish overnight if you’re not here?”
RM: “Yes—If I wasn’t here, the decision would be— Well, it will either be with my son, Lachlan, or with Robert Thomson [News Corporation chief executive]. And you don’t have any worries about either of them.”
Got that in your digital recorders? Nothing to worry about there.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for NewsCorp offered the following statement about Murdoch’s comments during the meeting:
“No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again. The unprecedented co-operation granted by News Corporation was agreed unanimously by senior management and the board, and the MSC continues to co-operate under the supervision of the courts. Rupert Murdoch has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty.”
UPDATE II: Four hours later, the same NewsCorp spokesperson emailed a statement addressing Murdoch’s knowledge of illegal news-gathering practices:
“Mr. Murdoch never knew of payments made by Sun staff to police before News Corporation disclosed that to UK Authorities. Furthermore, he never said he knew of payments. It’s absolutely false to suggest otherwise.”