Rupert Murdoch's phone-hacking scandal is unspooling like a film noir.

Media criticism.
July 6 2011 7:20 PM

Rupert Murdoch, Film Noir Villain

And Nick Davies as the hard-boiled hero in The Big Phone Hacker.

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Pardon me for mixing my favorite noir films, but if Murdoch were Sam Spade of The Maltese Falcon, he'd deal Brooks to the cops so fast she'd think her name was Brigid O'Shaughnessy. But if Murdoch intends to guard Brooks, whom will he recruit to take the fall? Today's Guardianspeculates that Coulson, who was Brooks' deputy at the time of the Dowler phone-hacking, will be the one, because Brooks has allegedly secured an alibi. The newspaper reports—without sourcing the information or even claiming an anonymous source—that Murdoch's company "has established" that Brooks was on vacation in Italy when Milly Dowler's phone was hacked.

The problem with pinning the scandal on Coulson is that if made the scapegoat, he'll likely spill his guts and cut a deal with prosecutors as John Dean did amid Watergate. If Murdoch were a real film noir villain, he'd quickly pin the scandal on Coulson and have him killed but make it look like a suicide. But Murdoch is no noir villain. If he were, the waters of the Potomac would have been chummed with my body long ago.

To escape this scandal, Murdoch, Brooks, flunkies Klein and Dinh, and the company chain of command (hey, where is Les Hinton in all of this?) will have to navigate the current criminal investigation, a proposed government inquiry, and the Press Complaints Commission's ire at having been had by Murdoch and Co. when it  investigated the phone-hacking scandal in 2009. Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband hit Murdoch where it really hurts today by asking Prime Minister Cameron to stall Murdoch's takeover of satellite broadcaster BSkyB in view of the current scandal.

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Like any good noir, bodies will pile up like cordwood during the final reel of The Big Phone Hacker, and at screening's end we'll rise from our seats drunk on despair. As I type this, the phone-hacking scandal is widening. The Telegraphreports its findings that News of the World phone-hackers may have targeted the families of dead servicemen. And Nick Davies has struck again with a Guardianstory alleging that under Brooks, a News of the World journalist used "photographers and vans leased to the paper to run surveillance on behalf" of two murder suspects. So far, the phone-hacking scandal and its tributaries have been as dizzying and convoluted as anything in The Big Sleep. It will all make sense, I trust, if Davies and the Guardian publish a sufficient number of sequels.

Addendum, July 6, 9:06 p.m.: The Guardian catalogs the phone-hacking denials from News Corp. executives and others over the years.

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Thanks to Noah McCormack, who alerted me to the Andy McSmith piece. I say Nicole Kidman should play Rebekah Brooks in the film version of this story, and Ian McKellen should play Murdoch. Who is squirrely enough to play Andy Coulson? Jon Hamm as David Cameron? Send casting notes to slate.pressbox@gmail.com and watch my Twitter feed for program notes. (Email may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.