In his 2008 book, Flat Earth News, Davies writes extensively about the British press's routine law-breaking—phone-hacking, bribery, and illegal invasion of privacy as well as the outsourcing of the dirtiest of dirty work to third parties. What has kept Fleet Street's dodgy methods safe, Davies writes, is a sort of honor among thieves. Because most newspapers have depended on these dubious methods, none dared accuse the others of misconduct.
The Davies exposé has the U.K. press corps screaming for blood. Of the deletion of Dowler's voicemails, the Telegraph's Damian Thompson writes, "If this is true, someone should be shot at dawn." Ian Burrell goes after Rebekah Brooks—the editor of the News of the World during the Dowler investigation and now chief executive of Murdoch's News International—in the Independent: "She has some explaining to do now." In his Guardian blog, Roy Greenslade calls for, among other things, a boycott of the News of the World, for reader pressure on the newspaper's advertisers to pull their ads, and a public inquiry. Ford has suspended its advertising, the Telegraphreports.
Brooks emailed her employees today stating it was "inconceivable" that she knew of or approved the hacking of Dowler's phone, which doesn't exactly sound like a denial. Either way, she is in trouble. As hacking victim Hugh Grant put it on BBC Radio 4 today, Brooks and Andy Coulson—who resigned the editorship of the News of the World after the scandal first broke in 2007—are "the worst editors in the history of journalism—or liars." (See this Reuters "Who's Who" for a guide to the phone-hacking scandal.)
I can't think of any jam that Murdoch has gotten into that's tighter than this one. As long as the victims of the phone-hacking were rich people and big shots, Murdoch didn't have to worry too much about public opinion dragging him and his newspapers down. But Dowler's parents are neither rich nor big shots.
And Murdoch's world of trouble seems to be growing. As I write, Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison is reporting that Coulson authorized News of the World payments to Scotland Yard; the Guardian is reporting that police are investigating "every high-profile case involving the murder, abduction or attack on any child since 2001" in response to the Dowler revelations; and the Telegraphis reporting that Scotland Yard is investigating whether the phones of the families of the victims of the July 7 subway and bus bombings were hacked. The Telegraph story, which is notably slim on specifics, includes this titillating quotation from a "senior police source" that said, "Basically every major crime story, every major news event, there was some sort of hacking involved. … It was systematic."
Murdoch's instinct, of course, will be to sacrifice Brooks, but I doubt that the mob that is gathering will be satisfied with one body. They'll want strong, tough, old meat, too. Something that's fit for grilling on the barbie.
I hope we hear from Murdoch soon. He has a great way with a phrase. Send recipes for grilled Murdoch to email@example.com and monitor my Twitter feed for a prayer for Rupert's soul. (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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