A letter written by News of the World’s former royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, reveals editors and top reporters at the ruined tabloid discussed phone hacking. As a result of the letter, released today, News of the World’s former editor, Andy Coulson, Rupert and James Murdoch “all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up,” according to the Guardian.
The letter was published by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee and may result in the Murdoch being recalled to appear in parliament. Goodman’s letter, written after he served a four-month sentence for phone hacking in March 2007, claims phone hacking was “widely discussed” at editorial meetings until Coulson banned further references to it. Coulson, according to Goodman, also offered to let Goodman keep his job amid the royal phone hacking scandal if he didn’t implicate the paper in court. Goodman also claims his hacking of the royal household occurred with ”the full knowledge and support” of senior journalists.
Goodman wrote the letter to News International’s director of human resources, Daniel Cloke, appealing his termination after he admitting intercepted the voicemail of three royals. Les Hinton, former chairman, was had a copy of the letter but failed to pass it to police–though Hinton “led a cast of senior Murdoch personnel in telling parliament that they believed Coulson knew nothing about the interception of the voicemail of public figures and that Goodman was the only journalist involved,” according to the Guardian. Whoops.
The Guardian calls the letter “explosive.” The New York Daily News says it’s “shocking.” On its front page, Huffington Post dubs it a “smoking gun” alleging a “huge” cover-up. And The New York Times thinks it’s “embarrassing new evidence.”
But, really, is anyone surprised? Many of the journalists who wrote the articles above know that editors want them to get the scoop–and fast–even if that means talking to 100s of sources. While it’s true the phone hacking scandal may make it more difficult for sources to trust journalists, Goodman’s letter suggests editors might need to take it easy for journalism’s sake, too. Goodman explains:
This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor.
Even after he was fired for phone hacking, Goodman explains his editor would take him back:
Tom Crone [the paper's lawyer] and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me.
Goodman lost his appeal, but the letter proves editors not only knew about Goodman’s actions, but endorsed them and hid this endorsement. Maybe I’m cynical. Maybe I’ve dealt with too many editors with a “get-it-done” attitude, but I understand why reporters at News of the World might turn to hacking–and why editors would turn a blind-eye. On a media platform such as the web–where news and gossip spread like wildfire–unless you have something no one else has, readers don’t really care. Desperate to keep their jobs as colleagues are laid off amid a global journalism crisis, editors and reporters may turn to unsavory methods. Hacking and paying sources are among the worst. But there was probably a time when calling the same source several times a day to get a quote, any quote, was considered harassment. Editors expect you to do that today.
For the same reason FoxNews and Newsweek are considered biased, News of the World used phone hacking (allegedly) to get more readers. I don’t think I’d ever stoop so low as to commit a crime, but maybe hacking will be journalistically and legally acceptable in the future. Hey, it could happen: content aggregating used to be considered stealing, now it’s the best way to get page views.