The Luncheon Society/The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta on the Murdoch Phone Hacking Scandal/Manhattan—Danal/July 14, 2011

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Ken Auletta, who writes the influential “Annals of Communications” column for The New Yorker, joined  The Luncheon Society in Manhattan for a return visit. 

Last year he talked about Googled, his New York Times best-seller how Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s endeavor redefined the mantle of leadership within Silicon Valley, especially now that Facebook has emerged as its greatest challenger. 

This year he talked about Rupert Murdoch and the phone hacking scandal that is mushrooming mushroomed over London.  Executive after executive within Murdoch’s empire have walked the plank.  The most painful departure was Rebekah Brooks the editor of News of the World, his signature London tabloid. Added to the list were Tom Crone, who ran legal affairs for the far flung empire, and Les Hinton, who ran Dow Jones. The question remained: would the scandal move from one side of the Atlantic to another?

Note: Special thanks to our friend Shari Foos, who hosted the Luncheon Society gathering in Manhattan.

Humble Start. The first chapter of the phone hacking scandal bubbled into public view mid-decade when members of the Royal Family discovered that their voicemails had been pilfered, which was a violation of British law. The subsequent investigation soon circled the offices of The News of the World. Within months, their Royal Editor and an investigator pled guilty to the charges and were shuttled off for short jail sentences. Mistakes were acknowledged, apologies were made, and promises were made that nothing like this would ever happen again.

However, the first hacking scandal only served as a hint of things to come.  In 2011, British police launched two investigations on additional phone hacking as well as a second investigation into inappropriate payoffs to members of law enforcement in trade for confidential information.  What it proved was a culture of corruption that cut far deeper into British Society than first thought. Far from living up to any pretense of journalistic standards, Rupert Murdoch’s empire was under attack and the nature of his business practices elicited greater scrutiny. Even “News of the World,” London’s most popular broadsheet was closed down after 168 years.

The Victims.It wasn’t merely B-level celebrities, like Sienna Miller, who discovered that they were hacked. The scandal also reached into Number 10 and prompted the resignation and subsequent arrest of Andy Coulson, who served as MP David Cameron’s Press Secretary. Horrifyingly, it included families of those who died during the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London and families of soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most appallingly, it also included the families of Milly Dowler and Sarah Payne  both young victims of unspeakable crimes which registered the strongest disgust.

Dowler was a young schoolgirl who went missing and whose remains were discovered 6 months after her disappearance. It was alleged that as part of the hacking scandal, News of the World employees deleted certain voicemails, thereby tampering evidence in the search for her killer. The case of Sara Payne is particularly cruel. In 2000, her daughter was killed by a pedophile who lived in their neighborhood.  Creating the British equivalent of “Megan’s Law,” which was championed by Rebecca Brooks and The News of The World, it was discovered that Payne’s email had been hacked by the very same people who supported her cause.

While the newspaper business represents only a small portion of the Murdoch press empire, it served as an apt metaphor for their behavior.

Who better to talk about this than Ken Auletta?   “Ken Auletta has written Annals of Communications columns and profiles for The New Yorker magazine since 1992. He is the author of eleven books, including five national bestsellers: Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way; Greed And Glory On Wall Street: The Fall of The House of Lehman; The Highwaymen: Warriors of the Information Super Highway; World War 3.0: Microsoft and Its Enemies; and Googled, The End of the World As We Know It.”

For a concise understanding of Murdoch’s rise in the United States, link to “NPR’s Morning Edition” interview with Ken Auletta  on the scandal.

To get a better idea of the emerging scandal and its potential fallout, read Ken Auletta’s posts in The New Yorker. Below are two.

The New Yorker July 15, 2011 Rebekah Brooks: Business and Loyalty Posted by Ken Auletta

Auletta writes, “The only surprise in the resignation of Rebekah Brooks is that it took so long. [Update: Brooks was arrested on Sunday.] She was the editor of the News of the World when a good deal of hacking was done, when police were paid bribes for documents and news tips. When she left the newsroom, she became the News Corp. executive responsible for overseeing at least one newspaper that continued these practices, as well as others that we may learn more about. And when she testified before Parliament, she offered misleading and contradictory answers. Yet she remained in place. When Rupert Murdoch flew to London last weekend to quarterback his company’s defense, a reporter asked: What’s your foremost concern?” Read more continue to link

The New Yorker/July 7, 2011 What Murdoch Made Posted by Ken Auletta

Auletta began, “During the first full day of the Allen & Co. Conference in Sun Valley, Rupert Murdoch was almost invisible. He was not spotted at the morning panels or at the outdoor lunch where he usually arrives early and holds court. Presumably, he was holed up strategizing about how to extricate his News Corp. from the worst crisis it has faced since it nearly went bankrupt in the early nineties. The seriousness of the situation is reflected in the dramatic step Murdoch’s son, James, announced Thursday: closing the News of the World, a one-hundred-and-sixty-eight year-old paper. In his absence, many attendees asked: did Murdoch know his London newspaper hacked into the voicemail of private phone lines—not only those of the royal family, but of a thirteen-year-old murder victim, and possibly relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan—and paid police to unearth information?”  Read more continue to link

The Luncheon Society™ is a series of private luncheons and dinners that take place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Manhattan, and now Boston.  We essentially split the costs of gathering and we meet in groups of 20-25 people. Discussions center on politics, art, science, film, culture, and whatever else is on our mind. Think of us as “Adult Drop in Daycare.” We’ve been around since 1997 and we’re purposely understated. These gatherings takes place around a large table, where you interact with the main guest and conversation becomes end result.  There are no rules, very little structure, and the gatherings happen when they happen. Join us when you can.

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