Daily Archives: July 15, 2011

FBI probes Murdoch empire over 9/11 hacking claims

“It clearly goes beyond News International, it’s clearly something much more systemic.”  

Earlier, media mogul reverses course, decides to testify in Parliament over scandal

msnbc.com news | Jul 14,  2011

LONDON — The FBI has opened an investigation into allegations that media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. sought to hack into the phones of Sept. 11 victims, a law enforcement official said Thursday.

The official spoke Thursday to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

New York City-based News Corp. has been in crisis mode.

A rival newspaper reported last week that the company’s News of the World had hacked into the phone of U.K. teenage murder victim Milly Dowler in 2002 and may have impeded a police investigation into the 13-year-old’s disappearance.

More possible victims soon emerged: other child murder victims, 2005 London bombing victims, the families of dead soldiers and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The FBI’s New York office didn’t immediately comment Thursday. There was no immediate response to messages left for News Corp. and the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

On Thursday, Murdoch caved in to pressure from Britain’s Parliament as he and his son James first refused, then agreed, to appear next week before lawmakers investigating phone hacking and bribery by employees of their newspaper empire.

Murdoch began his media career in Australia in 1952 after inheriting The News newspaper after the death of his father, and he has built News Corp. into one of the world’s biggest media groups. Assets include Fox News, the 20th Century Fox movie studio, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and three newspapers in Britain — down from four with the death of the News of the World.

Hostile reception

Earlier, the company announced the father and son would attend after British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized their original decision.

Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International and editor of the News of the World tabloid at the time phone hacking is alleged to have happened, will also attend.

The reception is certain to be hostile. During a heated debate on the hacking scandal on Wednesday, Dennis Skinner, a veteran left-wing Labour member of parliament described Murdoch as “this cancer on the body politic.” Murdoch and other senior executives have denied any knowledge of the alleged practices.

British police also arrested a ninth suspect, named by media as Neil Wallis, a former senior editor of Murdoch’s News of the World, adding weight to a government call for the media regulator to decide whether his business is fit to run British television stations.
Video: Murdochs to appear before British parliament

Global fallout

The allegations of phone hacking, which reached a peak as Murdoch’s British bid came up for approval this month, are now reverberating around the world.
Story: Victim’s family appears amid rage at tabloids

Murdoch, who owns 39 percent of British pay TV operator BSkyB, withdrew his $12 billion bid to take over the rest of it on Wednesday after British politicians united in a call for him to pull out of the deal.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg noted media regulator OFCOM was already looking into whether News Corp, whose British newspaper arm News International is at the heart of the scandal, should be allowed to maintain its existing stake in BSkyB.

Some U.S. lawmakers called for an investigation to see if the billionaire’s News Corp. had broken American laws while in Australia, where Murdoch was born, the prime minister said her government may review media laws.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg. D-N.J., told NBC News Thursday he and his colleagues were seriously considering summoning Murdoch to Capitol Hill to testify about the allegations.

“We want to get to the end of game, and if bringing Rupert Murdoch here helps, he’d be welcome at the witness chair,” he told NBC News. Lautenberg went on to say, “I don’t want to bring him here unless there are other people with knowledge here, but I think it would be good for the world to see Mr. Murdoch in the witness chair.”

The senator said that if the allegations against News Corp are true, he like to see News Corp. pay.

When asked how he wanted to see Murdoch punished, Lautenberg said “Well, torture is out… but the fact of the matter is I’d like to see him pay a really deep price, because the message has to go out to others who do this same type of thing.”

The catalyst for public disgust over the hacking allegations were reports a News Corp. newspaper had hacked into the voicemails of murder victims.

“To see some of the things that have been done to intrude on people’s privacy, particularly in moments of grief and stress in the family lives, I’ve truly been disgusted to see it,” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Australia’s National Press Club.

“I anticipate that we will have a discussion amongst parliamentarians about this, about the best review and way of dealing with all of this,” she said.

‘Something much more systemic’

U.S.-based News Corp has been rocked by a series of scandals alleging journalists and hired investigators working for its flagship News of the World tabloid hacked into the voicemails of thousands of people, from victims of notorious crimes to families of soldiers killed in the war in Afghanistan.

The allegations, which include bribing police officers for information, galvanized British lawmakers across parties to oppose a man long used to being courted by the political elite.

The crisis has also tarnished Cameron, who faces questions about why he appointed a former News of the World editor as his communications chief.

Clegg distanced himself from the decision on Thursday.

“We did discuss it. Of course we discussed it. But at the end of the day I make my appointments to my own office and David Cameron makes his own appointments,” he said.

Murdoch shut down the News of the World in a move to contain the fallout from the crisis, which included a 15 percent slide in News Corp shares.
Story: Murdoch’s News Corp. withdraws bid for BSkyB

The media baron is currently focused on sorting out the immediate political and legal issues faced by his company, family and staff, a source close to the situation told Reuters.

Clegg said he believed the phone hacking scandal was symptomatic of wrongdoing that went wider than News International, the U.K. arm of News Corp.

“It clearly goes beyond News International, it’s clearly something much more systemic,” Clegg said.

Rupert Murdoch’s son James paid £100,000 to meet Pope

independent.co.uk | Jul 15, 2011

By Jerome Taylor

The Catholic Church has been criticised for accepting a six-figure donation from James Murdoch ahead of him being given a personal audience with Pope Benedict during last year’s papal visit. Mr Murdoch was among major donors who were invited to personally greet Pope Benedict after a special mass at Westminster Cathedral during the pontiff’s visit last September. It is believed that the Murdoch family paid a contribution towards the Papal visit of around £100,000.

The continuing scandal over phone hacking has placed religious institutions in a moral quandary. There have already been calls for the Church of England to divest its £3.8m shares in News Corp, a request which church leaders have so far resisted.

There is growing disquiet within the Catholic community over the Murdoch family’s close ties to the church in Britain, America and in Rome.

Although not a Catholic, James’s father Rupert was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory by the previous pontiff Pope John Paul II, one of the highest civilian honours the Vatican bestows on people. His wife at the time, Anna Torv, was a practising Catholic and the following year Mr Murdoch gave $10m to help build a cathedral in Los Angeles.

Speaking in today’s edition of The Tablet, the influential Catholic weekly, one senior bishop called on the church to be more careful about who it accepts money from in light of the growing furore over News International’s journalistic ethics.

“We’ll have to be careful in the future about that particular source of money,” said Bishop Kieran Conry of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. “A conversation needs to take place, discussion needs to take place. It is a public scandal and everyone knows Murdoch’s empire is tainted by these revelations.”

Francis Davis, a fundraiser for various religious causes, former government adviser and trustee of numerous charities, added: “Given the importance that the English bishops have attached to ethics in business since the banking crisis, it would now be extraordinary if the bishops were not to review the ethical provenance of this donation. And perhaps it raises questions about other donations we don’t know about.”

On the Catholic Herald website, readers voiced dismay that Mr Murdoch senior had been knighted by the Vatican and called for Rome to rescind the honour.

“Murdoch should certainly be stripped of his knighthood,” wrote one reader. “He should never in the first place have been awarded it. Not only does his latest behaviour and that of his company and his son disqualify him, he has been an enemy of anything that passes for decency for years.”

But William Oddie, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and a blogger on church issues, said “Just cancelling the knighthood simply gives the impression of futile censoriousness.”

Rupert Murdoch’s Papal Knighthood Questioned

CNA | Juyl 14, 2011

There are calls from all sides in British politics for Rupert Murdoch to hand back – or be stripped of – his papal knighthood if he is found culpable in any way for the recent phone hacking scandal involving his British tabloid newspaper, The News of the World.

“I think we need to see the extent of what happened and who knew what and when before we rush to judgment. But if it transpires that Rupert Murdoch was aware of these goings on then, yes, he ought to hand the papal knighthood back,” said former Conservative government minister and Catholic convert Ann Widdecombe on July 13.

Rupert Murdoch was made a Knight Commander of St. Gregory in 1998. Although not a Catholic, he had apparently been recommended for the honor by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles after giving money to a Church education fund. A year later he also donated $10 million to help build Los Angeles’ new Catholic cathedral.

“Like most of us in 1998, the Holy Father would not have been aware of the terrible depths Mr. Murdoch’s media empire would go to for profit,” said Jim McGovern, Labour M.P. for Dundee West and treasurer of the All-Party Group on the Holy See.

“However, if these allegations are proven to be true then either Mr. Murdoch should return his Knighthood, or the Holy See should look to have it removed from him,” McGovern said on July 13.

Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper group – News International – stands accused of illegally hacking the phones of thousands of people, including celebrities, royals and families of crime victims to garner stories. The groups is also alleged to have bribed serving police officers for information.

Today saw the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron set up a judge-led inquiry to investigate the claims. A police investigation is already underway.

In response, Murdoch has closed down the News of the World and withdrawn a bid to buy U.K. satellite television station BSkyB. His company has also admitted that illegal hacking was used by journalists within the company. Two have already served time in prison for other crimes.

“We have to let both the police and judicial investigation do their job but if Rupert Murdoch is found personally responsible in any way for these crimes then, yes, he should hand back his papal knighthood. That’s subject, of course, to Vatican protocol allowing such a thing to happen,” said Catholic parliamentarian Angus Brendan MacNeil, the Scottish Nationalist M.P. for the Western Isles.

Striking a more cautionary note on the whole issue, though, was his fellow Catholic politician Lord David Alton, a former Liberal Democrat M.P. who now sits as an independent in the House of Lords.

“Papal knighthoods are not awarded as a sign of holiness or a reward for sanctity – but a recognition of active generosity to the Church and her works. Mr. Murdoch was given his, in 1998, after making a generous charitable donation. That has nothing to do with the current controversy surrounding some of his newspapers,” Lord Alton said.

“Let’s see what the official inquiry makes of those unacceptable journalistic practices, and where the law has been broken no doubt the individuals concerned will be prosecuted.”

“No-one has suggested that Mr. Murdoch was personally involved in criminal activity. Some of the self righteous indignation and lynch mob mentality that is now baying for Mr. Murdoch’s blood only adds to the whole unedifying mess,” Lord Alton commented.

Ann Widdecombe, however, says the whole affair should now make the Catholic Church reflect on the papal honors system.

“These knighthoods are dished out right, left and center by the Church to the likes of big tycoons and statesmen. I believe, however, they should be reserved for those who’ve worked hard in the cause of the Church – those whose efforts often go unsung.”

Jim McGovern struck a similar note stressing that “a knighthood is a tremendous privilege that should be reserved for the most deserving,” adding that “it should not be in the possession of those who fall far short of the behavior expected by the Church.”

Mining communities shiver in coldest spell in decades

SMH | Jul 14, 2011

Many of Australia’s mining communities have seemingly responded to Sunday’s carbon tax announcement with the shivers, but this is actually a result of the coldest days in decades.

Not even the act of mining itself was enough to warm some communities to 10 degrees, weatherzone senior meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.

Leinster, in Western Australia’s Goldfields, was one of the first to respond, by struggling to 10 degrees on Sunday and Monday, their coldest days in 18 years.

The news must have had a delayed effect in South Australia, where it took until Tuesday for Leigh Creek to begin its cold spell. It failed to reach 10 degrees on this and the next day, the coalmining town’s coldest two-day spell in at least 30 years.

Yesterday, Broken Hill couldn’t even reach 9 degrees, making it the coldest day in eight years.

Also yesterday it was the coldest day in 16 years in White Cliffs with a 10-degree maximum, and coldest in five years in Ballera, in south-west Queensland, where it only got to 13.

The reason for this widespread cold was dense cloud, a result of moisture coming off warmer-than-normal Indian Ocean waters.

This cloud is now clearing from the interior, allowing day-time temperatures to return to near-normal.

The great Murdoch conspiracy


The very best of friends: Rupert and Wendi Murdoch with Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah in 2007 at Mr Murdoch’s annual summer party in London’  Photo: GETTY IMAGES

In the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, Rupert Murdoch’s empire exploited an alternative and corrupt system of government.

By Peter Oborne

Telegraph | Jul 14, 2011

When I went to work in the House of Commons as a lobby correspondent nearly 20 years ago, I assumed that the British constitution worked along the lines we had been taught in textbooks at school and university. Which is to say: Britain was a representative democracy; the police were reasonably honest; and the country was governed under the rule of law. I naively expected MPs to be honest and driven by a sense of duty, and ministers to be public-spirited.

During my first few years at Westminster, I came to appreciate that most of my assumptions were hardly true. In particular, it became clear that power had seeped away from the Commons, which had lost many of its traditional functions. It rarely held ministers to account, and ministers no longer made their announcements to the House, as Erskine May, the rulebook of Parliament, insisted they should; instead they were leaked out through journalists.

For a number of years I was a part of this alternative system of government. We would be fed information confidentially and behind the scenes, and treated as if we were more important than elected MPs. All this was very flattering – and professionally very useful – but I couldn’t help sensing that something was wrong. It wasn’t just that the media had taken over the function of Parliament, it also meant that the traditional checks and balances no longer operated. Above all, information could be put into the public domain privately and therefore unaccountably.

All newspapers were guilty of being part of this new system, but it was exploited in particular by the Murdoch press. I believe that when Rupert Murdoch arrived on the British scene in the 1960s, he was, on balance, a force for good. The deference that still defined a great deal of political culture was challenged by Mr Murdoch, and better still he took on and defeated the print unions, which had all but destroyed the British newspaper industry in the 1970s. But by the 1990s, Murdoch’s newspapers were starting to abuse their power. The best way of demonstrating this is perhaps by examining the career of Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International who is in such trouble this week. Her professional career is, in a number of ways, a parable for the times we have lived through.

One of the greatest adventuresses of her era, she emerged on the scene when New Labour under Tony Blair was on the verge of power. During this time she was married to Ross Kemp, the EastEnders actor who was one of the most powerful defenders of New Labour. They lived in south London, emphasising the faux-proletarian credentials that were such an important, if misleading, part of the New Labour message.

As New Labour’s star waned, Rebekah Brooks changed course. She ceased to be the cool, metropolitan figure favoured by New Labour. She moved to Oxfordshire, took up riding and became the central figure in the now notorious Chipping Norton set. Meanwhile, her titles changed their allegiance. The political editor of the Sun might have been deemed to lack the impeccable social credentials demanded by an incoming Tory government. He was replaced by an Old Marlburian.

The identical transfiguration took place at The Times, where Phil Webster, one of the few remaining journalists in Fleet Street who has come up the hard way, was removed. Webster, who had been a favourite of the Blair government, found himself replaced as political editor by Roly Watson, who had been a member of Pop, the exclusive club at Eton, at the same time as David Cameron. A pattern was clear. Rebekah Brooks (like all the News International insiders) attached herself like glue to whichever political party held the ascendancy.

During the Blair years, News International executives, Mrs Brooks among them, would attend the annual Labour Party conference, but they were scarcely treated as journalists. When Tony Blair gave his leadership speech, they would be awarded seats just behind the cabinet, as if they had been co-opted into the Government. Arguably they had. The first telephone call that Blair made after he had escaped from the conference hall was routinely to Rupert Murdoch himself. And when ministers who had been favoured by the Murdoch press left office, they would be rewarded. David Blunkett and Alastair Campbell were both given columns on News International publications.

A version of this process repeated itself when Gordon Brown became prime minister, with Rebekah Brooks attending Sarah Brown’s cringe-making “pyjama party” at Chequers. It may not suit Mr Brown, who made such a passionate speech in the Commons yesterday, to remember it but he, too, was part of the Murdoch system of government. And so was David Cameron, who last October threw a party for his closest friends to celebrate his 44th birthday. Reportedly everyone present had known the Prime Minister all his adult life – with the exception of Mrs Brooks.

There was a very sinister element to these relationships. At exactly the same time that Mrs Brooks was getting on so famously with the most powerful men and women in Britain, the employees of her newspapers (as we now know) were listening in to their voicemails and illicitly gaining access to deeply personal information.

One News of the World journalist once told me how this information would be gathered into dossiers; sometimes these dossiers were published, sometimes not. The knowledge that News International held such destructive power must have been at the back of everyone’s minds at the apparently cheerful social events where the company’s executives mingled with their client politicians.

Let’s take the case of Tessa Jowell. When she was Culture Secretary five years ago, News International hacked into her phone and spied on her in other ways. What was going on amounted to industrial espionage, since Ms Jowell was then charged with the regulation and supervision of News International, and the media group can scarcely have avoided discovering commercially sensitive information, even though its primary purpose was to discover details about Ms Jowell’s private life.

Yet consider this: Ms Jowell was informed of this intrusion at the time and said nothing. More curious still, she retained her friendship with Rebekah Brooks and other News International figures. Indeed, Ms Jowell appears to have been present at the Cotswolds party thrown by Matthew Freud, son-in-law of Rupert Murdoch, only 10 days ago.

James Murdoch, heir apparent to the Murdoch empire, was also present. These parties were, in effect, a conspiracy between the British media and the political class against the country as a whole. They were the men and women who governed Britain and decided who was up and who was out. Government policy was influenced and sometimes created. I doubt very much whether Britain would have invaded Iraq but for the foolhardy support of the Murdoch press.

The effect on government policy was wretched. Decisions were determined by consideration of the following day’s headlines rather than sound analysis. Furthermore, private favours were dispensed; Blair when prime minister spoke to his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi about one of Murdoch’s business deals in Italy. Of course it was all kept secret, though details did sometimes leak out. All recent prime ministers have insisted that their meetings with Murdoch were confidential and did not need to be disclosed, as if they were somehow private affairs. Mercifully, Cameron – who has partially emerged from the sewer thanks to his Commons statement – has put an end to this concealment.

It has taken the horror of the revelations concerning the targeting by the Murdoch empire of the family of Milly Dowler, terrorist victims and even relatives of British war dead to bring this corrupt, complicit, and conspiratorial system of government to light.

The process of exposure has taken far too long, but there is at last hope. Two years ago, Rebekah Brooks contemptuously turned down an invitation to give evidence to MPs about how she operated. Next week, Rupert Murdoch, his son James and the reluctant Brooks will all be dragged before them.

The system of collaboration between an over-mighty press and timorous politicians is being exposed. There is hope that we can return to a more decent system of government; that Parliament can reassert its rights, and that ministers will make their decisions for the right reasons and not simply to ingratiate themselves with Murdoch and his newspaper editors. Perhaps the sickness that has demeaned and distorted British politics for the last two decades is at last being challenged and confronted.

Protesters gather outside Bohemian Grove

PRESS DEMOCRAT | Jul 13, 2011

By GUY KOVNER

About 45 people showed up Wednesday near the entrance to the Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio, marking the first protest against the summer encampment of the wealthy and powerful Bohemians.

The protesters, whose presence was reported at 6:45 a.m., were standing on the right shoulder of the road and were not breaking any laws, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.

“Everybody was peaceful and law-abiding,” he said.

Two CHP officers remained at the scene along with Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies. By 11:45 a.m. the protesters were gone, he said.

Sloat said he did not know who had organized the protest,and protesters issued no public statement.

The encampment, expected to draw 2,400 male members and their guests, begins Friday and runs through July 31 at the Bohemian Club’s 2,700-acre enclave along the Russian River.

The protest appears to be related to a YouTube video announcing the launch of “Operation Bohemian Grove” at dawn on Wednesday, saying the first step would be “occupation” of the intersection of Bohemian Avenue and Railroad Avenue.

The video, which opens with the sound of an air raid siren, says that participants should block the entrance to the grove “until the presence of the police state requires you to move.”

“Do this in a peaceful non-combative way,” it says.

The grove encampments, which date back to 1878, include corporate titans and political leaders. No women, other than grove employees, are allowed.

No significant protests have occurred at the grove in recent years, but Matt Oggero, the club’s general manager, said last week he wouldn’t be surprised to see “a few people show up” this summer.

Club activities, which include daily talks around a lake, are not as outrageous as the club’s critics allege, Oggero said. “It’s a group of guys out in the woods having a good time,” he said.

The video asserts that “important political and business deals are discussed and established at the Bohemian Grove, which is a direct violation of law in most concerned countries.”

Mary Moore, whose Bohemian Grove Action Network organized protests in the past, said her group has nothing planned this summer.

The YouTube video, posted on June 24, has received more than 65,000 hits. It was posted by a group called 2ndrevolt.com, which has a website under construction that lists no names or contact numbers.