By John C. Dyer, UK correspondent
27 Nov 2011. Lancashire.
Living in the UK, I have had an advantage not easily available to most Americans. I watch the Leveson Hearing live each day on BBC. I have for several days.
For those who have not had the opportunity to stay up with this story, the Leveson hearing is a quasi judicial investigation into press ethics in the UK. The Prime Minister called for this investigation in response to the shocking (and during the summer, daily) revelations concerning hacking by the News of the World hacking headlines. However, the inquiry is not confined in scope to the actions of News of the World. Nor is it a criminal or civil prosecution of the perpetrator of any misconduct. Rather it is an investigation into the culture of the Media, with particular emphasis (as it turns out) on the "red tops."
The red tops are tabloids, loosely similar to the sort of tabloid available in the US at grocery check out counters, the ones with headlines about alien abduction, sex, lies, and video tape. Celebrity scandal is their natural turf, but they have branched out into shock crimes and politics. In the UK politicians "reached out" to (courted) the publishers of both broad tops (the classic "serious" press) and red tops. Rupert Murdoch was and is a publisher of both. In the past Rupert Murdoch and his stable of writers/editors have enjoyed the active friendship of both Labour and Tory politicians, even if, famously, it hasn't always been through the front door.
The hearings grew out of the UK's shock and anger at the begrudging unfolding over 8 years of the News of the World's use of private investigators. These private investigators hacked phones, paid police and others in positions of trust for private information, and, it is alleged, also hacked email accounts. I use the term, alleged, as to the last because the parallel criminal process has not yet led to prosecutions much less convictions. To date, police have recently arrested one unidentified person (although much has been made of the allegations in the media).
Allegations expand well beyond phone hacking by NOTW
Additionally, the allegations explored in the Leveson hearing have expanded well beyond those pertaining to phone hacking conducted on behalf of the News of the World. The allegations now encompass not only other newspapers in the Murdoch "family" but also other UK red tops. At the present time these red tops deny the allegations, which, the hearings reveal, may in some cases also the subject of criminal investigations.
Those involved in presenting the hearing have been circumspect about the who, what, when, where of those allegations although the witnesses have felt free to name the names of the red tops involved and allege generally the practices. Indeed some of the more shocking charges aired at the hearing relate to the conduct of News of the World's rivals.
Inconceivable Murdoch unaware of his papers' ruthless practices and the consequences
Listening to the Leveson hearing testimony and focusing on the Murdoch newspapers, it is inconceivable to me that the man who famously advocated government "unleash the animal" of business was unaware of his papers’ ruthless practices. Or that he ignored their incredibly painful consequences, vividly portrayed in both the earlier testimony of the Dowler family and today's virtually gothic revelations concerning the McCanns. Nor is it conceivable that these practices were confined to the UK. But that is not yet proven. Time and further investigation will either establish these points or fail to do so.