Now that Glenn Mulcaire has been ditched by News Corporation and virtually all of those non-Murdochs in the gun are off Rupert Murdoch’s payroll, there is a serious question mark over the future of The Sun.
Put simply, if Mulcaire sings like a canary about the 4000 names in his 11,000 pages of seized notes, there is little prospect News Corporation will be able to operate any tabloid newspaper in Britain, let alone open a new Sunday Sun.
If illegal trafficking of information and voicemail interception was endemic at News of The World, it is inconceivable that The Sun, which is now the biggest selling paper in the English-speaking world, wasn’t up to its eyeballs in it as well. After all, the papers are housed in the same building at Wapping and there is a revolving door between the two newsrooms.
Look at the way Piers Morgan leapt to prominence through The Sun’s gossip column, Bizarre, and was then appointed News of the World editor at 28 in 1994. Even today Morgan, who has become huge in the US since replacing Larry King on CNN, is singing the praises of his great friend Rebekah Brooks.
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Andy Coulson first joined The Sun in 1988, where he worked with Morgan on Bizarre, and then shifted across to be deputy editor of News of The World in 2003, ascending to the editor’s chair for a four-year stint from 2003 until he resigned in 2007.
Rebekah Brooks worked her way up on News of The World from 1989 until 1998 when she joined The Sun as deputy editor. It was then back to News of the World as editor in 2000, after Morgan departed, before returning to edit The Sun from 2003 until 2009, when Rupert promoted her to CEO of News International, replacing Les Hinton who had moved to New York to run Dow Jones.
If News Ltd in Australia is struggling to put some distance between phone hacking and 70% of the Australian newspaper market, how on earth will The Sun be able to contain the contagion?
And if The Sun is gone, why on earth would News Corp continue to prop up The Times, which holds the world record for newspaper losses, just ahead of The New York Post?
The co-defendants in the forthcoming criminal trials for hacking and cover-ups will all have a commonality of interest, but if James Murdoch is not one of them News Corp will have to make a big decision.
Mulcaire’s hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone made it completely untenable to keep paying his legal bills. All suggestions of humility and contrition would be out the door and that would threaten the BSkyB licence.
The obvious way around this is to give Hinton and Brooks monster payouts and then turn a blind eye to what would be their decision to pay the legal bills of Mulcaire and the so-called gang of six on the News of The World who handled and paid Mulcaire.
Rupert Murdoch cited confidentiality at Tuesday’s parliamentary hearings when refusing to discuss Hinton’s payout after 52 years of service, but did confirm it would be big. The UK politicians, prosecutors, police and media will eventually force disclosure of all financial arrangements between News Corp, those charged and those involved in the cover-up.
The treatment of Hinton, who clearly faces the risk of going to jail given his involvement in the cover-up, will be closely watched by all those long-serving male lieutenants in the Australian newspaper business who give and expect back blind loyalty to the Murdoch family.
People like Chris Mitchell, Peter Blunden, Piers Akerman, Mark Day, John Hartigan. Terry McCrann, Paul Whittaker, Andrew Bolt and Col Allan over in New York. Columnist Miranda Devine is probably in the same category given her father’s devotion to Rupert over the years, even though Rupert publicly described Frank as “one of my mistakes” during the firestorm surrounding the 2007 Dow Jones takeover.
What these people say publicly, including through newspaper editorials, will be fascinating to watch. McCrann and Devine were today quite petty in their columns, focusing on counter-attack and sustaining the assault on Julia Gillard.
The much smarter play, as David Salter pointed out in Crikey on Tuesday, would be a period of editorial neutrality in coverage of both Australian politics and the Murdoch crisis.
Mark Day produced an excellent and reasonably balanced feature on the Murdoch scandals for The Australian today which declared his own conflicts and affections but still called the play quite factually. But there was this:
“As to the question of where responsibility rests, I found myself confused by Murdoch’s responses. He praised Les Hinton … saying he would ‘trust him with my life’.
“Yet he says he has been let down by people he trusted, which seems to make Hinton the fall guy for the whole affair.”
Day worked with Hinton for Rupert on the Adelaide News in the 1960s. He appears annoyed that his great mate has been treated so badly and has baldly criticised Rupert.
It poses the interesting question: is the time coming when an editorial appears in a News Corporation paper that calls for Rupert to resign?