In an article that instantly rattled the freewheeling British tabloid industry, The New York Times Magazine reports that the News of the World newspaper routinely hacked into the mobile phones of celebrities, politicians, and even members of the royal family. The Times investigation came four years after the News of the World, part of Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire, was swept up in a phone-hacking scandal that touched the top of British society. While the News of the World has admitted that one of its reporters used illegal phone-hacking services, it denies "absolutely" that the practice was widespread, or approved by top editors. But the Times says hacking was common in many British tabloid newsrooms. As a result of the article, a British lawmaker and former minister has called for a judicial inquiry into the News of the World's activities. Here's a rundown of key allegations:
1. The phones of Princes William and Harry were hacked in 2006
The Times says "hundreds of celebrities, government officials, [and] soccer stars" have been hacked—but the revelations started with Princes William and Harry. A rival tabloid, The Sun, caught Prince Harry visiting a strip club—headline: "Stripper Jiggled ... Prince Giggled." The News of the World played catch-up by printing, verbatim, a voice mail from Prince William, teasing Harry about the story. It was this 2006 story that led Scotland Yard to investigate the newspaper. Reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were arrested, tried, and imprisoned for the crime.
2. One journalist imprisoned, hundreds implicated
Although Goodman was the only journalist to answer for his crimes in court, the Times presents a picture of a "frantic, sometimes degrading" newsroom culture in which reporters "openly pursued hacking." A dozen former reporters tell the Times that hacking was "pervasive" at the paper. "Everyone knew," one former hacker said. "The office cat knew." But Bill Akass, News of the World managing editor, says the newspaper does everything it can to discourage unethical reporting tactics. He says the Times, by portraying the hacking by Goodman and Mulcaire as "part of a 'culture' of wrongdoing," is just trying to besmirch a rival media company.
3. A top aide to the prime minister may be responsible
After the Goodman trial, News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned from the paper, despite denying any knowledge of hacking. He moved into politics, running Conservative leader David Cameron's general election campaign and ending up as his head of communications after Cameron became prime minister. But the Times alleges that Coulson was present during conversations about phone hacking and "actively encouraged" reporters to do it.
4. Four years later, many wiretapped celebrities remain unaware
Scotland Yard, the British nickname for London's police force, in 2006 seized data from Mulcaire, the private investigator, that included 2,978 mobile phone numbers. Yet, in the four years since evidence of the wiretapping first emerged, only a "fraction" of the hundreds of people whose phones may have been tapped have been informed, says the Times. These include supermodel Elle Macpherson, politician George Galloway, and Max Clifford, Britain's most powerful publicity agent.
5. Scotland Yard's relationship with the NoTW may have affected the investigation
Several investigators say that Scotland Yard's reluctance to pursue a wider inquiry into the News of the World may be to do with its "close relationship" with the paper, according to the Times. The tabloid's reporters regularly publish "fawning stories of arrests" in exchange for exclusive access. Press officers allegedly attempted to dissuade investigators from digging too deeply—a charge Scotland Yard denies—and, for whatever reason, no editors or reporters from the News of the World were interviewed by investigators.
6. Now, Murdoch may be facing hundreds of lawsuits
A parliamentary committee is now committed to finding out exactly what the NoTW's editors and owners knew about phone-hacking at the paper. Lawyers are also seeking information from Scotland Yard on which celebrities might have had their voice mail tapped. This could lead to an avalanche of lawsuits against Murdoch's News Corporation, reports the Times. "Getting a letter from Scotland Yard that your phone has been hacked is rather like getting a Willy Wonka golden ticket," said Mark Lewis, a lawyer who won a six-figure settlement for a soccer association executive whose phone had been hacked. "Time to queue up at Murdoch Towers to get paid."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- 7 of the scariest spiders in existence
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Why isn't 'Arkansas' pronounced like 'Kansas'?
- 4 things NASA can teach you about a good night's sleep
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
- It's time for the police to rethink 'shoot-to-kill'
- Internet piracy isn't killing Hollywood
- Welcome to the age of ambivalent feminism
- This 1,600-year-old Viking war game is still awesome
Subscribe to the Week