Thoughts on the Murdoch scandal

News Corp. tells Britian, "We are sorry."

Newspapers are opened to show the advertisement apology for News International Saturday. News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch signed the ad entitled "We are sorry", which appeared in British national newspapers Saturday. The News International publication News of the World is accused of hacking into the mobile phones of various crime victims, celebrities and politicians. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

As the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is now engulfing more and more of the daily news coverage, I offer these thoughts.

First, this has made the nightly BBC News report on SD Public TV absolutely riveting – not a description I would have chosen before

More importantly, I’m thinking about this whole mess from the perspective of a person who used to sit inside a newsroom. My job was to gather information and craft that information into stories somebody might give a hoot about. (My success rate varied, of course.)

Never, ever in the course of my reporting duties have I ever thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to get so-and-so’s voicemail messages.” So it’s difficult for me to empathize with the culture that we are being told has grown up around British tabloid media.

Beyond that, though, let’s think about how a rank-and-file reporter might hack into someone’s voicemail. Thinking, thinking. … No, I wouldn’t know where to begin other than some kind of lightning-strike odds of obtaining someone’s phone number and voicemail password. (Even then I’d fumble a bit, as I rely heavily on Verizon’s direct voicemail connection from my Droid in my daily life.)

Murdoch & his top execs blamed all this on a “rogue reporter” a few years back when phone-hacking allegations bubbled up beyond a dull roar. At that time, the cops, British press regulators (yeah, they have those) and Murdoch & Co. all said there was nothing to the charges. Only The Guardian newspaper decided to keep digging, bless their hearts.

Here’s the thing: Phone hacking on such a scale as Murdoch & Co. are now admitting to could not be undertaken by one or two or even three newsroom employees sneaking about (even if they had a level of technical expertise more sophisticated than my own). It would require hiring some folks with the technical knowledge to set up a system to run automated attempts to get into voicemail accounts. That, in turn, would require the dedication of company equipment to the effort.

That all translates into money, and that translates into a management decision. Somebody with some authority signed off on this plan and probably orchstrated it from the beginning.

Add to that the charges of bribing the cops for access to databases and other information, and you’ve got even more money moving about.

Now you’ve got the leadership quandry: Either the top leaders knew about this and condoned it, making them guilty of a whole host of crimes & misdemeanors. Or they didn’t know about it, making them incompetent.

That old bit of advice “Follow the money” holds true once again. And, as usual, it looks like that trail will go all the way to the top.