Will Murdoch tapes see Rupert behind bars?

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After the release last week of the Murdoch tapes, former News Corp executive Rodney E. Lever says British police now look much more likely to bring Australia's monopolist American media owner to justice.

(Image courtesy
Chairman Rupert Murdoch (Image courtesy

AFTER LAST WEEK'S secret audio leaks that swamped the world’s media, it seems very likely that the massive British police investigation known as Operation Weeting is determined to bring the media magnate Rupert Murdoch to justice.

[Read Rodney E. Lever's eye-opening report from last week — 'The man who is Murdoch'.]

Operation Weeting began on January 26, 2011, under Scotland Yard’s Special Crime Directorate, and employed some 200 police officers and about 100 public service and legal experts. Their prime task has been to untangle the trail of illegal activities alleged against the former News International — now renamed News UK.

It is an enormous and expensive operation to track down a few errant journalists. Perhaps evidence collected over the past two years is leading somewhere else.

There are elements in the case that suggest the British police are hoping to turn the already charged staff members of News UK into witnesses who will help to convict the mastermind − or masterminds − of the outrage caused by certain newspapers.

Techniques adopted by the United States FBI and the U.S. Federal justice system in last century’s war on mafia power saw the jailing of notorious crime bosses and hit men like Al Capone and John Gotti, and the mass murderer Charles Manson, and the Watergate exposure of Richard Nixon — remember John Dean?

In each case these national figures were convicted by the use of a legal strategy called State’s Evidence.

The United States actually borrowed the strategy from the British where, for many centuries, Queen’s Evidence or King’s Evidence (depending on the monarch of the time) offered inducements for criminals to offer information in exchange for reduced sentences or total immunity from prosecution.

The opportunity to use this practice still exists. It can still be used where covert criminal activities can be brought out into the light of day, if those who are innocent of only doing their job are courageous enough to co-operate fully with investigators.

When a bunch of newspaper reporters in Britain turned up for a pre-arranged conference with Rupert Murdoch earlier this month, several of them were secretly armed with one of their own tools of trade — digital voice recorders.

Just days later, the conversations would flood the world and create new headlines.

In a meeting that lasted only three-quarters of an hour, Murdoch virtually convicted himself. He was heard thumping the table, raging against police and judges and such enemies as politicians and peers of the realm.

“We were being picked on,” he said. “I think it was the old right-wing establishment, the Labor left-wing get-even crowd of Gordon Brown. We got caught with dirty hands. Everyone was against us, the police and the judges and the juries.”

How many at that meeting contrasted his fury with  his meek appearances at the parliamentary inquiry — the “most humble day of my life”.

Then came the Leveson Inquiry, where he had a great opportunity to rage and rant in front of a world audience, but presented himself as an innocent victim of wily politicians.

I wonder how many of the journalists in that London board room listening to this diatribe, thought of the right-wing government of Margaret Thatcher who led the nation into the pointless and wasteful Falklands War and the left-wing government of Tony Blair who led Britain into the disastrous Iraq war — still raging internally ten years later.

How many of those listening to him remembered that it was Rupert Murdoch who handed government to both Thatcher and Blair − and supported George W Bush − according to his whims and needs of the moment and urged them all along in two murderous and economically reckless wars?

How many of those sitting in the room wondered if Murdoch wanted a country with no laws, no judges, no policemen and no politicians? A country just run by newspapers.

It is not in the least fanciful to wonder if Queen’s Evidence is to be brought into this case.

The most difficult issue raised by the journalists at the three-quarter hour meeting early in July was the action of what became known as the Management and Standards Committee (MSC), acting on the advice of a very shrewd American lawyer, named Joel Klein.

On his advice, Murdoch decided to have his senior staff collect every bit of information the company had − including emptying the desks of all his employees − and hand everything over to Operation Weeting.

This had the effect of compromising the journalists, invading their privacy, revealing all their sources. It was strictly supervised by News UK’s lawyers, a firm called Linklaters — there to look after the company’s interests, not those of its staff.

Examination of every detail in this hoard of information led to a police invasion of the private homes of the journalists before dawn and without any notice. Teams of officers turned up in a dozen cars, upsetting innocent wives and children, searching under beds and floorboards for any shred of possible evidence, while the neighbours looked on and wondered what was happening

The journalists were angry. The company had betrayed them. At their meeting, they challenged Murdoch. He could say nothing more than that it was a mistake. He spoke as if he was more sorry for himself than the victims of the actions.

A former managing editor spoke for the group:

“Until their arrests every person in this room was a loyal, hard-working employee, devoted to you personally and proud to work here.”

Murdoch could only reply with weasel words:

“We made mistakes. You have my sympathy. You have my total support. I guarantee that will continue. Even if you get six months or whatever...” 

Anyone who has studied Rupert Murdoch’s career would be aware that promises and guarantees are worth nothing to this man. Ask Harold Evans. Read: Good Times, Bad Times. Even a written guarantee means nothing. He will always find a way to wriggle out of it.

The only advice I could give to those facing prosecution when the trials begin in September is to get your own lawyer. To use company lawyers is nothing short of suicide.

Ask your own lawyer about Queen’s Evidence.

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