The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Phone hacking in America? English reporter comes to U.S.

August 2, 2011 |  8:10 pm

GuardianRusbridger As I report in my On the Media column, the reporter who broke the story over phone hacking and corruption in the British tabloid press is coming to L.A. this week to “see whether there is a U.S. end to this story.”

Based on his email conversations with me, it’s hard to tell whether Nick Davies of the Guardian has a specific angle, or is just taking a broad look at how British tabloids and others operate in America.

Most journalists, both over the pond and here, believe that if the “dark arts” are being employed in the U.S., they are not  nearly as endemic as they appear to be in Britain.

Davies' editor, Alan Rusbridger, said he thinks trouble in the press there might be linked to the ascension of editors who began their careers covering celebrities. The editors had an anything-goes attitude, Rusbridger said, a sensibility they carried into hard news coverage when they became the top editors at their outlets.

Among those with showbiz coverage roots who went on to run British newsrooms were Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who later became chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, and Piers Morgan, onetime editor of the Daily Mirror and now a host on America’s CNN. Though implicated by a former Mirror reporter as having knowledge of phone hacking, Morgan has vehemently denied it.

Roy Greenslade, the Guardian’s media columnist, said he has been directly told of an agreement among British press executives to not report negatively on each other. That common interest could have been magnified, in recent months, by the realization that many of the papers might have a common problem with phone hacking. Any investigation might cascade from one newspaper to the next.

News International, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., went to some lengths to kill the hacking story. Greenslade said in an interview that he got a small personal taste of the campaign. One of News International's senior executives took him to dinner last year and, after dispensing with some niceties, began to argue that "there was nothing to the allegations and why couldn’t I bring some sense to bear at the Guardian.”

Greenslade didn’t do anything of the sort. The Guardian never slowed its reporting. And the scandal has caught up a good hunk of Britain’s press, police and political class.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger gives evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in the House of Commons in 2009. Much of the English press ignored the testimony, as the Guardian fought a lonely battle to expose illegal phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. Credit: Press Association / AP Images