© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

For UK Phone-Hacking Case, An End In Acquittal And Conviction


We're going to turn now to the verdicts handed down today in a phone hacking case that's touched the heights of British media and politics. Rebekah Brooks, former editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, was cleared of conspiring to hack phones and other criminal charges. But jurors issued a guilty verdict for Andy Coulson, another former editor of the now defunct tabloid. Coulson was later the chief spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron. We're joined now by NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik, who's been covering the scandal to talk more. And, David, before we get to those verdicts, set the stage. What was going on at News of the World with the spying on celebrities and ordinary citizens?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, you got to go back three years. Think back to the summer of 2011 when these explosive exposes in The Guardian showed that not only had the celebrities, sports stars and politicians been subject of voicemail hacking of their cell phones but the crime victims as well. It turned out that a young girl who had been murdered, it turned out that victims of terror attacks and war dead - that their phones had been hacked. And the British public reacted in revulsion to this. And the political classes recoiled from the Murdoch tabloids from the very editors and executives that they desperately sought the approval of for so many years before.

CORNISH: Now why was there a stronger case against Andy Coulson than Rebekah Brooks?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Andrew Colson was the editor-in-chief of the News of the World, which was the best-selling Sunday newspaper in the U.K. at the time when a lot of these instances were alleged to have happened. His predecessor, Rebekah Brooks, went on to become editor of The Sun and CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper arm. And the evidence against her is just much more circumstantial. You had email evidence implicating Coulson much more directly. For her, she had an affair with Coulson off and on for eight years. Prosecutors' claim that you had to assume there were no secrets between them was not accepted by jurors at face value.

There's a difference, however, I'd argue, between sort of legal responsibility and the verdicts found by the jurors and the question of moral culpability. The culture in the newsroom was clearly one that Rebekah Brooks helped to shape and establishment and define. It was one set in the DNA of Rupert Murdoch in his buccaneering ways himself. And, you know, people in Britain see this as a kind of vindication for the Murdochs and for Rebekah Brooks. But also, you know, remaining black eye for the Murdoch empire there.

CORNISH: What about Prime Minister Cameron? I mean, his former communications director is now facing jail time. How does that affect him?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's really a black eye and he's looking ahead to elections next year. And it's a tough moment for him. Coulson had stepped down from News of the World after the first hacking trial about seven years ago. Here's what Cameron had to say today to the public.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology. And I do that today. I'm extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I'm very clear about that.

FOLKENFLIK: Cameron had always wanted Coulson as a conduit both to Rebekah Brooks, who was so powerful and so influential over those newspapers, and to the Murdochs themselves. And, you know, there was a bill that would come due when it came to hiring Andrew Coulson and that day was today.

CORNISH: And finally, the significance for the Murdoch media empire.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you've seen the Murdochs themselves retreat from the U.K. James Murdoch had to resign from a number of posts there over various Murdoch properties. They see today's verdict as a vindication that their critics had overreached and indeed it cauterizes the guilt legally to several rungs below James Murdoch. That said, you know, their former editor-in-chief of their top-selling Sunday tabloid found guilty - it's a tough blow for them. But given the damage that could have been, I think they feel decent about it. They split the company as a result of what happened into their broadcast and newspaper sides and, actually, they've gotten much wealthier as a result. Their stock prices are up significantly. So, you know, these are guys who even when they have hard fate stories end up benefiting from good luck, nonetheless.

CORNISH: That's NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much.


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.