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Think Again: The Murdoch Empire's Heart of Darkness

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Back in April I wrote in The Nation that, journalistically speaking, Rupert Murdoch was "an enabler and purveyor of lies, hatred and criminal activity in the service of his ideological, financial and personal interests. A man like this deserves to be shunned, à la Bernie Madoff or Mel Gibson. That he is celebrated as some sort of hero by people who need not worry about their reputations tells you almost all you need to know about the insanity that grips our benighted political culture."

I tried to make the same point upon receiving this year's Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary at the Plaza Hotel last month where I argued that to treat Fox News (and other Murdoch properties) as simple, legitimate news organizations was to invite the pollution they introduced into the media ecosystem.

Of course I knew, like most people who follow Murdoch closely, that his properties in the United Kingdom were part of a phone-tapping scandal. The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on September 1, 2010, that turned out to be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and Nick Davies of The Guardian has been covering the story relentlessly -- almost a feat that puts him in a historical category with the likes of Woodward and Bernstein in their lonely quest to discover the truth about the criminal operations emanating from Richard Nixon's White House.

But like almost everyone on the planet who was themselves not directly involved with the wiretapping, blackmailing, obstruction of justice, and corruption of both law enforcement and the political process in which Murdoch employees and acolytes so regularly engaged, I never imagined just how black the heart of this operation was. Read through the coverage in The New York Times, which has been quite good; The Guardian, which has led the pack and kept this story alive; or The Columbia Journalism Review, which has done a nice job collating it all. Pick any aspect of the scandal you like: the hacking of the missing child's phone and the false hope given when the messages were deleted or the hacking of the phones of 9/11 victims.

Our collective jaw has dropped any number of times. Personally, mine dropped the lowest when I read that Nick Davies and David Leigh of The Guardian reported that both The Sunday Times of London and The Sun "repeatedly targeted the former prime minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voice mail and obtaining information from his bank account, his legal file as well as his family's medical records. There is also evidence that a private investigator used a serving police officer to trawl the police national computer for information about him."

The Guardian reporters also found that in 2006, before The Sun broke the news, Brown's infant child, Fraser, had been struck by cystic fibrosis. A former employee of Brown's told Britain's Channel 4 News that Brown and his wife had been "contacted by Rebekah Brooks [editor of The Sun at the time and now News International chief executive] who told the Browns that they [The Sun] had information that Fraser has cystic fibrosis, which was a matter that they were just getting their heads around at the time and kind of dealing with. And you've got to remember that this was just after they'd suffered a bereavement with (their daughter) Jennifer. They didn't know how Rebekah came across this information, and now what's come to light it was obtained by what appear to be illegal methods."

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