09/06/2010 11:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Did Rupert Murdoch (and Son James) Know, and When Did They Know It?

Don Van Natta Jr., the lead reporter on the New York Times' Sunday Magazine story about the phone hacking scandal that's engulfed some of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers in London, is a Times enforcer. When Judy Miller, the Times reporter, became a central player in the Valerie Plame scandal and her reporting in the Times about weapons of mass destruction came under question, the Times gave Van Natta the tricky assignment of covering the Times' own role in the mess (and distancing it from Miller).

Van Natta is a Times insider, loyalist, and gun, in ways similar to various Murdoch reporters who do Murdoch's bidding, like Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World, and now Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief, or Steve Dunleavy, who, in the mid-1980s, investigated Warner's chief Steve Ross during Murdoch's efforts to take over the company. All newspapers have their hatchet guys.

The Times is now locked in a ferocious battle with Murdoch. He's trying to use the Wall Street Journal to undermine the Times--to lessen it as a competitor or, even, weaken it so much that he can buy it.

The Times is striking back--though a little oddly (the Times can be brutal, but it likes to pretend it is much less brutal than it can be). Instead of using the paper to make its attack, it's using the magazine--this is a clear choice for the Times. The pretense here is to try to make its attack on Murdoch less like a direct newsroom decision (although, likely, the cost of a three-man team in London did not come out of the magazine's budget)--less like news, and more like a gee-wiz-keen story.

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