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WSJ Ex-Editor on Scandal: News Corp. ‘Incompetent’ or ‘Complicit’ (Exclusive)

Bill Grueskin, former deputy managing editor, questions why the paper is not engaged in ”wrenching self-examination“


A former deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal told TheWrap that he found it hard to believe top-level News International players like chief executive Rebekah Brooks could claim no knowledge of News Corp.'s phone-hacking activities.

“It is inconceivable that a competent newsroom manager wouldn’t know about such tactics, assuming the allegations are true,” said Bill Grueskin, now dean of Academic Affairs at the Columbia Journalism School and formerly one of the deputy managing editors of the Journal. 

“That leaves two options: Brooks and her fellow editors were incompetent, or they were complicit and have been, well, less than candid," he added. 

Also read: News Corp. Scandal Crosses Atlantic: Les Hinton Under Scrutiny

While Grueskin did not go so far as to implicate Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones & Co. and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, he did note the murkiness regarding what Hinton did or did not know is exceptional.

“It’s simply inconceivable that any of the former Dow Jones managers would’ve been associated with, or complicit in, this type of conduct,” Grueskin said.

Hinton served as News International's chairman while most of the hacking was occurring, but the division between the editorial and business sides makes it harder to divine his role in or awareness of what transpired.

Shielding both Hinton and Brooks is News Corp.'s reluctance to investigate or punish its editors, something Grueskin said is unique in recent history.

He noted that each of the biggest recent scandals in U.S. print journalism, such as the plagiarism practiced by Jayson Blair at the New York Times, Janet Cooke's fabrications in the Washington Post and insider trading by Foster Winans at the Journal, “led to a wrenching self-examination by the newspapers, laid bare for readers to see.”

This is not the case with News Corp., he told TheWrap.

“There is evidence that systemic wrongdoing was financed and countenanced by high-level managers,” Grueskin said. “All of them, so far, have emerged unscathed. And there appears to be little appetite by any News Corp. entity to investigate this.”

As of Tuesday, the House of Commons' Culture Committee summoned News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, his son James and the World's former editor Brooks for questioning. News Corp. has said it will cooperate but had done little in the way of an internal investigation.

Grueskin was at the Journal from 1995-2008, and was deputy managing editor for the first seven months after the News Corp. takeover. He left just two months after the departure of Marcus Brauchli — then the managing editor of the Journal and now executive editor of the Washington Post.

With News Corp. in charge, the Journal has been run under the auspices of Dow Jones & Co.,  specifically Hinton.

Despite his criticisms over News Corp.'s handling of the scandal, Grueskin was quick to defend his old publication, noting that ethical standards had not fallen.