As London and the rest of the media world gets back to business on Monday, the phone hacking scandal that has enveloped News Corp. the past week shows no signs of letting up.
News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch made a public show of support for his embattled lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks, appearing arm-in-arm with her outside his home in London Sunday, the same day the last issue of the News of the World rolled off the presses.
The 80-year-old mogul also called Brooks, a central figure in the escalating scandal, his No. 1 priority, even as speculation about damage to his empire grows.
That speculation is constant and wide-ranging.
Writing in Newsweek, Carl Bernstein suggested that the illegal activity was known and condoned at the very top of the company.
In Ad Age, Simon Dumenco suggested that more advertisers may defect and the scandal will push Rupert out of the company leadership, to a titular position.
"If even just a few more bail, the risk of a domino effect is real,” he wrote. “Clearly it is not just News of the World that was radioactive. What we're seeing is a popular referendum on News Corp. corporate-journalistic ethics overall.”
If there is one thing the News of the World often got right in its morally bankrupt phone hacking, it is the facts. It is difficult to err when one has hard evidence – albeit illegally and dishonestly attained.
If there is one thing the media has lived off of since James Murdoch announced the shuttering of the World, it is conjecture. That is a bit easier to screw up, though time will tell who got what right.
In its final edition, the News of the World offered a "sad but proud" farewell to its readers, after 168 years in print. Several of the most prominent stories made the case that the paper "is a force for good," as one article insisted, pointing to good-works projects for charity, soldiers and children.
There was no mea culpa in the final edition, and no reference to the alleged crimes that got the paper shut down.
There is no question that this scandal will continue. Nor is there much doubt that more shocking details remain concealed. Whether they are revealed, how that comes about and, most importantly, what they consist of, is still anyone’s guess.
Media from both sides of the pond have begun to speculate about serious fallout – ranging from a halt to News Corp.’s planned BSkyB purchase to Murdoch ceding power to his son James.
James is the one who apparently argued for the abrupt closure of the World, a tabloid his father bought in 1969 as his first property outside Australia.
James is also the one who was in charge of News International, which oversaw the World. As a result, many publications have questioned whether James will face criminal charges, or whether his seemingly assured ascent to the top of the News Corp. empire will continue uninterrupted.
It is also far from clear how much the Murdoch family will ultimately be able to protect Brooks, who was editor of the World when some of the phone hacking of celebrities, politicians, and British civilians occurred. According to the Telegraph, Brooks, now chief executive of News International, has volunteered to talk with Scotland Yard about misconduct under her watch.
She edited the paper from 2000 to 2003 and the man that followed her, Andy Coulson, has since been arrested and released on bail.
Les Hinton may be the next News Corp. executive to find himself in the Yard’s crosshairs. He headed News International while most of the hacking occurred and also conducted an internal investigation that has proven to be a sham.
The Guardian has reported that Hinton may have ignored evidence of rampant phone hacking, and then lied to Parliament by saying that it was limited to one reporter.
Hinton, now CEO of News Corp.’s Dow Jones & Co., is one of Murdoch’s closest advisers.
Once one traces the scandal the Hinton, one might as well connect it to Murdoch. The problem is that the facts do not stretch that far. Note how many times the word “may” can be used in this scandal — or any scandal that involves such extensive duplicity.
It is hard to believe that editors such as Coulson and Brooks had no idea as it was happening. It is just as hard to believe that Hinton and the Murdochs do not know the truth now (if not then).
Still, as this story continues to move from a marathon to a sprint, most publications are using scant information to make broader assumptions.
In this 24-hour a day, seven days a week news cycle, the excellent reporting done by a select few is being stretched and pulled in as many directions as possible. The mere news of Rupert’s presence in England led to endless stories about his meeting with Brooks, even though no one knew what happened inside.
What will happen next?
The public may find out more truths this week, but there will undoubtedly be much more speculation before we learn what they are.