U.S. phone-hacking fallout looking more unlikely

Joe Pompeo
August 15, 2011

Speculation that England's phone-hacking scandal, which has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for nearly two months, may cross the Atlantic appears to be receding.

The Wall Street Journal (which is owned by News Corp.) reports:

British police investigating the sweeping phone-hacking scandal at the company's now-closed News of the World tabloid have told the Federal Bureau of Investigation there are no names or telephone numbers of Sept. 11 victims among the evidence they have gathered to date, according to people familiar with the case.

London's Metropolitan Police Service, known as Scotland Yard, has examined voluminous phone records of what could be thousands of potential phone-hacking victims, but those records don't suggest 9/11 victims were among the targets of the hacking, according to the people familiar with the case. A Scotland Yard spokesman declined to comment.

The New York Police Department also has told the FBI it has no indication such attempted violations occurred, and the FBI's own crime-victims assistance office has said the same.

The 9/11 claim has so far only surfaced in a thinly sourced report in the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid not owned by News Corp. It nevertheless gained traction in the U.S. media on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic terrorist attacks of 2001.

Meanwhile, there's little to suggest a firm basis for another theory of stateside hacking intrigue in Murdoch properties. Contrary to much breathless speculation, the practice phone-hacking does not appear to have extended to News Corp's American tabloid, the New York Post.

Most recently, Forbes' Jeff Bercovici writes Monday:

I've spoken with several reporters who worked for the Post's gossip section, Page Six. If hacking had taken place on a regular basis anywhere at the Post, that's where it would have been. But the reporters I spoke to all insisted, convincingly, that it never did, for multiple reasons. For one thing, mobile phone security is and has been somewhat better in the U.S. than it was in the U.K. at the time most of the hacking took place. The money-losing Post also doesn't have a budget to employ private investigators — the ones who actually did the dirty work of hacking — the way the profitable News of the World did.

Nick Davies, the U.K. Guardian reporter who broke the sensational news that reporters with Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World tabloid allegedly accessed the voicemails of a murdered 13-year-old, was recently in the United States "looking at the hacking story here," as he told The Cutline last week. (Davies also revealed that he is considering joining the Guardian's soon-to-launch U.S. operation.) If Davies managed to dig up any bombshells while touring in New York and Los Angeles, he has yet to publish them.

Murdoch, meanwhile, reiterated his position on a conference call last week with Wall Street analysts and the press, saying phone-hacking only occurred within a "small corner" of his global media empire.

"I'm thoroughly determined to put things right when it comes to News of the World," he said. "We will continue to do whatever is necessary to prevent something like this from ever happening again. There can be no doubt about our commitment to ethics and integrity."