News Corp rounds on New York Times and WikiLeaks as Murdochs face questions over phonehacking

July 20, 2011

A columnist at the Wall Street Journal has hit back at the New York Times for its critical coverage of its parent company News Corp, arguing that the damage caused by its publication of WikiLeaks’ documents "almost certainly exceeded" what was done by the News of the World.

The performance of James and Rupert Murdoch before the parliamentary committee yesterday will play out in the United States where allegations of payoffs to police could put News Corporation in violation laws prohibiting American firms bribing foreign officials. The US Justice Department is currently investigating.

There’s a blow by blow account here of the spat that began with a column by David Carr in Monday’s New York Times questioning the future of Rupert Murdoch and News Corps.

It continued yesterday with Bret Stephens comparing the publishing of Wikileaks to the News of the World in his column.

"Both, in short, are despicable instances of journalistic malpractice, for which some kind of price ought to be paid," he wrote.

Referring to the risks Zimbabwe’s prime minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai faced as a result of the release of diplomatic cables last year, Brett writes:

"Seen in this light, the damage caused by WikiLeaks almost certainly exceeded what was done by News of the World, precisely because Mr. Assange and his media enablers were targeting bigger -if often more vulnerable – game. The Obama administration went so far as to insist last year that WikiLeaks "[placed] at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals -from journalists to human rights activists to soldiers." Shouldn’t there be some accountability, or at least soul-searching, about this, too?"

Denying that his column was "shilling for Rupert Murdoch", Brett continues that he has "nothing but contempt for the hack journalism" of some of the Murdoch titles.

"But my contempt goes double for the self-appointed media paragons who saw little amiss with Mr. Assange and those who made common cause with him, and who now hypocritically talk about decency and standards. Their day of reckoning is yet to come."

Yesterday Rebekah Brooks sought to implicate The Guardian in widespread use of private detectives, claiming that the newspaper was top of a list published in 2006 (p11). In fact the daily newspaper was not on the list, although its sister paper The Observer, was ninth on the list below the News of the World, but above the Sun, with 103 transactions identified.

Our event next week looking at the phone hacking scandal, ethics and tabloid journalism is fully booked but you can watch it live here.