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EXCLUSIVE: It’s “Inconceivable” That Fox News Titan Didn’t Know About Phone Hacking, Says Murdoch Biographer

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EXCLUSIVE: It’s “Inconceivable” That Fox News Titan Didn’t Know About Phone Hacking, Says Murdoch Biographer

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How much did Rupert Murdoch know about the phone hacking felonies committed by reporters at the News of the World, his suddenly defunct British tabloid–and when did he know it?

Today Michael Wolff, the journalist and author of “The Man Who Owns the News,” a definitive biography of the international media mogul, told The National Memo that the hacking affair is a “structural scandal because I do think it implicates the executives at the highest levels” of News Corporation–including Murdoch himself.

“It’s almost inconceivable that he was not knowledgeable about this [conduct],” said Wolff. “Let’s remember a couple of key things about when this was going on…Certainly nobody was thinking that this was grotesquely illegal. This is tabloid journalism, you’re always stepping on the line here. There’s a culture that respects this [hacking]. Rupert respects this. There would be no reason to conceal this from him. This is the way to get into Rupert’s favor–you bring this to him, you bring gossip to him.”

Wolff said that at this point, he has “no reason” to believe that other Murdoch publications and broadcasting operations are implicated in phone hacking. But he said that the Murdochs are “scared out of their heads” by what is happening to them and their company–and that Murdoch’s son and heir James is “as germane to this discussion as anyone.” It is worth recalling, he noted, that “in the early days of this scandal, when they tried to hush up the people who had been hacked and were threatening to sue and take depositions and break this thing open, James signed very large checks, a million pounds, checks so large that you wouldn’t sign them if you weren’t buying something.”

“He’ll fire Rebekah Brooks first and then Les will go, and they will be taken care of in a way that we will never hear from them. The more immediate problem is firing the 400 people at News of the World, who will talk–suddenly there are 400 sources on the street…The body that you’ve thrown, you have to throw more and more bodies…It further undermines credibility and begins to divide people against each other and you have a functional meltdown.

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Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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