Bernstein, Carl, Newsweek
Byline: Carl Bernstein
Parliament's remarkable three-hour hearing on July 19, focusing on the role of Rupert Murdoch and top News International executives in the immense phone-hacking scandal, proved an epic Westminster moment. It's now possible to see with historic clarity how a cunning press lord and a gang of enabling thugs, under a cloak of journalistic high-mindedness, managed to capture and control the three essential institutions of contemporary British life: the political system, the media, and the police. A transfixed audience of millions learned how a bullying owner of old-fashioned printing presses and satellite-television networks could break Britain's civic compact. It was absolutely riveting--and deeply depressing.
Murdoch is a figure of stature, whose acumen, appetite, and fulfillment of grandiose ambition place him far above the Lilliputian pols and coppers he bought with such apparent ease. But seated before the M.P.s, fumbling and forgetting, Murdoch seemed to sense that he was being hoisted on his own petard. There were moments in the -hearing when he looked caught in the headlights of the merciless vehicle he helped to invent and worked to empower. He was a paparazzi-pursued old buck past his prime, hounded by a horde of hacks he inspired, reduced to mumbling "I wish they'd leave me alone" to the politicians who once courted his approval and pleaded for the endorsement of his newspapers.
That he--or the institutions he bought and nurtured--would eventually overreach and run afoul of the law was probably inevitable. He had taken a gutter-tabloid press and sent it drilling ever deeper into an abyss, establishing in his tabloid newsrooms a reckless disregard for the essential elements of good journalism: fairness, concern for context, and a commitment to the best obtainable version of the truth.
It is thus fitting, and predictable, that the scandal was brought to light by elements of what remain of genuine journalism in Britain. Nick Davies of The Guardian doggedly pursued the story for five long years, along with decisive help from The New York Times in 2010. …