The $1.8 million grant George Soros gave to NPR was for local reporters in every state capital. But that doesn't mean NPR isn't also beginning to look like a Soros-pleaser on the national scene. Once again on Monday, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik went after Rupert Murdoch, and a voice-mail-hacking scandal at his U.K. tabloid News of the World. In England, the socialist newspaper The Guardian has been all over this story of disreputable media conduct, but The New York Times also filed a story on April 8.
Folkenflik found dramatic former Murdoch employees, like Andrew Neil, who made Watergate analogies. Folkenflik insisted the damage to Murdoch may not be contained, and then quoted Neil: "Who knew - the old Watergate question - who knew and when did you know it?" It began like this:
ROBERT SIEGEL: One of Britain's most popular newspapers has admitted that it hacked into the private voicemails of celebrities and politicians. NPR's David Folkenflik reports that the story underscores close ties between the authorities and Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Four years ago, a reporter and private investigator for the Sunday tabloid News of the World were prosecuted and sent to jail for hacking into the voicemail messages of Princes William and Harry. Former top editor Andrew Coulson told a parliamentary inquiry two years ago he had resigned to take responsibility for something he had no knowledge of.
ANDREW COULSON (Former Editor, News of the World): During that time, I never condone the use of phone hacking, and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place. My instructions for the staff were clear: We do not use subterfuge of any kind unless there was a clear public interest in doing so.
FOLKENFLIK: But that last part no longer appears to be true. Coulson went on to be communications director for the conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. But earlier this year, the scandal flared again. In January, it became clear celebrities and government officials had also been hacked and Coulson was forced to resign once again from his senior job in the government.
Wouldn't the average listener conclude that NPR was saying Coulson was culpable in the scandal? But that's not what the New York Times implied:
In January, News of the World dismissed its assistant editor for news, Ian Edmondson, after court papers showed that the name "Ian" had been written in the phone-hacking notes of Mr. Mulcaire, the formerly jailed investigator. Soon after, Andy Coulson, who was editor of News of the World during the period that the hacking is said to have occurred, resigned from his new job, as Prime Minister David Cameron’s chief spokesman, saying that the case was proving too much of a distraction.
He has not been directly linked to any wrongdoing.
But Folkenflik was eager to push a Murdoch conspiracy theory:
FOLKENFLIK: Many critics are now asking why the pattern of illegal hacking was not more aggressively investigated by the police at the time. The Metropolitan Police Force has been accused of being too cozy with the News of the World. In 2003, the then editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, was asked about the relationship by a parliamentary panel.
Unidentified Man: It's just the one element of whether you ever paid the police for information.
Ms. REBEKAH BROOKS (Former Editor, News of the World): We have paid the police for information in the past.
FOLKENFLIK: Brooks is now chief executive of News International. Today, she issued a statement clarifying her testimony, saying she was referring to the press in general not her own newsroom. The deputy police commissioner who headed the initial phone hacking inquiry, he now writes a column for the Times of London. Roy Greenslade worked for Murdoch several times as a newspaper editor.
Mr. ROY GREENSLADE (Former Editor, The Daily Mirror): Now, the view genuinely is that this showed that the police were either incompetent or, more worryingly, that there was a semi-conspiracy, that they were too close to the News of the World, and therefore didn't want to investigate further.
FOLKENFLIK: News International has forged equally intense ties to the political establishment. Past Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown courted Murdoch and won his papers' endorsements. Recent reports suggest that senior government officials under Brown feared what the Murdoch papers might write in the coming election season. Murdoch's papers ended up backing their opponent, David Cameron. Again, Roy Greenslade.
Mr. GREENSLADE: The whole episode illustrates the enormous power that Rupert Murdoch wields, in which politicians feel betokened to him for his support.
Folkenflik didn't explain that Greenslade's worked a lot longer for that socialist newspaper The Guardian -- where he presently has a blog on media.
Not being investigated by NPR: close ties between international financier George Soros and NPR -- not to mention NPR's intense ties to the Obama political establishment.
So had NPR always been tough on phone hacking? Not exactly. Remember the two Democrats that hacked a John Boehner phone call back during Newt Gingrich's ethical scrapes in the 1990s? They gave the hacked phone call to ultraliberal Rep. Jim McDermott and it was leaked to The New York Times. Boehner sued McDermott for leaking an illegally recorded private phone call.
On March 11, 1998, NPR reporter Brian Naylor suggested the brutal bully in the story -- the one whose conduct reminded them of historic beatings -- was John Boehner.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Lawyers on both sides agree Boehner's lawsuit against McDermott is apparently without precedent. But history is full of lawmakers settling political disputes outside the bounds of proper parliamentary procedure. The House has seen more than its share of fisticuffs and even duels to settle political scores. The most infamous, according to Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker, occurred in 1856, when Senator Charles Sumner was beaten over the head with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.
ROSS BAKER, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: Sumner had recently delivered himself of a speech called "The Crime Against Kansas" that offended his colleague Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina. Butler was a very old man and couldn't retaliate against Sumner personally, so he called on his younger relative Preston Brooks to do the deed.
NAYLOR: The attack, in the tumultuous years preceding the Civil War, was so popular in the South that Brooks received dozens of new canes in the mail to replace the one he had broken on Sumner's head. All of which makes Boehner's lawsuit against McDermott seem tame by comparison. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
Boehner's lawsuit was so tame by comparison that the comparison was ridiculous. On March 31, 2008, Chief Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for D.C. ordered McDermott to pay $1.05 million to Boehner, covering attorney's fees, costs and interest. Perhaps Folkenflik can ask Naylor why he doesn't share his outrage at phone hacking. Or is all just another political day at the office at NPR?