Andy Coulson knew all about phone hacking says New York Times

Andy Coulson might not be long for Number 10 if the allegations in The New York Times are true.

The paper reports allegations that David Cameron’s director of communications freely discussed the use of unlawful news-gathering techniques with staff while editor of the News of the World. It says he “actively encouraged” reporters to engage in the illegal hacking of voicemail messages. It is damning stuff. Question is will he go?

The story dates back to January 2007 when Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World after its royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, was jailed. Coulson has always said he had no knowledge of illegal activity when he ran the paper.

More than that he told a Commons select committee last year: “I have never had any involvement in it at all”.

The New York Times is publishing the full story in its Sunday magazine, but published a long trail on its website last night. If its allegation are true and its seems that likely they are then as a barefaced liar Coulson should be clearing his desk very soon.

“Interviews with more than a dozen former reporters and editors at News of the World present a different picture of the newsroom. They described a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors. Andy Coulson, the top editor at the time, had imposed a hypercompetitive ethos, even by tabloid standards. One former reporter called it a “do whatever it takes” mentality. The reporter was one of two people who said Coulson was present during discussions about phone hacking. Coulson ultimately resigned but denied any knowledge of hacking.”

The New York Times piece delves deeply into the shady tabloid world where phone hacking appears to have been widespread and unlikely to be confined to the News of the World. It quotes another former Sun reporter and a “onetime close friend of Coulson’s”, who details phone hacking conversations he had with him. At News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his pursuits and that Coulson “actively encouraged him to do it”.

The piece also goes on to focus just how important Coulson was to News Corporation and maybe hints at why he was protected by top executives like Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International who now heads Dow Jones. He told the parliamentary committee in September 2009 that:

“There was never any evidence delivered to me suggesting that the conduct of Clive Goodman spread beyond him.”

The Tories badly wanted the support of News Corp’s British papers and they got that. All three switched like a light and assailed Gordon Brown’s government with a barrage of negative stories, but in return it was reasonable to speculate that Murodch’s motives were not purely ideological.

Labour drew up a campaign document guessing at what Murdoch wanted in return should David Cameron win office. No surprises to guess that at the top of that list was weakening the BBC to help Sky dominate the broadcasting market as Murdoch does the newspaper market. As the NY Times detailed that’s pretty much what came to pass.

“On May 11, David Cameron officially assumed the position and elevated Coulson to the head of communications. Within the week, Rupert Murdoch arrived at 10 Downing Street for a private meeting with the new prime minister. Cameron’s administration criticized the BBC in July for “extraordinary and outrageous waste” during difficult financial times and proposed cutting its budget.”

Incredible in all of this is that Coulson was hired by Cameron only months after he resigned as editor. A savvy tabloid editor he might have been, but he was no Alistair Campbell – the former Mirror political editor hired by Tony Blair. He wasn’t hired for his PR skills, nor for his political nous. With a questionable track record though he was hired for some of his contacts, but those were with News Corp execs.

Ironically, at the time Michael White, assistant editor and former political editor at the Guardian, suggested that the appointment might backfire. I don’t think that was a car backfiring.

“I don’t know him, but I’m told he’s smart and personable, more relaxed than many editors. More to the point he’s a Murdoch protege, a high-flyer who knows the boss. That’s clearly part of the Cameroons’ calculations.

“There’s also the obvious problem, the one Labour will grab with both hands. Coulson left Fleet Street under a cloud over the royal phone-tapping affair. Did he know and was part of a cover-up? Was he in the dark and not in charge of his paper?” White said.

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  • Gary Bembridge

    Doing the right thing has to be important for all brands – no matter how big they are. As although the noise and drama may not be as big as when a celebrity or star “goes wrong” – the effects can be fatal.

    I think tit is too easy for brands and businesses to let doing the right thing slip, especially when things gets tough and they see others around them taking short cuts or pushing the boundaries of what is legitimate. But, as my mother used to say “the good guys always win in the end”. It is always important to focus on the high ground and the implications of what you are doing. We are see the consequences of the ruthless drive and demand to get prices down of products leading to more pressure on the suppliers – and more cases of workers being taken advantage of, terrible conditions – or animals being treated badly to drive down costs.

    We need to always think of consequences. What would we think and feel if we were an outsider looking on and saw the practices taking place? This is always a good way of having a sense check. The other is the “red face test”, how would you feel if you have to look your mother in the eye and tell her what you are doing……

  • Gary Bembridge

    Very thought provoking article, and thanks for the link to the book.

    Doing the right thing has to be important for all brands – no matter how big they are. As although the noise and drama may not be as big as when a celebrity or star “goes wrong” – the effects can be fatal.I think it is too easy for brands and businesses to let doing the right thing slip, especially when things gets tough and they see others around them taking short cuts or pushing the boundaries of what is legitimate. But, as my mother used to say “the good guys always win in the end”. It is always important to focus on the high ground and the implications of what you are doing. We are see the consequences of the ruthless drive and demand to get prices down of products leading to more pressure on the suppliers – and more cases of workers being taken advantage of, terrible conditions – or animals being treated badly to drive down costs.We need to always think of consequences. What would we think and feel if we were an outsider looking on and saw the practices taking place? This is always a good way of having a sense check. The other is the “red face test”, how would you feel if you have to look your mother in the eye and tell her what you are doing……I have blogged about this area as well: 

    http://www.garybembridge.com/2008/02/why-always-doing-right-thing-is-not.html

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