Phone-hacking: the US reaction

How the papers in America have reacted to the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's News International.

New York Times

This newspaper carried out a lengthy investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World in September 2010. Today, Don Van Natta Jr and Ravi Somaiya allege that police officers had their phones hacked. These claims are particularly interesting on the day that police officers face a committee of MPs:

Shortly after Scotland Yard began its initial criminal inquiry of phone hacking by The News of the World in 2006, five senior police investigators discovered that their own cellphone messages had been targeted by the tabloid and had most likely been listened to.

The disclosure, based on interviews with current and former officials, raises the question of whether senior investigators feared that if they aggressively investigated, the News of the World would punish them with splashy articles about their private lives. Some of their secrets, tabloid-ready, eventually emerged in other news outlets.

Washington Post

Erik Wemple derides claims that the scandal will cause Murdoch's empire to crumble. Discussing News Corporation's annual report, he says:

One lesson from the report: Britain cannot threaten News Corp. It can harrumph; it can preach; it can launch "inquiries"; but it is too much of a little rancho to puncture News Corp...

As Murdoch himself boasts, 2010 was a good year for News Corp. Among the few dark corners of the document is this: "For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, the U.K. newspapers' revenues decreased 2% as compared to fiscal 2009, primarily due to lower circulation revenues..."

So here's a scenario: The British public outcry about News of the World, the Sun and the Times forces the company to bail on those properties all together. Good! News Corp. dumps money-losing/marginally profitable newspapers. At the same time, it retains its state-of-the-art British presses, printing the titles of any outfit that wants to distribute newsprint.

Boston Globe

Cassandra Vinograd speculates about the possible fall out of these UK-based allegations on Murdoch's US operations:

Legal analysts said yesterday it is possible Murdoch's US companies might face legal actions because of the shady practices at the News of the World. In the United States, Murdoch owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, among other holdings.

They said Murdoch's News Corp. might be liable to criminal prosecution under the 1977 Corrupt Foreign Practices Act, a broad act designed to prosecute executives who bribe foreign officials in exchange for large contracts.

Los Angeles Times

Joe Flint wonders whether the same practices took place in the US:

So far, the fallout from the News of the World debacle has been mostly limited to Britain. However, as the coverage continues to intensify around the globe, it is giving new ammunition to critics of Murdoch and News Corp. in the United States.

"It is becoming increasingly clear this scandal was not perpetrated by a few rogue reporters, but was systematically orchestrated at the highest levels of News Corp.," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has called for a congressional investigation of News Corp. "If Mr. Murdoch's employees can be so brazen as to target the British prime minister, then it is not unreasonable to believe they also might hack into the voice mails of American politicians and citizens."

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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