The latest twist in the phone-hacking scandal: the announcement by a judge heading the government inquiry that he'll conduct seminars on press ethics
Lord Justice Brian Leveson speaks at the inquiry into alleged phone hacking by the British media / Reuters
LONDON -- The phone-hacking scandal here encircling the Murdoch media empire has been marked by each day bringing a new revelation more startling than the day before. Today's blaring headline in the Guardian, which has been the leader in breaking phone hacking stories, was that the News of the World, which has been the leader in hacking into phones, may have hacked into the phone of a woman whose eight-year-old daughter was abducted and murdered by a pedophile in 2000.
Adding to the salacious and sordid nature of the story, the Guardian reported that the phone had been given to the grieving mother, Sara Payne, by Rebekah Brooks, the now-disgraced former editor of the News of the World. Brooks, who has steadfastly denied she ever had any knowledge of phone hacking during her stewardship, said in response to the latest revelation that it was "unthinkable" that Payne may have been targeted by anyone working for News of the World.
Brooks and Payne had formed a close personal friendship after the editor took up the crusade for a law to allow parents to acquire more information about convicted sex offenders living in their area. During that campaign, which was successful, Brooks said the phone was given to Payne by News of the World to make it easier for the paper's reporters to keep in touch with her.
However staggering the latest revelations might be, they are not what leave me shaking my head in disbelief as I follow this scandal. On the contrary, it is an announcement by the judge who has been named to head a government-appointed inquiry.
"The focus of the inquiry,"Justice Brian Leveson said at a news conference on Thursday, "is the culture, practices and ethics of the press in the context of the latter's relationship with the public, the police and politicians."
I have read and reread that sentence so many times that I can recite it rote. But I still can't come to grips with it. A government committee is going to look into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press? And further, the committee is going to examine journalists' relationship with politicians, the police, and the public?
As Justice Leveson elaborated about his investigation, I was more dumbfounded. He said that beginning in October, he will conduct seminars on the ethics of journalism, as well as on investigative reporting. He also reminded journalists that he could require them to provide the committee with their files, but said that at this point, "I would rather invite" journalists, editors and owners to do so.
Press seminars? Sounds like something more appropriate for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Probing investigative journalists, and "inviting" editors and owners to cooperate? Many a congressman might salivate at the notion of getting the files of Sy Hersh or Jane Mayer, or having Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. at the witness table. But American journalists go to jail before appearing even before a grand jury.
"It's unthinkable in America," said Jon Snow, the prominent anchor of Channel 4 News, said about the Leveson committee. "Absolutely."
Yet no one here seems troubled by this committee and its mandate. It's routine. Indeed, three prominent journalists are members of the committee, including David Bell, a former chairman of the Financial Times.
What explains the difference? The First Amendment, Snow says. Britain has no constitutional proscriptions on government regulation of the press.
An Official Secrets Act keeps British newspapers from publishing many classified government documents that would be published in the United States. British libel law allows public figures to keep newspapers from printing information that may tarnish their image. At the request of plaintiffs, who have included soccer stars and business executives, judges routinely issue "superinjunctions," which ban a newspaper from publishing even truthful information about an individual.
Then there is the cozy relationship between British journalists and British politicians, which has been the subject of considerable hand-wringing here in light of the phone hacking scandal.
"The truth is, we have all been in this together - the press, politicians and leaders of all parties - and yes, that includes me," Prime Minister David Cameron said a few weeks ago, in the early days of the scandal. "Because party leaders were so keen to win the support of newspapers we turned a blind eye to the need to sort this issue, get on top of the bad practices, to change the way our newspapers are regulated."
Rupert Murdoch was the most assiduously courted press baron, because he had the most power, his newspapers and television station reaching a substantial percentage of the British population. He was a virtual member of the cabinet of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Blair's top aides wrote in his memoir. He was one of the first guests received by Conservative Party leader David Cameron upon becoming prime minister -- entering through the back door as Mr. Murdoch, to some amusement, told a parliamentary committee hearing last week.
But we American journalists should be careful about becoming holier than thou on this matter of relationships with politicians. Our relationships may not be as open and brazen as in Britain, but they are potentially as damaging. Many a front-page story or scoop comes from a journalist's having formed a strong bond with a politician, or having curried favor by writing favorable stories--and withholding critical ones.
One final thought on the differences between American and British journalism. At American newspapers, there is a separation between editorial and news reporting. At no newspaper is that more evident than at the Wall Street Journal, where over the years, its editorial page has been staunchly conservative, while the reporting has been politically straight, often exposing government practices and programs that the editorial board commends.
At American newspapers, there is an editor for the editorial page, and a different person edits the news pages. At British papers, there is only one editor, for both.
This is not to say that American papers are better. But there is a difference between the approaches, the practices, the ethos, and the ethics. We will see more as the Leveson committee holds its "seminars."
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
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Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, and Ryan Zinke, the nominee for interior secretary, will testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Senate confirmation hearings continue this week, as Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches.
On Tuesday, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, the nominee for interior secretary, will testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. And the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hear from Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education.
We’ll bring you the latest updates from Capitol Hill as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
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In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
The Michigan billionaire’s confirmation hearing was heavy on partisanship and light on substance.
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While the Michigan billionaire has backed charter schools and vouchers, which let families use public money to pay for private schools, DeVos would not, she said, try to force states to embrace school choice. But a number of organizations, largely Democratic, that had raised questions about DeVos’s commitment to expanding charters and vouchers and about her family’s financial holdings and religious causes were unlikely to find much more of the hearing reassuring.
The president-elect has yet to name a secretary of agriculture, a delay that has caused controversy and illustrated the difficulties governing will pose.
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The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America. In the process, it has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests.
Already, the delay in picking an agriculture secretary has caused alarm. “The lack of quick and decisive action on picking a new Secretary of Agriculture by the Trump administration has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president,” columnist Gary Truitt wrote recently in Hoosier Ag Today. “While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee.”
Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?
Updated on Monday, January 16 at 4:05 p.m.
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With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”
The first lady attacks Donald Trump by measuring him against the principles and ideals he fails to uphold.
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Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.
In its fourth season the BBC show turned its main character into a superhero, and lost everything that made it special in the process.
This story contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock.
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