As journalistic crimes go, phone hacking gets all the attention, but one former News of the World reporter describes techniques that make listening to voicemails seem like nothing. Graham Johnson, a self-described "tabloid terrorist" who worked under Rebekah Brooks (pictured), talked to Vice magazine's Joshua Haddow to flog his new book, Hack: Sex, Drugs, and Scandal From Inside the Tabloid Jungle. In it, Johnson describes a culture of fear under Brooks's editorial reign that drove one News of the World worker to allegedly attempt suicide at the company Christmas party. Reporters were told to get the stories by any means necessary, including using these techniques:
- "Emotional Blackmail:" That's how Johnson describes his approach to soccer player Steve McManaman, whose mother was dying of cancer. Johnson describes "going to him and saying, 'Listen, we know that your mom's got cancer. You don't want to speak about it. We don't care about that, you tell us or we're gonna put it in the paper, anyway.' " Eventually Johnson made his way to McManaman's house to "covertly bully him" with his mother in the other room. When he finally met her, "I had to look her up and down and interrogate her."
- "Swarming:" A technique Johnson picked up from interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, swarming aims to "create a hurricane in someone's mind" by shouting and intimidation. "I know that if I turn up on your doorstep and I shout through the mailbox and kick your door in, am really intimidating, and keep it up for a long time, it's like being tortured," he told Haddow. "I know of another case where a News of the World reporter pretended to be—and this is a criminal offense—a cop, booted in someone's door, and staged a fake police raid."
- An ugly choice: Then there was the technique Johnson says he picked up from the CIA, where you make someone's life unbearable, then present yourself as an alternative:
What I used to do, this is another example of swarming, the CIA do this: there was a woman, she was a fraudster who pretended she had cancer in order to set up a charity to raise money for herself. Only she didn't really have cancer. We pulled the medical records, but she wouldn't admit it and you need a confession. So I paid a load of freelance photographers to swarm her, to bang on her door, hose her down with flashes, bang on her windows—to be really intrusive. Then I turn up and go, "Listen, you can either talk to me, or you can talk to this pack of disgraceful, unruly press photographers. I'm the good guy, these are bad guys. What you gonna do?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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