The stench of the Rupert Murdoch phone scandal has been growing worse and worse since the story first broke that people’s voicemails were broken into for dirt that was published in Murdoch’s tabloid, News of the World.
The controversy shut down News of the World for good, the man who initially blew the whistle on the whole thing was found dead (the police have said it doesn’t look suspicious), and Murdoch even got a pie in the face during a hearing before Parliament.
The British tabloids can be especially nasty, but there’s one rule even the worst tabloids have to try to follow. Whatever information you get, don’t do anything illegal.
Trying to get what the Washington Post called holy sh*t stories has caused a lot of terrible ethical scandals in media, like Stephen Glass and James Frey making their stories up and passing them off as the truth, and now breaking into people’s phones for information, which may be a new low in dirt digging.
Several years back there was another phone tapping event that many thought would be the biggest scandal to hit Hollywood, but which quietyly died down when the perpetrator, Anthony Pellicano, went to jail.
Pellicano was an infamous private eye to the stars who openly bragged of brandishing baseball bats, and who practiced “counter blackmail” against those who were shaking down his celebrity clients. Then the FBI raided his offices, and found CDs of illegally recorded phone calls, and Pellicano will probably spend the rest of his life in jail for this.
Vanity Fair has covered both phone scandals and Pellicano did his dirty work by paying people off at the phone company, and at the LAPD for information. The way the system was set up, Pellicano had to have computers set up to tap the calls in their proper area codes, so he would rent apartments in 818, 213, and other area codes that would intercept and record other people’s calls. Pellicano also had sound graphs on the calls, and when the graph went up, it was clear people were yelling, and it was probably pretty juicy information he could use against you.
It was no big secret Pellicano did this, as far back as 1992 he bragged to GQ he got into databases “without permission,” and even tried to copyright the phone tapping technology that was created for him under the names Telesleuth and Forensic Audio Sleuth. What’s also ridiculous is a lot of infomation he obtained illegally could also be accessed legally through public information databases with a credit card.
How the News of the World people or Pellicano could ever believe they’d never get caught for any of this is beyond me, and reports speculate Pellicano got careless when his fourth marriage fell apart. The fallout of the Pellicano bomb was squelched pretty quickly, where with the British phone scandal, it looks to linger on for quite some time, if not grow bigger.