Déjà vu: Is Hackgate Murdoch's Watergate?
Thirty years down the line Hackgate brings a strong sense of déjà vu for those who followed the Watergate scandal 30 years ago.
1970: Watergate and the President’s men
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the (US) Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex. The FBI, investigating the break-in, connected the payments made to the five arrested, to an account used by the 1972 Committee to Re-elect then president Richard Nixon.
The Senate Watergate Committee was formed, and their investigations led to a number of Nixon’s staff and former staffers testifying against the five burglars and Nixon. The Committee learned that President Nixon had installed tape recording equipment in his offices, capturing many of the discussions for posterity. Recordings implicated Nixon, revealing that he had, indeed actively attempted to cover up the break-in. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to hand over the tape.
Faced with the prospect of impeachment in the House of Representatives and a likelihood of a conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974.
2011: Hackgate and James Murdoch’s men
On 7 July 2011, News International announced the closure of the News of the World (NoTW) as a reaction to the phone hacking scandal, where a private investigator, working for NoTW, hacked into the voicemail of missing British teenager Milly Dowler, later found murdered. Further investigations showed that the Milly Dowler case was not the only case of hacking by NoTW and that thousands of phones of families of British service personnel killed in action were hacked as well.
Ten people connected to the hacking have been arrested for phone hacking and corruption charges, including former editor Andy Coulson, former NoTW royal editor Clive Goodman, and former executive editor Neil Wallis. Another former editor, Rebekah Brooks, was held in custody, on 17 July.
Rupert and James Murdoch, staffers at News International and News of the World, and senior members of the London Metropolitan Police were asked to appear before a Select Committee of Parliament to get to the bottom of the issue.
Much of the focus has been on establishing who was aware of what –most importantly, how much Rupert and James Murdoch knew of the extent of Hackgate and illegal payments made in the context of Hackgate. Heightened focus has been on a settlement of US$ 1.1 million to Gordon Taylor and payments to police personnel.
Last week, former News of the World editor, Colin Myler, and the newspaper's legal manager, Tom Crone, issued a statement suggesting that James Murdoch was, indeed, aware that Hackgate went far beyond Milly Dowler, and that they had, in 2008, brought Murdoch’s attention to an email that contradicted News International's claims about Hackgate being the work of a sole rogue reporter.
In reaction to the statement by Myler and Crone, James Murdoch issued the extraordinary nine word statement, “I stand by my testimony to the select committee.”
Watergate happened in the early 1970s and was an event that I followed closely, reading Warren Unna’s reports in The Statesman, Calcutta. The revelations, the anonymous tips by “Deep Throat” (who was later revealed to be FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt) to Washington Post staffers Woodward and Bernstein (who went on to write the bestselling book and movie All the President’s men), the deliberations in the courtroom of ‘Maximum John’, Judge John J Sirica and all the developments leading to the resignation of Richard Nixon kept me riveted.
Thirty years on, as we watch Hackgate unfold, I have a sense of déjà vu. Read on, and see what Richard Nixon said in the context of Watergate and James Murdoch has said in the context of Hackgate. Watergate saw the end of Nixon, will Hackgate be the end of James Murdoch?
James Murdoch, Quote Unquote
“Allegations have been made as to the veracity of my testimony to your committee ... As you know, I was questioned thoroughly and I answered truthfully. I stand by my testimony. I am preparing a written response to the questions that I undertook to follow up on when I appeared before you on 19 July.”
“No, I was not aware of that at the time.”
“That's why we're here today ... We're trying to be as transparent as we possibly can.”
“The opinion was clear and the company rested on that.”
“When I made the statement about not being in full possession of the facts, it was those facts at that point, were still in the future, and it was in the due process of that civil trial and civil litigation process, that that evidence really emerged for us, and we acted, and the company acted as swiftly and as transparently as possible.”
“We were advised fundamentally to tell the truth and to come and be as open and transparent as possible, and that’s my and my father’s intention, and we hope that we can show you that that’s what’s happening.”
“The terrible instance of voicemail interception around the Milly Dowler case only came to my attention when the press reported it [two weeks ago].”
"I'm as surprised as you are that some of these arrangements have been made."
Richard Nixon, Quote Unquote
“You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I'm innocent. You've got to believe I'm innocent. If you don't, take my job.”
“When the President does it, that means that it's not illegal.”
“The more you stay in this kind of job, the more you realize that a public figure, a major public figure, is a lonely man.”
“The press is the enemy.”
“Unless a president can protect the privacy of the advice he gets, he cannot get the advice he needs.”
“Let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth to see it like it is, and tell it like it is, to find the truth, to speak the truth, and to live the truth.”
“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”
“I am not a crook.”
“I can see clearly now... that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.”
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