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Judge Sums Phone-Hacking Details, As Jury Prepares To Decide Case


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. In a courtroom in London this week, a judge has been summarizing the case against seven defendants in the British tabloid hacking trial. Jurors are about to weigh a litany of charges stemming from the bribery and phone hacking scandal. And this is the one that led Rupert Murdoch to shut down his best-selling Sunday tabloid, the News of the World. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has covered the story extensively and joins us now. And David, first, give us some context. How did we get here?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, it's worth remembering. Back in the summer of 2011 this scandal erupted because it turned out that a young girl who was missing and turned out to have been murdered, had her cell phone repeatedly hacked by people on behalf of News of the World. And that created an outrage and an uproar that had not emerged when it seemed as though a number of celebrities and royals and other people had had their phones hacked. This seemed a step too far, and it turned out that thousands of people had been targeted - victims of crimes, war dead, victims of terrorist attacks as well as celebrities, royals and other figures who had previously been seen to be fair game.

CORNISH: And what's been learned since the start of the trial?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we've learned a few things. First off, several journalists for News of the World have pleaded guilty to participating in hacking, and actually, the charges go broader in certain cases to bribing public officials in a conspiracy to hide evidence as well. The number of people targeted have been massive - the cases more narrow, but there seems to have been a pattern of ill faith set out by prosecutors. Millions of e-mails were destroyed back in 2010, as some of these accusations were behind-the-scenes gathering steam. And one of the notable things of the trial is the degree to which each person, whether lower down or higher up in the organization, pleads ignorance of the clearly criminal activity that was happening in that very newsroom.

CORNISH: So given all that, how convincing do the charges look at this late date?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Andrew Coulson was the editor of the News of the World for part of the period in question. He later went on to be the communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron, showing you the levels of society that this implicated. He seems to be, in some ways, in rough shape. Rebekah Brooks was the CEO of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper arm after serving as editor of News of the World as well. And, you know, among the charges against her - the conspiracy to commit hacking, conspiracy to bribe public officials - that may prove a little tougher to get convictions on. But at the same time, you know, she and her husband engaged in a number of otherwise mysterious actions that seemed to have been involved trying to hide evidence. They say, actually, they were trying to hide her husband's pornography, and jurors are going to have to sort that out as well.

CORNISH: Finally, David, what will the verdicts mean beyond the trial itself?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, if there are - not-guilty verdicts are found by the jurors, I think - particularly against Brooks and Coulson - a lot of folks in the UK may conclude, I think wrongly, that the scandal was wildly overblown. However, should there be guilty verdicts returned, there's the possibility that British authorities could consider criminal charges against News Corp itself. And that would both be serious in the UK, but also here in the US where federal authorities and federal prosecutors could decide to take a fresh look at News Corp and see whether or not it violated American laws and regulations as well.

CORNISH: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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