THE SHOW "Murdoch's Scandal" on "Frontline"
WHEN | WHERE PBS/13, 10 p.m. Tuesday
REASON TO WATCH "Frontline" takes on Rupert Murdoch
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Rupert Murdoch, the world's mightiest media baron, presides over an empire that once included a now-defunct newspaper, the News of the World, in Britain that tapped the phones of thousands of people, including a 13-year-girl named Amanda Jane "Milly" Dowler. On March 21, 2002, Milly was kidnapped and later found murdered, but for many days her family believed she was alive because someone -- presumably she -- had been accessing her voice mail. That is the hard and chilling core of this story; Tuesday night, Lowell Bergman, former "60 Minutes" producer and veteran investigative producer, says what happened next. He interviews Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who broke the story, and others who say "hacking" was a common practice because the newspaper could print information without fear of lawsuit, or use it to punish enemies. Even Mark Lewis, the attorney who represented dozens of hacking victims, was surveilled by a private investigator hired by the News of the World. Murdoch's News Corp. had settled with many hacking victims, and then the Dowler revelation surfaced. A post-broadcast note says no one from News Corp. agreed to be interviewed.
MY SAY "Frontline" and Bergman break no new ground here and offer nothing that wasn't already known, or already exhaustively covered by Davies' groundbreaking series. Instead, they provide context, and in this kind of story, context is like a small nuclear device. In interview after interview, Bergman finds a pattern of triangulation, in which journalist-police-government fed off one another to get scoop-money-power/votes. No one here accuses Murdoch himself of sanctioning the payoffs to police and investigators, which apparently went on for years, but the story is so devastating that no one really has to. "Frontline" reports that Murdoch has long used his British tabloids to manipulate the political establishment -- the equivalent of Capt. Renault reporting that he is shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here. But when you consider, as "Frontline" does, that phone hacking helped the News of the World -- and by association, Murdoch's News Corp. -- establish that influence, then that is a whole other level of corporate malfeasance. And to think that a terrible tragedy, a little girl's murder, broke this story wide open.
BOTTOM LINE Devastating