Paul McMullan, a former deputy features editor at Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid, admitted to U.K. media-ethics panel that he and his colleagues hacked into people's phones, paid police officers for tips, lurked in unmarked vans outside people's houses, and stole confidential documents to get stories. And he maintained that none of...
LONDON — He admitted he and his colleagues hacked into people’s phones and paid police officers for tips. He confessed to lurking in unmarked vans outside people’s houses, stealing confidential documents, rifling through celebrity garbage and pretending he was not a journalist pursuing a story but “Brad the teenage rent boy,” propositioning a priest.
After Paul McMullan, a former deputy features editor at Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, had finished testifying at a judicial inquiry Tuesday, it was hard to think of any dubious newsgathering technique he had not confessed to.
Nor were the practices he described limited to a select few, McMullan told the Leveson Inquiry, appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron to investigate media ethics in Britain. On the contrary, he said, News of the World’s underlings were encouraged by their circulation-obsessed bosses to use any means necessary to get material.
“We did all these things for our editors, for Rebekah Brooks and for Andy Coulson,” McMullan said, referring to two former News of the World editors. “They should have been the heroes of journalism, but they aren’t. They are the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it.”
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Coulson, who resigned from his job as chief spokesman for Cameron in January, and Brooks, who resigned in July from her job as chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of the Murdoch empire, have both been arrested on suspicion of phone hacking, or illegally intercepting voice-mail messages.
Both have repeatedly denied the allegations, and neither has yet been charged.
Nothing that McMullan said was surprising to anyone following the phone-hacking scandal; what was startling was that McMullan, who left his job in 2001, eagerly confessed to so much and on such a scale and that he maintained that none of it was wrong.
Underhanded reporting techniques are not shocking, he said, particularly in light of how often he and his colleagues risked their lives in search of the truth.
As examples, he described having cocaine-laced marijuana forced on him by knife-wielding drug dealers in a sting operation; being attacked by a crowd of murderous asylum seekers; and, in his “Brad the teenage rent boy” guise, sprinting through a convent dressed only in underpants to escape the pedophile priest he had successfully entrapped.
“Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool, given the sacrifices we make, if all we’re trying to do is get to the truth,” said McMullen, who now owns a pub and does occasional freelance work.
Journalists in Britain have traditionally justified shady practices by arguing that they are in “the public interest.” Asked by an inquiry lawyer how he would define that, McMullan said that the public interest is what the public is interested in.
“I think the public is clever enough to decide the ethics of what it wants in its own newspapers,” he said.
McMullan spoke nostalgically of his tabloid career.
He liked jumping in one of News of the World’s stable of 12 cars and speeding away in pursuit of famous targets.
“I absolutely loved giving chase to celebrities,” he said. “How many jobs can you have car chases in? Before Diana died, it was such good fun.” (Some celebrities liked it, too, he said. Brad Pitt “had a very positive attitude” about being pursued by crazed journalists in cars.)