Two weeks ago, News Corp. lawyers instructed staffers at the New York Post to "to preserve and maintain all documents and information that are related in any way" to phone hacking or payments to government officials. But according to Jared Paul Stern, a former New York Post gossip columnist who departed after he was set up in a sting by Ron Burkle, the idea that the Murdoch-owned tabloid could've pulled off something as massive or as expensive as the News of the World's hacking spree is ludicrous.
"They couldn't hack an electric toothbrush there," Stern told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "There are no techno-whizzes to figure it out and they don't have anything like the budget of those British papers. The Post hemorrhages money. They don’t have the budget for any extras."
Stern speaks from experience serving on the front lines of the Post's gossip collection operation. First as a Page Six reporter and then on his own nightlife column, Stern said the Post's techniques relied more on charm and threats than technology, or as he put it "sort of intimidating people or cozying up to people to get information."
Burkle accused Stern of extortion after he released recordings from a meeting he held with Stern in 2006 and claimed the columnist asked Burkle for money in exchange for keeping his name out of the headlines. The investigation resulted only in drawing national attention to the Post's journalistic practices, Stern's departure from Post, and dismissed defamation of character lawsuit filed by Stern against Burkle. But that also makes Stern a certain kind of authority on the Post. As The Los Angeles Times puts it, "Stern certainly doesn’t have the warm fuzzies for his old employer," so his defense of the tabloid seems anything but disingenuous.
Investigations are underway into alleged bad behavior by News Corp. in the United States. News emerged this week that Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney General in charge of the investigation News Corp. in the United States, is best friends with Patriot Act author and News Corp. boardmemeber Viet Dinh. The revelation brought scrutiny to the investigation, though Bharara has also been lauded as a hard-nosed prosecutor and The Washington Post has even described him as the "Sheriff of Wall Street." Bharara is investigating News Corp. over charges of anti-competitive behavior and computer hacking as well as an anonymously sourced claim that a Murdoch-owned tabloid hacked the phones of 9/11 victims. The Department of Justice is also looking into allegations of widespread bribery that may violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices act.
Nevertheless, not many new clues have emerged about News Corp. papers' alleged bad behavior in the United States. The Guardian's phone-hacking muckraker Nick Davies has been on a tour of the U.S. that was first couched as an investigation into News Corp.'s practices on this side of the pond, but with Davies having not produced any bylined stories for the paper since he travelled to the U.S., the trip looks more like a publicity tour so far. (Davies is also mulling the idea of joining The Guardian's burgeoning American operation.)