What a bad Friday it's been for News Corp.! Just hours after The Guardian reported that U.K. lawyers were building a class action lawsuit against the company in New York, The Telegraph reports that News International, the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate, bribed one of their former executives £25,000 (nearly $40,000) while he working for the London Metropolitan Police. The two revelations weigh heavy on each other specifically because the lawyers organizing the class action lawsuit intend to sue News Corp. for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids U.S. companies from bribing government officials both at home and abroad. The recipient of said bribes is Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of News of the World who later worked as a PR consultant for the police. His friends call him "Wolfman."
"The Daily Telegraph has now established that during his time at Scotland Yard, Mr Wallis received payments totalling more than £25,000 from News International--including a payment of £10,000 for a single 'crime' story," reports The Telegraph. "Internal records obtained by the police show that he was paid for providing News International with details of a suspected assassination attempt on the Pope during his visit to London last year."
If confirmed, the Telegraph scoop about payments made to Wallis puts News Corp. in a tremendously tenuous position. For one, Wallis has been framed in the press as a stereotypically ruthless tabloid editor. The Wall Street Journal profiled Wallis after he was arrested for police questioning over the phone hacking scandal in July:
Interviews with several other journalists who know Mr. Wallis, or who worked in the same newsroom, describe him as the quintessential tabloid editor--a glowering presence with a nose for news, who frequently exhorted his staff with expletive-laced orders. Because of his short stature and the beard he often sported, Mr. Wallis was nicknamed "Wolfman"--a moniker he apparently liked, according to former colleagues.
"He was a forceful character who carried on like Napoleon. But he wasn't unique in that," said Ben Proctor, who worked with Mr. Wallis at both the Sun and the News of the World.
Wallis's lawyer is so far scolding The Telegraph for reporting on information that "emerged in billing records obtained by detectives investigating the phone hacking scandal." Paul Smith of Tucker Solicitors filed a formal complaint against the paper to the Met. "We object to the publication of any story based on this information which has been obtained from a source with no authority to place such information in the public domain," said Smith, an accusation that sounds a lot like the time Wallis sold information to News Corp.
All things considered, it will likely take a while to see what sort of impact the latest revelations about Wallis will have. In his testimony before Parliament in July, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson seemed completely unaware of Wallis's connection to News of the World and insisted that his was a "part-time, minor role" at the police. Nevertheless, the news of the payments sounds condemning not only for the civil lawsuit announced on Friday but also the ongoing FBI investigation into accusations of police bribing at News Corp.