Britain’s Cameron Regrets Hiring Tabloid Editor as Spokesman

Posted July 20th, 2011 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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British Prime Minister David Cameron says that in retrospect he would not have hired as his spokesman a former editor of the now-closed tabloid newspaper at the heart of a British phone-hacking and police bribery scandal.

The British leader told a raucous special parliamentary session on Wednesday that he regrets the furor caused by his hiring of Andy Coulson, once the editor of the News of the World newspaper that was closed recently by media baron Rupert Murdoch. He said that with “20-20 hindsight…I would not have offered him the job.”

Coulson, who resigned in January as Mr. Cameron's chief spokesman, has since been accused of corruption and conspiring to intercept communications, one of 10 people arrested so far in the scandal. Mr. Cameron, who has maintained close ties to Murdoch executives, said Coulson should be treated as “innocent until proven guilty” and that his actual work with the prime minister has not come into question.

The Conservative prime minister, who cut short a trade trip to Africa to deal with the fallout from the burgeoning phone-hacking scandal, said he had the “greatest responsibility” to “clean up this mess.”

But opposition lawmakers heckled Cameron, with Labor leader Ed Milliband saying the prime minister made a “catastrophic error in judgment” in hiring Coulson. He said every effort should have been made to uncover the facts surrounding the phone intercepts at the newspaper. Mr. Cameron said he had no evidence that Coulson was involved in the scandal at the time of his hiring.

Opposition parties also have criticized the prime minister's frequent meetings – 26 during his first 14 months in office – with executives from Murdoch's News Corporation.

That was more than twice the number of Mr. Cameron's visits with other media organizations.

A British parliamentary committee on Wednesday criticized the British arm of Murdoch's media empire for trying to “deliberately thwart” the investigation in to the phone-hacking case, and said the police investigation into the matter was a “catalog of failures.” The scandal has already led to the resignations of London's top two police officers, Paul Stephenson and John Yates.

On Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch apologized before British Parliament, calling it the “most humble day” of his life. But Murdoch insisted that he is not personally responsible for the scandal. Instead, he said the blame lies with the people he trusted to run the organization, as well as their subordinates.

Murdoch shut down the News of the World tabloid last week after 168 years of publication when it was discovered that some of its reporters illegally accessed thousands of cell phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians, rival journalists, fallen soldiers and teenage murder victim Milly Dowler. Some of the reporters allegedly paid police for information.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Wednesday Murdoch's local media holdings should face increased scrutiny to see if they have engaged in any similar wrongdoing. In the United States, the FBI has also begun a probe into whether Murdoch's employees tried to hack into the phones of September 11 terrorist attack victims and their families.

News Corporation executives deny wrongdoing in both cases, saying the scandal was limited to the company's British wing.