After Paul McMullan, a former deputy features editor at Rupert Murdochâ€™s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, had finished his jaw-droppingly brazen remarks at a judicial inquiry on Tuesday, it was hard to think of any dubious news-gathering technique he had not confessed to, short of pistol-whipping sources for information.
This is his justification
â€œPhone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool, given the sacrifices we make, if all weâ€™re trying to do is get to the truth,â€ Mr. McMullan said, asking whether â€œwe really want to live in a world where the only people who can do the hacking are MI5 and MI6.â€
No, he said, we do not.
â€œFor a brief period of about 20 years, we have actually lived in a free society where we can hack back,â€ he said.
Journalists in Britain have traditionally justified shady practices by arguing that they are in â€œthe public interest.â€ Asked by an inquiry lawyer how he would define that, Mr. McMullan said that the public interest is what the public is interested in.
Which means of courseâ€¦
The year he became deputy features editor, he said, the department had a budget of Â£ 3.1 million â€” more than $4.5 million â€” to pay sources, buy stories and hire outsiders to find addresses, medical records and other information. â€œThat was the joy of working for Murdoch,â€ he said. â€œThey had that big pot of money.â€
The other problems are these pesky privacy laws.
Mr. McMullan said he thought that privacy was â€œevil,â€ in that it helps criminals cover up their misdeeds.
According to McMullan and others, there was no privacy for anyone who would help them sell newspapers. They could do anything to anyone as long as the public was interested in it and they could pull it off. It was a company with no sense of ethics at all.