Fleet Street Phone-Hacking
British tabloid journalists don't exactly have a sterling reputation for ethics. But even so, the scandal about their hacking the phones of celebrities, politicians, sports stars and crime victims was a shock. The first revelations emerged in November 2005, when Clive Goodman, royal editor at the tabloid News of the World, wrote a story about a previously unrevealed knee injury suffered by Prince William. The Royal family quickly guessed that someone had hacked into the prince's mobile phone voicemail to get the scoop. Scotland Yard arrested Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator employed by the paper [source: BBC News].
The pair was sentenced to jail in 2007 after revealing that they'd obtained back-door codes used by network operators and used them to listen in on several hundred messages [source: BBC News].
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. In 2009, the Guardian, a rival newspaper, revealed that News of the World's parent company, News Group International, had paid out more than $1 million British pounds (about U.S. $1.5 million) to quietly settle lawsuits that might reveal the use of phone hacks and other data thefts to obtain inside information about important people [source: Davies]. In 2011, the Guardian further reported that police had discovered that the phones of more than 5,800 people — including celebrities such as actor Hugh Grant — had been hacked by Mulcaire [source: O'Carroll].
As a result of the scandal, international media baron Rupert Murdoch shut down News of the World in 2011 [source: Sky News] In 2012, he admitted that there had been a cover-up and publicly apologized, claiming that had he understood the depth of the misdeeds, he "would have torn the place apart" [source: Greene].
Author's Note: 10 Attempted Cover-ups That Just Made Things Worse
I have a certain fondness for revelations about cover-ups, because in the 1980s, I worked as a newspaper reporter. One of my big stories was a Sunday Magazine piece on the leak of a toxic cloud from a chemical plant in West Virginia. The company that owned the plant insisted that local residents had no reason to fear harm from the release. But that assurance wasn't so comforting to the residents. I discovered that there had been a long history of leaks from plants in the area, and that many residents suffered from diseases that they blamed on them.
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HowStuffWorks talks to several linguistics experts to help us understand the phrase 'that's just semantics.'