Phone hacking scandal: Don’t all newspapers do it?

Local Life August 18, 2011 0 Comments

by Jim Harris

I have been receiving many emails and phone calls lately, asking me if the Local has been in any way involved with the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire. As a serious journalist of some note, I can confidently reply, “Of course. How do you think we get our news?”

Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 2007, long before his employees were caught hacking into the computers of the victims of tragedies.

Murdoch owns all of the neighborhood papers in Philadelphia, and he insists upon using all means necessary to gather dirt. In fact, he was just in the Local office last week, ranting and raving that we weren’t being sensational enough. Lord knows we try.

For many years, journalists practiced conventional news gathering techniques, like rooting through people’s trash or bribing public officials with pizza, but when the hacking technology became available, everyone in the business naturally hopped right on it.

It’s quite simple, really. You can order the hardware through outlets like “Hack” magazine, or buy directly from a spy supply store. Verizon even offers a special “hacking package” — $69.95 a month, which includes HBO and Showtime.

As a former paparazzo, I am experienced in pro-active journalism. I was the guy who, in 1996, shot that video of Mother Theresa in a weak moment, angrily telling one of her charges to “Stop whining.” Since coming to the Local (for a three-digit salary!), I have been responsible for exposing some very hot scandals, including:

•A member of the Green Party was running air conditioners OUTSIDE in his back yard all summer long.

•A prominent Chestnut Hill politician threw a $3 million kindergarten-graduation party for his 5-year-old son. At taxpayer expense! Guests included the King of Sweden and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

•The Weaver’s Way Co-op bananas were not only not organic, they were genetically modified Styrofoam.

•The lacrosse coach at a local girls school, angry over high food prices, was pouring hamster kibble into the coin-counting machine at a Whole Foods market.

•The Santa Claus in the annual Christmas Parade was a well-known communist sympathizer.

•A respected librarian was caught using a counterfeit “funeral” sticker on her car so that she could go through red lights.

•A local candidate for mayor had over $60,000 worth of unpaid tickets for not picking up his dog’s poop. He later withdrew in disgrace.

•A family on Gravers Lane was selling sub-standard lawn furniture in a yard sale.

•A female professor divorced her bed-ridden husband because she said he had “bad Feng Shui.”  On a surveillance tape, she was heard to say that her sick spouse was “in the way” and “interfering with my chi.”

And just this week, I unearthed three more shocking stories.

•Pastorius Park has bedbugs.

•Moammar Gaddafi is planning to move to Chestnut Hill and live in a tent at the Watertower Recreation Center, where he will sell water ice in the summer months.

•Cleverly disguised robot-deer are being placed in the Wissahickon to infiltrate the real deer and kill them in their sleep so that the money currently being paid to “sharpshooters” (and the reputation of Friends of the Wissahickon) can be saved.

With the news business growing ever more competitive as papers fight for the few remaining advertising dollars, newspapers have even begun using hacking techniques on each other. It’s not uncommon for one paper to hack into the printer-ready files of another, switch photos and captions, misspell names in obituaries, and otherwise wreak havoc. You didn’t think all those mistakes and typos were the result of human error; did you?

For instance, the Local recently asked readers to “Send in photos of your pets’ faces.” Someone from a rival (Roxborough) newspaper hacked into our files and changed it to read “… your pets’ feces.” Needless to say, the resulting pictures were never published (although we did hang some of them up around the office).

If you are worried that your phone messages are being hacked, you can download anti-hacking software at CyberCop.com, but be forewarned that anti-anti-hacking software is being developed as we speak. Try to keep up.

On a personal note, I’ve been subpoenaed to testify before a Congressional committee next week, so I’m flying off to Brazil tonight to get an identity-change operation and a new Social Security number, and then I will put my collection of nickels and pennies and baseball cards in a Swiss bank. My column will hopefully resume (with a new name and face and new baseball cards) when I return in a few months, but meanwhile, keep sending in those “pet” pictures, and remember, don’t say anything you don’t want repeated.

 

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