On Wednesday's NBC Today, correspondent Stephanie Gosk reported the latest details on the phone hacking scandal in Britain involving a Rupert Murdoch owned tabloid and declared: "Damage to the company [News Corporation] may have already been done. And some say it is about time."
Gosk noted that included, "actor Hugh Grant, who in recent months has led his own campaign against the tabloids." A sound bite was played of Grant: "we're talking about pretty nasty people." Gosk went on to speculate that the scandal may spread and put "pressure on Rupert Murdoch's worldwide media empire," which of course includes Fox News. She also argued that in Britain, Murdoch's "political support...has all but disappeared."
Following Gosk's report, co-host Matt Lauer interviewed Hugh Grant about the controversy, who portrayed Murdoch as an ominous villain who intimidated anyone who criticized him: "The police unfortunately deliberately dragged their feet because they've been, in some senses, lent on by the power of, in particular, News International, Rupert Murdoch's organization, and the government were also equally terrified of him."
Grant went on to observe: "Only three weeks ago all our major politicians in this country were sucking up to Rupert Murdoch and drinking champagne on his lawn at his summer party. So it is sort of almost comic that today in Parliament they're all competing to say that he's a terrible person."
Lauer quoted Grant calling on conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop being "Murdoch's little helper" and wondered if an investigation launched by British Parliament was "something real or is this still public relations to try to present a face to the public that they're actually doing something?"
In his final question to Grant, Lauer asked: "Why should people in the United States care about this?" Grant cited Murdoch's ownership of Fox News as a source of concern: "I would have thought it was of interest to Americans simply because Rupert Murdock does own an enormous amount of your media. You know, with Fox News and the Fox station and 21st Century Fox Pictures, etcetera, and some of your newspapers. And I think, you know, people need to ask themselves, you know, 'Who is this man who owns such a large part of our media?'"
Here is a full transcript of the July 13 segment:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: How big was it? Word this morning the number of possible victims involved in that hacking scandal in Britain could be in the thousands. This morning one celebrity who says he was a target, Hugh Grant, speaks out in a live interview.
7:07AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: We're learning more this morning about just how far reaching that hacking scandal in Britain has become. In a moment we'll talk to one of it's victims, actor Hugh Grant. But first, NBC's Stephanie Gosk is in London with the latest fallout. Stephanie, good morning to you.
STEPHANIE GOSK: Good morning, Matt. Well, the lead investigator for Scotland Yard gave testimony that shows how big this scandal has become. She says they have a list of 4,000 potential victims, an additional 5,000 phone numbers that need to be analyzed, and so far they've only notified 170 people.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Murdoch Under Fire; Publisher and Editors Called Before Parliament]
With daily accusations piling up and the list of high-profile targets – including a former prime minister and the royal family – growing longer and longer, the British Parliament has decided it wants to hear directly from those in charge. Rupert Murdock, his son James, the chief executive of News International, and executive Rebecca Brooks, have been asked to testify next week in front of Parliament.
JOSHUA ROZENBERG [LEGAL COMMENTATOR]: And what's really interesting is that until now, Rupert Murdoch has been confident that politicians of all parties were going to support him. Now they're all turning against him and that changes a lot.
GOSK: Murdoch shut down the News of the World because of what was described as a toxic culture. But the company has now started fighting back against allegations involving two of its other papers, The Sun and The Sunday Times. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown questioned the tactics used by The Sun to get information for a 2006 article about his child's cystic fibrosis, suggesting their methods may have been illegal.
A new statement from News International denies any wrong doing and says, 'The story The Sun ran about their son originated from a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis.' But damage to the company may have already been done. And some say it is about time. Including actor Hugh Grant, who in recent months has led his own campaign against the tabloids. Even recording this conversation with the deputy editor of News of the World last April. Paul McMullen, who did not know he was being recorded, acknowledged hacking was widespread.
HUGH GRANT: But celebrities themselves, you would justify because they're rich?
MCMULLEN: Yeah, I mean, if you don't like it you've just got to get off the stage.
GOSK: McMullen later called the recording a publicity stunt. Not so says Grant, who claims to be a victim himself.
HUGH GRANT: Only the other day it happened to me. You know, my medical details were published in The Sun. So we're talking about pretty nasty people.
GOSK: So far, eight people have been arrested but it may not end there. Scotland Yard believes the investigation will continue to grow, and along with it the pressure on Rupert Murdoch's worldwide media empire. Later on today, Parliament is set to pass a motion urging Murdoch to back off a multi billion dollar merger deal with a British TV network. It is going to send a strong message to Murdoch that his political support in this country has all but disappeared. Matt.
MATT LAUER: Alright, Stephanie Gosk in London. Stephanie, thank you very much. Hugh Grant is joining us as well from London. Hugh, good to see you. Good morning.
HUGH GRANT: Good morning, Matt.
LAUER: You know, the Atlantic Ocean can sometimes create a bit of a time warp here. The story is on the front pages of the papers here in the United States but it was slow in brewing. It's been brewing there for a long time. How would you describe the public reaction to the daily revelations you're seeing there?
GRANT: Well, the big moment came last Monday when people had known for some time that actors, musicians, politicians, were being hacked and everyone thought that's wrong. But it didn't really get people emotionally involved until last Monday, one of our national papers revealed that this young girl who'd been abducted and murdered, that they'd been hacking her phone, listening to her messages. And shockingly, deleting some of her messages when her voice mailbox filled up. Because they wanted more messages to come in which, of course, gave her parents hope that she might still be alive. She'd been missing for six months. And that's when the country really rose up in revulsion. And um-
LAUER: Are people – I'm sorry to interrupt.
LAUER: But do you think people there have the feeling that this was simply business as usual and, by the way, this appears to be prevalent not just at one newspaper, even two, it could be wider than that, that the feeling among these tabloid reporters and executives was, as long as the story sells, there was an entitlement to get that story using any means possible?
GRANT: Yeah. That was the culture. And still is, I mean, to a certain extent, within the tabloid press in this country. It's – it's terrifying. And, you know, if you ask the question why didn't we do anything about it before, the answers are now emerging. The police unfortunately deliberately dragged their feet because they've been, in some senses, lent on by the power of, in particular, News International, Rupert Murdoch's organization, and the government were also equally terrified of him. He had the power through his papers to get them elected, and his paper knew, you know, dirty details about individual MPs and so they were unwilling ever to take him on. Only three weeks ago all our major politicians in this country were sucking up to Rupert Murdoch and drinking champagne on his lawn at his summer party. So it is sort of almost comic that today in Parliament they're all competing to say that he's a terrible person.
LAUER: Yeah, these are your words, you said this recently, quote, 'This is a watershed moment for David Cameron and his government. He can either continue to be Murdoch's little helper or he can be a statesman.'
This appearance before Parliament by Rupert Murdoch, his son and top executives, is this, in your opinion, something real or is this still public relations to try to present a face to the public that they're actually doing something?
GRANT: Well, we don't really know yet whether they will accept that invitation or not. I mean, I have to say I think it's unlikely. If they do, it will be the greatest piece of parliamentary theater we've ever had in this country.
LAUER: Two quick things, Hugh. First of all, why should people in the United States care about this? You've spent a lot of time here as well. You've had your encounters with the tabloid press in the U.S. Do you think this is prevalent here as well?
GRANT: I don't know the answer to that. But I would have thought it was of interest to Americans simply because Rupert Murdock does own an enormous amount of your media. You know, with Fox News and the Fox station and 21st Century Fox Pictures, etcetera, and some of your newspapers. And I think, you know, people need to ask themselves, you know, 'Who is this man who owns such a large part of our media?' And I think, you know, when you hear some of the new allegations about who The News of the World was phone hacking may include – and I stress it's just allegations at this stage – some of the 9/11 victims. Well, I don't know, that may strike a chord with Americans.
LAUER: And finally, responsibility. I mean, the fact of the matter is millions of people still go out and buy these newspapers and logon to these types of websites. Do those people, do the consumers shoulder the blame as well?
GRANT: I think we have to, yeah. It's a strange business, isn't it? I mean the specialty of tabloids like that is to find the lowest common denominaor and work out sort of our worst instincts and then purvey for them. And unfortunately they do it extremely well and we are all guilty of falling for that.
LAUER: Hugh Grant, joining us from London this morning. Hugh, it's nice to see you. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
GRANT: Yeah, you, too.
ANN CURRY: He put that pretty well.