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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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October 28th, 2013
06:28 PM ET

Murdoch's empire under fire

Two former editors of media mogul Rupert Murdoch's now defunct British tabloid "News of the World" are on
trial for conspiring to illegally hack into the voicemail inboxes of politicians, celebrities, and even crime victims.

Former editor Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron's former director of communications Andy Coulson, along with six other defendants, deny the allegations. The London trial could have repercussions here in the United States.

Murdoch "has the sprawling media empire that goes across borders and across the globe. In the UK, the two tabloid editors on trial, one went on to be the CEO of his publishing arm, the other to be the chief P.R. official for prime minister David Cameron," said NPR correspondent David Folkenflik, author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires"

"We will see in this trial whether or not convictions are gained. The prosecution presents evidence that shows how the Murdoch media executives were working hand in glove with politicians of both major parties, in a way that seemed to sort of forget, or overlook the obligation, perhaps, this media empire had to the readers and the public that they served," said Folkenflik.

Prosecutors will also likely bring to light "incredible revelations" about the degree to which bribery was a way of life within those newsrooms, how police officers and public officials were sometimes illegally given money for information, said Folkenflik.

Through it all, Murdoch remains undaunted, and says he does not plan on going anywhere. The media mogul remained very powerful and very successful, even during the dark days of the scandal.

But Murdoch did "split his beloved newspapers and a few auxiliary units off from other elements that have been propping up newspapers in the decline of the last decade," said Folkenflik, something the mogul repeatedly promised he would not do.

The FOX television properties in the U.S. and BSkyB television in the United Kingdom, have propped up less profitable parts of Murdoch's empire, like The New York Post and other international newspapers.

When he announced the splitting of these companies, Murdoch said he had been given a chance to begin anew.

"There are two things striking about that. One of which is most people when running a publicly traded company, which News Corp. and 21st Century Fox both are, they are owned by shareholders but controlled really by him and his family, he thinks of it as his chance to begin anew.

"The second thing is he split from his third wife, Wendi, in court papers he filed just within a few days of that. It really meant that he was defining himself not only corporately anew, but personally as well," said Folkenflik.

Phone hacking appears to have been prevalent in the fleet street culture. Folkenflik spoke with several journalists, and said the idea that an editor and top officials would not know about such widespread hacking is not credible.

"It's sort of mundane notions, but who controls the budgets, how would you apportion this money – that stuff goes up the levels in the tabloid culture pretty high," said Folkenflik.

Murdoch "was taped at one point talking to journalists from The Sun tabloid in a way that seemed to indicate knowledge of, and dismissal of, the seriousness of the idea of paying police officers for information," said Folkenflik.

Murdoch said of the incident that he perhaps chose his words poorly.

There are also claims that more publications were involved, such as Trinity Mirror, the parent of The Daily Mirror, for which CNN anchor Piers Morgan as a much younger man served as editor.

"There are questions about whether that newspaper or organization had involvement, too. He says he had no knowledge, no one broke the law under his tenure. And the police have not brought the degree of accusations for widespread violations that they have against the Murdoch properties," said Folkenflik.

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