U.K. Hacking Scandal: A Hollywood Connection?

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Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrive at the 64th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 16, 2011. (Photo: Gao Jing / Xinhua Press / Corbis)

Writing about the smoking gun letter from the News of the World‘s former royal editor and convicted phone hacker Clive Goodman on Aug. 16, I observed that it was only a matter of time until Hollywood took an interest in the saga. That moment may have come even sooner than expected with the Aug. 18 arrest of James Desborough, who served from 2009 until the tabloid’s sudden closure in July as its Los Angeles-based U.S. editor. The British broadsheet the Guardian reports that the allegations of voice mail interception are believed to relate to his work in the U.K. but makes the following observation:

If Desborough was involved in hacking while in Britain, as police appear to believe he was, it raises the question of whether he practiced those techniques in the U.S.—and if so, whether he was the first and only News of the World journalist in the U.S. to do so.

This is a key question because any evidence of hacking on U.S. soil would lay News International and U.S.-based parent company News Corporation open to prosecution in the U.S. Last month, the F.B.I. was reported to have contacted Jude Law in connection with suspicions that his messages may have been intercepted in New York after the actor flew in to the city en route to a film set in Canada.

In a Jan. 2010 post on the U.S. gossip site Hollyscoop, Desborough won praise from Ian Halperin, the author of Brangelina: The Untold Story of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. “[Desborough] never gets his facts wrong. He’s a rock solid reporter!” Halperin told the site, commenting on Desborough’s latest News of the World exclusive on Brad and Angelina. Police working on the Operation Weeting investigation are checking whether some journalists owed their rock solid reporting to hacking. Desborough’s Brad and Angelina story is unlikely to count against him: he had reported the irretrievable breakdown of the couple’s marriage. A year and a half later, Brangelina appear to be going strong and tabloid journalists across Britain will be breathing sighs of relief that much of what they’ve written has been shown to be baseless—and therefore above suspicion.