Murdoch's hacking woes grow; 9/11 victims eyed?

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is under increasing pressure this week to repent in more glorious fashion for the misdeeds of his News of the World tabloid, even after sacrificing the century-and-a-half-old paper to try and sweep the mess away from his empire of newspapers and television networks.

The phone-hacking scandal jumped across the Atlantic, meanwhile, with a report from rival tabloid the Mirror that journalists from the News of the World tried to pay a former New York City police officer for the personal information of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack.

The Mirror quoted an unnamed source as saying the also-unnamed ex-cop, who currently works as a private investigator, was asked for phone numbers of victims who died in the World Trade Center.

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"His presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK," the Mirror quoted its source as saying.

According to the report, which could not be corroborated, the PI turned down the alleged request from the British reporters, recognizing, "how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look."

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Whether or not the Mirror's claims are verified, the allegations may raise the volume on questions about the editorial judgment and ethics employed by Murdoch titles in the U.S.

"The News of the World has lots of reporters at any given time on the ground in the U.S.," Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff tells CBS News. "Many of its stories, particularly many of its celebrity stories, are dateline here. So, I think that's the next step."

British media also reported that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown had his personal information targeted by elements of Murdoch's media empire.

News media including the Independent, Channel 4, the Guardian and the BBC say that Brown's personal details were targeted by people working for titles including the Sun and the Sunday Times. None of the media cited sources, but Brown was set to give a statement later Monday.

Meanwhile, the magnate pulled back on a pledge to spin off Sky News, which had been a condition for buying the 61 percent of British Sky Broadcasting shares that it doesn't already own.

"News Corp. continues to believe that, taking into account the only relevant legal test, its proposed acquisition will not lead to there being insufficient plurality in news provision in the UK," the company said.

The British government, which has been under intense pressure to block the bid amid the hacking scandal, referred the matter to competition authorities for a review, in effect delaying a final decision for several months.

Britain's Competition Commission now must hold a full-scale inquiry into whether the takeover would break anti-monopoly laws.

Earlier Monday, Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Murdoch to "do the decent and sensible thing" and reconsider his bid for BSkyB. "I would simply say to him, look how people feel about this."

It was the strongest commentary to date on the scandal from the British government. Clegg's boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, has tread far more cautiously, likely due to his own professional and personal connections to the Murdoch press machine.

Cameron's former communications manager, Andy Coulson, was arrested last week for questioning by London police over his knowledge of the hacking practice during his tenure as editor at News of the World.

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Coulson's replacement at News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, has held onto her position at the helm of News International, the British division of Murdoch's empire. But the elder Murdoch's unwavering support for Brooks is also being tested.

Murdoch met Brooks on Sunday at News International headquarters in London after flying in to address the scandal.

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Brooks was editor of the News of the World at the time that employees of the paper allegedly hacked the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was missing and later found murdered.

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Dowler's parents were to meet later Monday with Clegg to discuss the hacking.

Speaking to reporters in London, the Dowlers urged Brooks to step down for her role in the scandal. She has twice submitted letters of resignation to Murdoch, only to have them politely handed back to her.

The biggest question lingering over the scandal in Britain on Monday was whether the huge and growing public and political pressure on Rupert Murdoch would, in any measure, affect the tycoon's next move.

With the British government reconsidering his bid for full control of BSkyB, he may find himself having to refight what was already a long and expensive campaign to convince regulators he's a suitable gatekeeper for so much information.

If he does have to wage that battle again, he will go into it wearing a far more tarnished suit of armor than the first time around. There are even questions emerging as to whether News Corp's 39 percent stake in BSkyB is tenable in light of the unfolding scandal.

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