Looking Back at the U.S.’ Own Voicemail Hacking Scandal

Exposé forced newspaper to apologize and pay up

The News of the World phone hacking scandal has elicited disgust from across the globe, calling into question the methods used by aggressive reporters in pursuit of a scoop. Particularly, the U.K. tabloid culture has come under fire in the U.S. media for its ethically questionable actions. But it was not so long ago that the United States had a phone hacking scandal of its own.

In 1998, The Cincinnati Enquirer published, "Chiquita Secrets Revealed," an 18-page exposé on the questionable business practices of fruit giant, Chiquita Brands International Inc. The series of stories revealed Chiquita’s involvement in the risky use of toxic pesticides in Central America, armed soldiers evicting residents from villages at gunpoint, and the paying off of environmental organizations to lower pollution standards.

What would have perhaps been a coup for in-depth investigative journalism quickly became marred by scandal. The stories were in part based on thousands of illegally obtained voicemails of corporate executives. Mike Gallagher, the lead reporter on the investigation, was singled out as the hacker.

The Enquirer tried to defend its reporting practices in what was a year-long investigation, but ultimately published a formal apology to Chiquita on the front page of its paper and paid the company more than $10 million to avoid legal action. Both Gallagher and his boss at the time were fired.