More on the News of the World cellphone scandal, and on why Rupert Murdoch isn’t already in jail…
Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that BP threw an extravagant party, with oysters and expensive champagne. Let’s imagine that Britain’s most senior politicians were there — including the Prime Minister and his chief spin doctor. And now let’s imagine that BP was the subject of two separate police investigations, that key BP executives had already been arrested, that further such arrests were likely, and that the chief executive was heavily implicated.
Let’s take this mental experiment a stage further: BP’s chief executive had refused to appear before a Commons enquiry, while MPs who sought to call the company to account were claiming to have been threatened. Meanwhile, BP was paying what looked like hush money to silence people it had wronged, thereby preventing embarrassing information entering the public domain.
And now let’s stretch probability way beyond breaking point. Imagine that the government was about to make a hugely controversial ruling on BP’s control over the domestic petroleum market. And that BP had a record of non-payment of British tax. The stench would be overwhelming. There would be outrage in the Sun and the Daily Mail — and rightly so — about Downing Street collusion with criminality. The Sunday Times would have conducted a fearless investigation, and the Times penned a pained leader. In parliament David Cameron would have been torn to shreds.
Instead, until this week there has been almost nothing, save for a lonely campaign by the Guardian. Because the company portrayed above is not BP, but News International, owner of the Times, the Sunday Times, the News of the World and the Sun, approximately one third of the domestic newspaper market. And last week, Jeremy Hunt ruled that Murdoch, who owns a 39 per cent stake in BSkyB, can now buy it outright (save for Sky’s news channel). This consolidates the Australian-born mogul as by far the most significant media magnate in this country, wielding vast political and commercial power.
(click here to continue reading What the papers won’t say.)
Parliament Buildings London
and one last bit:
Perhaps Baldwin, like his former News International colleagues, doesn’t find phone hacking too shocking. Indeed, one of his first actions as Miliband’s spin-doctor was to instruct Labour MPs to go easy on the scandal. In a leaked memo, he ordered them not to link it to the impending takeover decision on BSkyB. But this was to let News International crucially off the hook. For the key question — and it burns deeper than ever in the light of the Milly Dowler revelations — is exactly whether the owner of News International is any longer a ‘fit and proper’ person to occupy such a dominant position in the British media.
This is a question that has almost never been asked. This is partly because of heavy political protection of the kind that was on such vivid display at the Orangery last month. But Murdoch could not have got away with it for so long but for the silence in the British press. The Sunday Mirror is the News of the World’s most direct competitor: one would have expected it to revel in its rival’s problems. Instead it has largely ignored the story — except for an attack on the News of the World on Wednesday — as has Express Newspapers.
The Daily Mail, likewise, has written almost nothing. Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief at Associated Newspapers, is rightly regarded as the greatest newspaper editor of his time. But in this case Fleet Street’s moralist has lost his compass: his failure to engage seriously with the phone-hacking story is a most unfortunate blot on a brilliant career. The Daily Telegraph, for which I write, has done better, but the minimum. Only the Guardian, and belatedly the Independent, have covered the story with flair and integrity.
This should have been one of the great stories of all time. It has almost everything — royalty, police corruption, Downing Street complicity, celebrities by the cartload, Fleet Street at its most evil and disgusting. One day, I guess, it will be turned into a brilliant film, and there will be a compulsive book as well.
The truth is that very few newspapers can declare themselves entirely innocent of buying illegal information from private detectives. A 2006 report by the Information Commissioner gave a snapshot into the affairs of one such ‘detective’, caught in so-called ‘Operation Motorman’. The commissioner’s report found that 305 journalists had been identified ‘as customers driving the illegal trade in confidential personal information’. It named each newspaper group, the number of offences and the number of guilty journalists (see above). But, as the commission observed, coverage of this scandal ‘even in the broadsheets, at the time of publication, was limited’. The same reticence has been seen, until now, over the voicemail-hacking scandal.
By minimising these stories, media groups are coming dangerously close to making a very significant statement: they are essentially part of the same bent system as News International and complicit in its criminality. At heart this is a story about the failure of the British system, which relies on a series of checks and balances to prevent high-level corruption. Each one of them has failed: parliament because MPs feel intimidated by the power of newspapers to expose and destroy them; and opposition, because Ed Miliband lacked the moral imagination to escape the News International mindset — until he was forced to confront it all by the sheer horror of the Milly Dowler episode.
and from D.D. Guttenplan of The Nation, a little history:
Rupert Murdoch may have finally gone too far. For decades the billionaire media baron has relentlessly amassed power on three continents. But it is worth recalling that his first move out of his native Australia—and out from under the shadow of his father, newspaper magnate Sir Keith Murdoch—came in 1969, when he snatched a very downmarket British Sunday title, the News of the World, away from Robert Maxwell. (Maxwell’s fraudulent dealings were still unsuspected, but his Czech Jewish origins were held against him by the paper’s editor, who remarked that the News of the World “was—and should remain—as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.”) In considerable decline from its heyday in the 1950s, when it sold over 8 million copies, the paper Murdoch acquired relied on a mix of kiss and tell stories—the News of the World bought Christine Keeler’s account of her involvement in the Profumo Scandal—and “investigations” of London vice dens, with the exposé typically ending with the line “I made my excuses and left.”
But it was still the biggest-selling English language paper in the world, and though Murdoch steered it even deeper into sleaze—earning him the nickname “the Dirty Digger”—the News of the World and its weekday stablemate, the Sun, which he acquired a year later, supplied the steady profits that enabled Murdoch to build his British empire. (In 2010, a terrible year in the newspaper business, the two titles reported a profit of £86 million.) So there was something not just shocking but brutal about James Murdoch’s announcement that “this Sunday will be the last issue” of the 168-year-old paper.
The immediate cause of the paper’s demise was public revulsion in Britain to the news that News of the World reporters had hacked into the mobile phone messages of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted on her way home from school in March 2002, but whose body wasn’t discovered for another six months. Guardian reporter Nick Davies’s disclosure that the News of the World had not only listened to messages left by Milly’s frantic friends and family but had deleted messages from her voice mailbox to keep the supply coming—creating false hope for the girl’s family and possibly destroying evidence—sparked a boycott of the paper’s advertisers and widespread denunciation. Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the hacking as “dreadful,” Labour Party leader Ed Miliband called for Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch executive who was editor of the News of the World when the murdered teenager’s phone was hacked, to resign. The Royal British Legion, the country’s largest veterans’ organization, announced it was cutting its ties with the paper after reports emerged suggesting that the phones of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan had also been hacked. Even Rupert Murdoch described the mounting scandal as “deplorable and unacceptable.”
(click here to continue reading Sky Falling, Murdoch Sacks Hacks. Game Over? | The Nation.)
and for some inexplicable reason, this tidbit made me happy:
There is no doubt that Murdoch has been seriously damaged by all of these disclosures. It has often been said of Murdoch that the only thing he cares about is his share price. Events over the past week wiped some $2.5 billion off the value of News Corporation, his US-based holding company.