Big Beasts should be beaten off by the Newscorp scandal
Adding the suffix ‘gate’ to every major scandal has been a lazy form of sub-ed practice throughout the 37 years since the Watergate scandal reached its grisly conclusion for President Nixon. However, the phone-hacking activities of the News of the World – and the attempts at containing the evidence of it – represent the first major media-political scandal since that time to justify the nickname Hackgate.
There will be cries of ‘you would say that’, given that The Slog has been ahead of the game since early December in predicting that the cover-up would be lifted – and the resultant wriggly worms start running in all directions. But there’s a lot more force to my argument than pointless self-aggrandizement: and anyway, other journalists spent a lot longer than I did yelling in the wilderness about this alleged perversion of justice.
The reasons why this case will be different aren’t hard to enumerate. First and foremost, it is the right scandal at the right time: after Lord Ashton during the General Election, people’s awareness of the privileged and unelected power of shadowy figures has been broadened. The recent obvious control of the banking lobby over Number 10 has in turn sharpened it. And now, it is rapidly becoming clear that an unelected foreign media owner may have been, shall we suggest, manipulating events of one form or another to his own advantage. No wonder Rupert was described this morning as being ‘deeply depressed’ about this blow to his plans.
Second, there were monthly, then weekly, and now almost daily shifts of ground by the perpetrators – retreats that mirror the path of the Nixon scandal inexorably towards first the White House and then the Oval Office itself. The lone reporter stuck to by Newscorp was overshadowed by
bribes Courtroom settlements during the ensuing months. Now a cabal has been ‘discovered’ at relatively low level, in turn swamped by the dismissal of one senior journalist and the suspension of another. Involvement at senior level is still being denied, but that cannot hold for long in the light of yesterday’s ‘major lead’ – very quickly picked up by the Met once the investigation had been moved away from the infected territory of former terrorist cop Andy Hayman.
This has enouraged victims to come forward in droves; and that too is feeding the third factor that makes that a real Gate rather than a passing storm in a teacup. The multivariate possible ramifications of what at first looked like just a tabloid behaving unscrupulously (what else is new?) are incalculable: today, Tessa Jowell is leaning on the Met – an altogether heavier hitter than Lord Prescott, albeit only metaphorically.
As a result of this – in the light of the BSkyB takeover and David Cameron’s extremely ill-advised clandestine mettings with top Newscorp managers – the questions are becoming more bold, and the accusations more serious. Have Ministerial phones been tapped to help the Sky takeover cause? Is the Culture Secretary also a Newscorp creature? Was Andy Gray fired in retaliation for his Newscorp phone-hacking action…and what did his colleague mean by ‘dark forces’? Did Newscorp hacking help the Conservative Party when they were in Opposition? And how could Coulson NOT have known about the News of the World hacking?
While in London carrying out more research this week, I spoke to two old beasts of Fleet Street – one a former Sunday paper editor of some note.
“A Sunday paper is more intimate than a Daily,” he told me, “and by definition there are far fewer strories on the go. For an anal retentive like Andy Coulson not to have known what was going on is and always was unbelievable.”
A former middleweight Coulson colleague put it more graphically:
“Listen, you write for Andy Coulson, he knows the colour of your f**king snot. Didn’t know? Don’t make me laugh. He could go to jail if they got something wrong – he’d be a complete f**kwit ‘not to ask’. And Coulson isn’t a f**kwit.”
Again – as with Watergate – if the Howard Hunt parallel knew, did Ehrlichman? The Ehrlichman in this romp is of course Rebekah Wade. And if she knew – a close friend of James Murdoch – surely he knew. And if they both spoke frequently to David Cameron…….?
Further, it goes without saying that once the dam has burst and the time for closing media ranks is over, the feeding frenzy starts among Murdoch rivals. The Guardian/Independent axis were always going to use this to destabilise the Government. At last, even Aidan Barclay’s Telegraph appears to have caught onto the fact that a PM it despises could be helped along in his journey over the cliff. And in New York, it will come as no surpriseto learn that the New York Times is sharpening knives in readiness for the next round.
Last but not least, there is the joy for many (including The Slog) in ending the seemingly malign influence of a hitherto-thought-to-be unassailable man. When Vince Cable announced his intention to “get Murdoch”, he was once again merely giving voice to the feelings of millions of ordinary Britons. Just before Nixon’s sweeping victory in the 1972 US Election, this was indeed how he had seemed – a political colossus, adored by big business, and with global influence on the conduct of political policy.
It is beginning to look like Rupert Murdoch will perhaps illustrate the same historical truism: at the nadir of their power, how soon are the mighty fallen.
For The Slog, there is an even bigger picture. My mantra from the start has been ‘it’s the culture, stupid’ – and few people (in my opinion) have done more to dumb down, vulgarise and ethically cleanse the culture of the United Kingdom.
Think for a second or two, for instance, of just how much restorative good might come from the Murdoch dynasty’s influence being entirely removed from the UK, on – say – the grounds of its owners and movers not being British, or indeed paying any tax here. (A rule, before you laugh, that has always existed in France).
The soccer Premiership’s business model would collapse. Overpaid players would become a thing of the past. Most foreign stars would leave the UK. The English game’s grassroots talent-pool would by force majeur by reinvigorated. And once more, England might actually win the World Cup.
Imagine further that – as The Slog has argued strongly for years – all monied influence on UK elections and Party funding was abolished and criminalised. Taxpayers would pick up the bill…but there would be no more Lord Ashtons, no more Unite meddling – and no more rich bankers or media owners with a potential hold over Prime Ministers.
That’s why the phone-hacking scandal derves the ‘Watergate’ soubriquet. And that’s why none of us should let it die until all the miscreants have been neutered by the sharp sword of justice.