by Paul Kavanagh
So farewell then News of the World. Today a nation wakes for the first time in over 160 years without being titillated over tea and toast. The final issue didn’t disappoint. True to the finest traditions of the NotW and its sister publication the Sun, most of the edition was taken up with a big pat on the back and buried somewhere deep in the inside pages was a small apology blaming bad boys wot had run away. Not a gotcha to be found.
We are indeed all sadly diminished. Many crucial and vital news stories will now never be subject to the glare of public scrutiny. Victoria Beckham gave birth to a daughter this week. She weighed just over 7 lbs, a terribly unhealthy weight for a 37 year old woman. Jordan is reportedly trying to sell Hello magazine the story of her distress that her latest spat with the cage-wrestler / talent show contestant / dwarf goat-herder from Tannu Tuva that she’s currently shacked up with will no longer grace the pages of a prestigious Sunday newspaper. She’s only got the Mirror to turn to, but we knew that about her already.
To be fair, there were some very good things about the paper. They had a fantastic complaints service. All you had to do was leave a message on your own voicemail and they’d get back to you.
There have been thousands of victims of the phone hacking scandal. Just about every famous and not so famous person in the country seems to have had their phone hacked. Yet there are other celebrity victims whose plight the media has overlooked. Spare a thought for those minor celebs who were devastated to discover that NotW had absolutely no interest whatsoever in hacking their mobiles. Their lives have been ruined and they’ll never be able to look Sienna Miller in the eye again.
But it was the revelation that reporters’ targets included the families of victims of terrorism and murder that turned the nation’s collective stomach. Someone has to pay for this, justice has to be done. Justice being as it is in this country, the first sacrificial victims to the altar of public disgust were not the ones responsible for causing the disgust. The entire staff of the News of the World was axed to save the reputations of Rupert Murdoch and News International executives. It was a bit like Darth Vader slaughtering some Ewoks in the hope that it might make us think more fondly of him.
Why Rupert thought that sacking type-setters, printers, apostrophe correctors and tea-persons would make us all go, “Ah, well that’s all sorted then,” is a bit of a mystery. But from his lofty position Darth Murdoch sees what we cannot, and none of us realise just how deadly a tea-trolley can be or how much havoc a misplaced apostrophe can wreak. Thank God those people at News International are there to keep them in check. Perhaps if Fred the Shred had sacked all the folk who fill the cash machines and the janitors he could have announced that the banking crisis was solved, all those responsible had been dealt with, and we wouldn’t be facing massive cuts to public spending.
However the character everyone wanted to see kicked off the News International Death Star continued in her starring role. The Jar Jar Brooks of the NotW affair announced she would continue in office. Darth Murdoch said she had his full confidence. In a profile piece on Sky News, all agreed that Ms Brooks had an unmatchable ability to worm her way into the confidence of the rich and powerful. One interviewee described her as a “galactic class schmoozer”, which is just like the Death Star, only instead of blowing up planets with a death ray it smothers them with flattery and insincerity.
Every day on the news this week the flaming haired Jar Jar assured us that she was the best person to lead the company out of the crisis, despite the fact that she was in charge of the company when the crisis was created and somehow managed not to see it coming. She was commanding from the bridge, apparently unaware that the ship was sailed for a destination not seen since Moby spotted his Dick.
Which led to a question which is obvious to a small child, but one which is apparently beyond the wit of the humungous business brains behind News International; if you don’t know how you got yourself into this mess then what makes you think you’ll know how to get out of it?
MPs, who on the whole are marginally slower on the uptake than a small child, wanted to know this too. The select committee of the House of Commons looking into the affair sent requests to Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks to attend the House in order to answer the committee’s questions. Keen to demonstrate that he did indeed know how to get the company out of this mess Darth Murdoch declined to attend without giving a reason, being far too important to bother with anyone who isn’t actually the Prime Minister or a Jedi Knight with a properly functional light-sabre. Murdoch mini-me said he was washing his hair or doing something equally high-powered executivish, but could possibly make himself available when the MPs were away on holiday. Ms Brooks said she would attend, but only on condition that she didn’t have to answer any difficult questions, like asking her what her staff were doing when she was in charge.
MPs, who have a sense of entitlement equal only to that of media moguls, were outraged by the slight and sent off a man in tights to chase after Murdoch da and boy and serve them with a summons. Failure to comply with the summons could see the pair clapped in Parliament’s dungeons.
“Chained in dungeon by man in tights” is the kind of headline the Sun specialises in. But fear of tabloid headlines and the British Parliament was the least of Murdoch’s worries by this time, as the chorus grew in the US for an enquiry into News International’s activities there. An FBI investigation was launched in order to discover whether any US citizens had broken US law. Both the Murdochs and the chief executive of News International are US citizens. Judges in the US seem rather less intimidated by media moguls, as former owner of the Telegraph, Conrad Black, has already found out.
By Friday Darth Murdoch had rapidly discovered contrition and decided that perhaps Jar Jar wasn’t the best person to lead the company out of the crisis after all. A full page apology in all the national papers followed.
News International continues to unravel. Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole sordid business so far isn’t the shocking revelations about hacking the phones of murder victims. It’s the casual way in which making payments to police officers was accepted as standard practice. So accepted that Jar Jar insouciantly told a House of Commons committee that the paper she edited made payments to police officers. But paying police officers for information is a crime. No amount of spin makes it any less illegal.
NotW journalists even attempted to bribe police officers in order to gain access to the Royal Family’s mobiles. We’ve not been told if the attempt was successful and will never see the Queen’s text messages, but in a Newsnet exclusive we can reveal that they’d probably look something like this: “Gr8 LOLZ wiv archbish. In st8 carriage in Mall. Pall Mall not Braehead! LOL!!!! As if!!! Home in 5 min. Tell serf to get kettle on. Liz2”
More about contacts between News International and the police keeps coming to light. Sir Paul Stephenson, the heid polis of London, tells us he’s “very satisfied” with his own conduct in employing a now arrested NotW deputy editor who was allegedly up to his neck in the scandal. He’s equally satisfied there’s nothing wrong with the policeman who investigated the NotW phone hacking the first time then going on to work for News International. This was the investigation which conveniently found only a couple of minor scapegoats. The self-satisfied Commissioner had a series of satisfying dining engagements with News International executives while the Metropolitan police investigation into the phone-hacking scandal was on-going. But he was satisfied that there was nothing inappropriate. These satisfying dinners are now responsible for making the police produce a lot of gas and giving everyone else indigestion.
The police’s “Move along now, there’s nothing to see here” line isn’t holding. They’re being forced to fall back to the “bad apples” defence. But it looks increasingly like the entire orchard is growing in poisoned soil and is managed by incompetents.
The political classes now vie with one another to disapprove of News International the loudest. The speed with which a politician can distance his or herself from the Murdochs is already being touted as a possible new Olympic sport.
Slowest out of the condemnatory gates has been PM David Cameron. In this modern age we must not be judgemental of individuals with special needs. Dave has a special need to manipulate the media so that none of us will find out that he’s dismantling the welfare state, destroying public services and privatising everything. And he’s bestest pals with Andy Coulson, the former NotW editor who is now being investigated by police officers who are not personal chums or dining acquaintances.
Dave gave Andy a job in Downing St after Andy left the NotW and invited him to Chequers for the weekend even after the mounting scandal had forced Coulson to resign from his government position. Dave went to Eton which is character building so he knows when a chap is a good egg. Dave’s judgement is much better than the judgement of all those people who had warned him that employing a guy with Coulson’s track record might not be the wisest of ideas.
Ed Miliband continues to do his best impression of a school swot who’s dobbed in the other kids for smoking fags behind the bike-sheds. Alas poor Ed has a 20-a-day habit himself, until very recently he was calling up News International executives 20 times a day in order to check that Labour’s most recent news release met with the approval of Rupe. Like an evangelical ex-smoker, Ed now preaches against the evils of addictive media moguls and advises that all News International publications should carry a health warning. It remains to be seen whether he’s really kicked the habit.
But the Olympic gold medal for distance putting would assuredly go to Gordon Brown. In a thundering performance in the House of Commons, Gordon Brown railed against, well pretty much everyone and everything really. It was all everyone’s fault except his, and he’d had the answer to it all if only those pesky kids hadn’t interfered. Or something. By this stage the onlookers were smiling and nodding, as you do when trapped by a locquacious drunk at a party and you’re looking for an escape. Gordon was so carried away by self-righteousness that he managed to forget that when he’d been Prime Minister he was so far up News International’s collective behind that he could see the Sun if he perched carefully on Rupert Murdoch’s small intestine.
This was Gordon’s third appearance in the House of Commons since losing the General Election. The good people of Kirkaldy may be pleased to know that based on an MP’s salary this works out at £21,912 per appearance. Even Eddie Izzard doesn’t command that much, and he’s a real comedian.
Gord told us he had demanded a full enquiry into the behaviour of the press after the Sun revealed details of his son’s health condition. It was all a part of that vision thing he had when he was in office, the one he’d forgotten to tell us about at the time. Unfortunately his demand for a full judicial enquiry had been over-ruled by the Civil Service. Apparently civil servants can over-rule Prime Ministers. Who knew?
Gus MacDonald didn’t, and since he was heid bummer of the Civil Service during Gord’s tenure in office you’d think someone ought to have told him. In an interview the following day Gus reminded Gordon that he was talking a whole load of auld twaddle.
But Gordon was deeply upset and distressed by the whole affair. Mind you, not quite upset enough to make him decline an invitation to Rebekah Brooks’ wedding after her paper had stitched up his family. But he was still determined that the press had to be sent a strong signal, so he didn’t get her a very nice present. Instead of the signed copy of Gordon’s latest book which he’d been planning to give her, he gave the newly married couple a sandwich maker which Sarah had got on special offer from Argos. Ha! That’ll teach them to mess with the Gord.
This is what passes for press regulation in the UK in the 21st century.