Best of #Hackgate commentary (5)

Here’s the latest highlights in a story that just keeps moving:

–       Jeremy Hunt caught on a political hook over ‘fit and proper’ issue

–       James Murdoch, the invisible mogul

–       A good day for Ed Milliband

–       Milliband spoke for Britain (who’d have thought it?)

–       Cameron falls in behind Labour motion

–       Might ultimate effect be that News Corp disposes of UK print operations?

–       Murdoch Phone-Hack Scandal Moves Closer to Wall Street Journal Chief

–       If Rupert Goes, Is Chase Carey the Next News Corp CEO?

–       Why did Number 10 let Andy Coulson through the front door?

–       Rupert Murdoch is a paper tiger

–       Murdoch and his minions lowered the tone of Britain’s tabloid press

–       Fleet Street is becoming a luxury for Murdoch

–       Shareholders sue News Corp for failing to take early action on phone hacking scandal

–       A long goodbye from La Roi du ‘Sun’…

–       Cameron, Coulsongate will sap his personal credibility, and popular appeal, but

–       Sky bid sent to competition regulator

–       News International papers targeted Gordon Brown

–       What Orwell really thought of the News of the World…

–       James Murdoch Could Face Criminal Charges In Phone Hacking Scandal

–       Don’t let the politicians turn the UK press into an US-style lapdog of the Establishment

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  • The devil may have the best tunes, but only via selective play-lists.

    Thus the NotW‘s hack of George Orwell’s essay for Tribune, 15th February 1946, deserves much, much attention.

    I would start with Orwell’s response to enquiries by Partisan Review, published in the July-August 1941 edition, but composed 15 April 1941:

    The tone of the popular press has improved out of recognition during the last year. This is especially notable in the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial (“tabloid” papers of vast circulation, read largely by the army), and the Beaverbrook papers, the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Evening Standard. Except for the Daily Mail and certain Sunday papers these used to be the most lowbrow section of the press, but they have all grown politically serious, while preserving their “stunt” make-up, with screaming headlines, etc. All of them print articles which would have been considered hopelessly above their readers’ heads a couple of years ago, and the Mirror and the Standard are noticeably “left”. The Standard is the least important of Beaverbrook’s three papers, and he has apparently taken his eye off it and left its direction almost entirely to young journalists of left-wing views who are allowed to say what they like so long as they don’t attack the boss directly. Nearly the whole of the press is now “left” compared with what it was before Dunkirk — even The Times mumbles about the need for centralized ownership and greater social equality — and to find any straight-forward expression of reactionary opinions, i.e. reactionary in the old pre-Fascist sense, you now have to go to obscure weekly and monthly papers, mostly Catholic papers. There is an element of eyewash in all this, but it is partly due to the fact that the decline in the trade in consumption goods has robbed the advertisers of much of their power over editorial policy. Ultimately this will bankrupt the newspapers and compel the State to take them over, but at the moment they are in an interim period when they are controlled by journalists rather than advertisers, which is all to the good for the short time it will last.

    That makes even more sense when one remembers that, in 1941, the editor was Frank Owen, who was succeeded by Michael Foot the following year. Owen went off to war-service and ran Allied information services in South-East Asia.

    I guess even the most benighted among Sluggerdom may recognise the name of Foot: I trust they recognise his passionate disgust, through a long life, at corporate ownership of the press — and in particular at the machinations of Murdoch. Frank Owen, too, was a figure of importance: co-author with Foot and Michael Howard of Guilty Men. He had been a Lloyd George Liberal MP in the 1929-31 parliament, and described this as: I was elected by the highly intelligent, far-sighted people of the constituency of Hereford in 1929 – and thrown out by the same besotted mob two years later. He later edited the Daily Mail in the 1950s.

  • pippakin

    I wonder if part of the power News International had, over politicians in particular, may have been the threat of closure of newspapers. Everyone has seen how easy it was for them to dump NOTW, as if placing all the blame on a piece, or even several pieces of paper was supposed to somehow lesson the guilt of people or that the public might see such a closure as sufficient punishment.

    The public have shown they have more back bone than politicians which of course is entirely expected, but if the rumours that NI might be preparing to sell the Sun etc are true is that a fit of pique at having to withdraw from the BSkyB bid or the genuine withdrawal of a toxic company and if that is the case is it something politicians would need to be very concerned about.

    Very few people acknowledge the Sun as anything but a rag but most people would say that the Times and Sunday Times are good newspapers. If all three disappear then that is a blow, especially if it is replaced by The Daily Star mark two. The next little while is likely to be very important for the MSM and the newspaper industry in particular.

  • Pippakin @ 8:33 am:

    Thoughtful and provocative. Indeed, I think I see why Sluggerdom as a generality shuns this thread.

    Wasn’t Lenin’s observation of 1917 that the masses were ahead of the Party, the Party ahead of the cadres, and the cadres ahead of the Central Committee?

    That suggests there has been a general game of keepee-uppee going on.

    There was a huge, and transient wave of visceral disgust at the Dowler hackings. That was instructive in itself, because it represented precisely the tidal emotions that the tabloids usually ride.

    Quite when the Labour leadership located enough backbone to stand up now escapes me. I do know that Miliband was warned off, told to leave it to The Guardian and, in Parliament, to Tom Watson and Chris Bryant.

    Once Miliband was committed, and making inroads, it was inevitable that the (generally demoralised) Labour parliamentary party would perk up and follow. Even though, as has been intimated to me, there was an underlying doubt, that it was

    “Forward, the Light Brigade!
    Charge for the guns!” he said:
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the 258.

    Even so, it was the extra-parliamentary pressure that was ahead of the game: the Hacked-off lot, in particular.

    Next up, the LibDems crumbled — could they do anything else? I wonder (not having LibDem tendrils) whether it wasn’t not just the woolly-hatter principles but an underlying rumble of discontent — that a succession of LibDem luminaries had been serially hung out to dry: Laws, Cable, Clegg, Huhne and the shameless use of the nice-but-fairly-dim “Ginger Rodent” Alexander as Osborne’s firewall.

    Then, and perhaps most important, is what happened inside the bowels of the Tory Beast. The Telegraph true-grit Tories have an instinctive anti-Murdoch lean — they simply, and rightly, don’t trust the bastard. If Murdoch decided to go on a sustained rant — for a hypothetical example, a sustained anti-EU, Cameroonie-unfriendly jag — the instabilities of the ConDem pact would be exposed. Note that such rumbling is happening, though Murdoch (or anyone else of clout) hasn’t seized it yet.

    Suddenly Cameron was exposed; and didn’t Miliband exploit that opening. All’s fair in love and whore. Very few Tories outside the Cameron inner circle — and there are only a select few inside the kraal — were too distressed at that. There are still many unpaid debts of resentment over the differential treatments of expenses claimants, which neatly overlap with disappointed would-be place-men and -women who believe they deserve have the ministerial perks that unworthy LibDems hold.

    Are we now in the end-game? The rallying cry is the dissing of Gordon Brown.

    If that’s the political game, what’s the media one?

    Who in any sane mind would want to buy a national newspaper title? Anyway, with rare exceptions (and I can name just the four “broadsheets”), there’s no such thing as a national “news”-paper anymore. Most are cheap daily substitutes for the celeb magazines, which do the gossip and pizazz and synthetics far better. Even the four nationals survive in large part by selling sport, with heavy doses of food, fashion and property porn. Even the Sunday Times, the arch-exponent of the art, isn’t making money there. The classified ad market (except for the big Head of House prestige jobs and such like) is all on the net.

    Which brings us back to television, to BSkyB and Murdoch’s need to throttle the competition (i.e. the BBC). Seconds out: round four.

  • pippakin

    Malcolm Redfellow

    Gordon Brown almost wrecked the cosy consensus agreed among the three main parties! He disappears for months returning at the first opportunity to kick a dog when its down, that man bears grudges better than I do!

    For the rest I think you have it right but if there is a lack of interest perhaps its because although the story is still headline news its no longer breaking news, and perhaps its not something most of us have an answer to…

  • I think its only half correct to say that the Hacked Off People have provided the backbone to the campaign or that public reaction has in some way emboldened the Labour Party.
    Certainly I am now a admirer of Mr Hugh Grant……almost to the extent that I could nearly bear to watch one of his movies…..he comprehensively beat Mr Jon Gaunt on Question Time…….and Mr Steve Coogan did some Stretford Ending on Mr Paul McMullan who was described as a “formerly NOTW journalist on Newsnight.
    Notably Gaunt and McMullan tried to provoke my heroes by asides about their tabloid exposures.
    But surely the thing about the Hacked Off people is that they have nothing left to lose to the Tabloid Protection Racket.
    The same can also be said of Mr John Prescott, Mr Chris Bryant, Mr Simon Hughes and……… Mr Gordon Brown. Not to mention the Dowler family, the Soham families and Mrs Gentle.
    They simply have already been “burned” by NOTW or should never have been “burned” by NOTW.
    Being photographed in your Yfronts, driving two jags and being caught out with a LA lady of the evening (while in a relationship with an English Rose) is no longer a liability in public life.
    They have therefore been the people who led the way.
    Respectable journalists might cling to the notion that it was the Guradian (ie themselves) wot dun it….but actually the newspapers were as much behind the curve (to use that new phrase) as the Labour or Tory Front Bench.
    There is of course something “chapel” about the Lib Dem reaction. They dont really look the type of people who watch Premiership football or Eastenders and probably consider NOTW headlines beneath them.
    And Torygraph tories would tend to see Murdoch support as something akin to the brute Tommy Atkins support in World War 1.
    But more widely I dont think there are multiple agendas rather than single ones.
    Its too naive to think that SOME MPs are not taking the opportunity of kicking Murdoch (they are following the mob) but there is an element of finding a long awaited opportunity to kick Murdoch out of conviction.
    The public mood faciliates both.
    There is a tabloid agenda……..picking up NOTW and Sun readers…..while hoping that the spotlight does not expose other tabloid wrong doing.
    Oddly the Paparazzi are actually following the Murdochs and Ms Brooks…..to get that pic to sell to the Picture Desk……..a wardrobe malfunction from Rebekah or perhaps Ruperts ungainly climbing out of his Range Rover.
    And a wider newspaper agenda that is about Freedom of the Press (blah blah blah), increased regulation of the Press Complaints Commission and perhaps a thought that “blagging” if not actual “hacking” is a necessary part of the portfolio of skills that a good journalist knows.
    For all the Guardian exposure, respectable newspapers have actually facilitated the tabloids by not competing with them and carving out a niche market among those not carried away by the Premiership, the Windsors, X Factor and Coronation Street.
    The respectable Press told us that we cant trust Bankers, Police, Civil Service mandarins, Politicians, Churchmen but somehow never quite got round to telling us that we cant trust Journalists…….which is odd because it would be a story that was all around them and requiring the least effort.
    Yet my long standing concern…often mentioned here on Slugger and rarely considered relevant is that the first thing we must consider………is “who wrote this, where is the source and what is the angle”
    Now the entire world knows to do this.

  • fitzjameshorse1745 @ 2:38 pm:

    I have no great dispute with any of that.

    However, a thought:

    The Hugh Grant “outing” of Paul McMullen goes back a full three months: I bought my copy of that New Statesman on 7th April. It was a small sensation; but then was lost in the miasma.

    Hacked Off formally assembled itself only last week: kudos to (among others) Brian Cathcart and Martin Moore.

    It has been a long, slow burn; and it is all down to the sheer persistence, over — what? — two years, of Nick Davies at The Guardian, and the support of his editor Alan Rusbridger. Some time when I’m looking for a time-waster (other than the one before us here), I’ll check back at the number of times “better informed” organs (the columns of The Spectator would be a good start) have complacently told us, “Move on! There’s nothing to see here!”

    Most of the recent heavy lifting, at least in public, is down to Tom Watson. Other names for the honours board are identified by Polly Curtis’s piece for The Guardian, yesterday.

    The blaggarding and brutalising of Gordon Brown by the entirety of the right-wing media is instructive. Whether or not you feel he misjudged the temperature, what he said was explicit and had hard factual bases. Only a total cynic would suggest that doing down Gordon Brown is a way to damaging his former bag-carrier, Tom Watson.

  • Indeed but there are serious journalists who are telling us that the “system works” because of Nick Davies and Alan Rusbridger. Rather like politicians told us the “system worked” because of honest MPs.
    Yet the peculiarity is that Journalists normally so anxious to hold bankers, politicians, civil service manadarins and police feet to the flames are treating themselves somewhat differently.
    We are told hypocritically that police cant regulate police….politicians cant monitor politicians…..senior civil servants cant judge other civil servants ….bankers cant regulate bankers (or the Law Society or General Medical Council cosiness)…..but the perfect people to monitor the Press is the Press Complaints Commission or preferentially ……nobody at all.
    And this is because of Press Freedom.
    Pass the sick bag Alice as Mr Junor used to say