#Murdochgate is an awkward genii that will not be easy to put back into the bottle…

This Murdochgate story keeps twisting. Custard-piegate is just the latest of many tagged appendages it’s acquired in the last week or so. The Nolan Show ran a piece on it, which ran for twenty minutes this morning and got no callers. Yet this afternoon the Telegraph’s fantastically well executed live blog was up to 7589 comments 7589 comments and 2,309 Tweets.

Despite the miscasting of the story as a David (Ed Milliband) and Golliath (Murdoch, R) ‘epic’, this week’s Spectator has some keen observations to offer. Charles Moore, quotes a bit of Marx, with regard to the unloved (by himself at least) News of the World:

Defenders of such papers always say how ‘robustly’ they advance the cause of the many against the few, but in fact they have retarded it. They do their best to create what the Marxists call ‘false consciousness’ among the many whilst their owners and bosses establish collusive relationships with the powerful.

Max Hastings:

All that has been lacking in the past is common sense. The Prime Minister should keep talking privatedly to media folk, but abandon the idea that even the most exalted are appropriate mates. He is a public figure, 24/7. His every relationship is subject to public scrutiny until such time as he returns to public life, when maybe we can all be friends.

So far, so good. But Richard Lambert is yet another captain of the Press industry, who takes a more robust view of what his old profession part in current sins than either of his two former Fleet Street colleagues:

What’s needed is a successor body that is much more independent of the industry and much better resourced than the present version.

That means having a chairman who is willing to make waves, and so is not appointed – as at present – by the industry. It means an annual budget that would be significantly increased from the current £1.8m ($2.9m): had she not resigned, a good rule of thumb might have been five times Rebekah Brooks’ annual pay.

It means having the capacity and the willingness to investigate, rather than simply arbitrating existing disputes, which is all the present PCC tries to do.

And crucially he concludes:

The newspaper industry, once it recovers its poise, will object to the cost and powers of any such body: we will read much sanctimonious twaddle about the threats to its vital role as tribune of the people. The politicians will forget their current mood of bravado, and be reluctant to go head to head with a media that they have been brought up to fear. So if anything is going to be done, the time to get started is now.

That’s a key worry. As all these stones get overturned, all manner of strange and sometimes ugly creatures are scrabbling out from underneath… But it will require a multiplicity of wills to ensure the industry (not to mention those in politics who have devolved far too much of their own native political sense to such powerful elites), brings itself back on keel.

  • As Lloyd George said “What you can’t square you squash, and what you can’t squash you square”. This sums up the relationship between Downing Street and the print media as evidenced by James Margach in his book “The abuse of power” which chronicled his working life for the Sunday times and Telegraph (I think). An absolute must read of a memoir.

    Nothing changes and the same story reappears in one form or another every generation. It is unlikely to reappear again as the electronic media revolution continues apace. There will however be a price for all this democracy.

  • Alias

    The obvious flaw is that the PCC system of ‘enquiry’ is that it won’t implicate you in wrongdoing if it can’t be shown that you weren’t aware of the wrong being done. That means that editors and executives are deprived of any incentive to enquire if any wrong is being done by the hacks to boost circulation, since if they become aware of wrongdoing they are then vulnerable to being implicated by the PCC in it if they fail to act against it. Since it is boosting circulation, they are also deprived of any incentive by market forces to act against it. Therefore it is the much smarter option to allow the wrongdoing in order to boost circulation but to make sure that you never become aware of it (i.e. that there is no evidence of knowledge). Just as the editors and executives won’t ask for fear of being told, the PCC won’t ask either for fear of exposing the media as less than systemically pure. For example, the PCC turned a blind eye to the slush fund used by the NOTW’s royal reporter to fund private investigators. It was told by the reporter about that fund but it dropped it like a hot potato for fear of establishing systemic corruption that would contradict its enquiry’s pre-determined ‘one or two rotten apples’ conclusion. That must change. In future, editors and executives must have a duty to know, and must be implicated in wrongdoing by failing in that duty irrespective of (token) diligence. Once they know its their asses on the line, they won’t be able to hide behind a system that was formerly designed to cover their asses.

  • Rory Carr

    McIvor’s above remark is offensive, not only to Mrs. Murdoch who acted quite heroically in her feisty defence of her husband, but to women in general.

    It also fails to acknowledge the total disregard Murdoch’s attacker had for his intended victim’s advanced years when such an attack, whether prankish in purpose otr not, could have had the most serious consequences.

    Further, in truncating the committee’s questioning of the Murdoch’s, it denied to us all our opportunity to fully evaluate their response untainted by this nasty episode.

    And finally, it is completely off-topic and, in case I also be so accused, may I say that I have to agree with the idea that Milliband as David and Murdoch as Goliath is indeed miscasting on a grievous scale. If any movie comparisons are to be made in this regard it should not be with the genre of Biblical blockbusters but rather with MGM musicals, with Milliband cast as a hopelessly adrift Donald O’Connor whom fate throws a lifeline that allows him to climb On the Bandwagon and shine temporarily with an amusingly heartfelt little ditty while the audience politely applauds meanwhile wishing for a star of Gene Kelly’s calibre to supplant him.

    The task of ever defending a Labour leader, however weak, however lacking in ability or lacking in appeal against attack while in opposition to the Tories has finally been made impossible for me at least by this most dreadful of leaders. Odds against Cameron remaining as Tory leader may have shortened somewhat in recent days but so ought Milliband’s to remain as Labour leader given the poor fist he has made of this dream of a hand he has been dealt – most excruciatingly demonstrated in his KPMG speech yesterday when he failed miserably in his stated intention – to inspire determination and hope in equal measure among the electorate for comprehensive reform and a new respect to be inculcated in public life under (presumably) his example.

    It was all a case of, “Sorry, Ed, you’re just not credible. ” Or at least it might have been had anyone actually resisted either switching off or falling asleep before he had finished.

  • Rory Carr

    Obviously the offending remarks have been removed as I was composing my above response. Good!

  • Drumlins Rock

    I have to agree Rory in most things there, Mrs. Murdoch was pretty cool reacting so quick, young Jimmy was shrewd enough, but the old boy just look tired and out of it, maybe a put on show but if I was a shareholder I would be asking when is the handover.

    As for the bigger picture, I never ever liked having a former NOTW editor so close to the PM, but accepted at the time that was the price needed to for any party to get into government, so can I complain now that it has blown up, so long as Cameron knew as little as the voters did at the time it might make him look bad, but unless something massive and new comes out letting him get on with running the country is a bit more important atm than a witch hunt. As for Ed the boy wonder, give us a break he is verging on pathetic, and Labour were up to their neck in the same tripe since Tony came on the scene.

    I think it is probably time to start wrapping up, in fact its gone too far with the Met Commissioner resigning (unless there is more to that), the NOTW is gone, the Sky bid is gone, Brooks & Co. are gone, Murdoch has been humbled and wounded, sort out those wantonly criminal and then get on with regulating the press, at least have an independent PCC, its all change anyways, the net will rule within the next 10 yrs.

  • Drumlins Rock

    PS. on that last point, regulating the press in great depth is a waste of time as it is dying, more importantly how can the net be regulated?

    PPS. what about our own local journalists and their cozy relationships with government. 😉 >>>>

  • Mick Fealty

    He has a red card for his trouble too!

  • People who “pie” another person should be charged with aggravated assault, tried and sent to jail just as if they had struck another with a weapon. As Rory points out there could be serious consequences such as the victim, especially an elderly one, falling over.
    It’s just not funny regardless of the victim other than in slapstick comedy routines when the “victim” knows it is coming and consents.

  • Mick Fealty

    DR,

    I was sceptical about the speculation re Cameron, but Guido has some prettty hairy emails that are going to take some explanation.

    Cameron’s leadersship style may leave him particularly vulnerable here. He does not have many bodies between himself and the story now, not least because he is generally (beyond the Treasury) the one who makes most of the major decisions in government.

    I’m minded to be sceptical of coppers pointing accusitive fingers, but that email brings Cam’s personal judgement (the very thing her argued Brown lacked) into focus.

    Not fatal, but a great deal more prolonged and complex than Blair’s Ecclestone moment.

  • pippakin

    An old man was attacked by someone looking for and finding his fifteen minutes of fame. I hope the moron ends up on a dole queue.

    Cameron is damaged but so would Blair and Brown have been if this had happened on their watch.

    Police blaming someone else is nothing new.

  • Into the west

    Mick,
    I think its worse for cameron than I had thought too.
    Its not just that he has been inept in his choices;
    and shown poor judgement, its more that its calculated.
    There was a wilfulness to ignore advice on corruption
    and the arrogance of the fool who believes he’ll not get caught.

  • Mick Fealty

    Might as well go home then Pip, eh?

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    So you think its all done and dusted do you?

  • Mick Fealty

    No Pip. I was reflecting the import of your last comment.

    Really, and this is going to sound unnecessarily rude, people should not feel obliged to say something on a Slugger thread if they really have nothing new to add.

    For the record, what I think about the matter is contained in the comment before last.

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    You were reflecting on the import of my last comment, really? I find that odd considering the number of years both Blair and Brown spent currying favour with the Murdochs. Nor have I ever known a case in which the police were accused and then quietly took the sole blame.

    I’m no fan of Cameron but blithely ignoring more than a decade of Blair and Browns toadying to NI is a bit rich.

    I’m not going to bother with the rest if I did I’d lose my temper and that wouldn’t do.

  • wee buns

    Despite poised & polished performances from the Murdicks and despite Brooks’ stammering restraint when the eyes in her head desperately wanted to roll back in distain, I’m personally not lulled into a sense of a kosher world of hacks, cops and Cameroon.

    The trail is littered with dead teenager, soldiers & now whistle blower. Gawd knows what else.

    Mounting resignations, humblest days of their lives and the strangely bleached manicured fingers of the Murdicks, fail to conjure tabloid trick of sloganeered innocence.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, it would need to be explosive stuff because I think the big blow-off of steam today has probably satisfied most of the public’s hunger to see Murdoch humbled, push that one anymore and it will quickly turn to sympathy, espically after the attack.

    I also doubt there is any real public mood to bring down a PM over this, he is not hated enough yet! It is the whole body politic that will get hurt if it becomes a get Cameron story, smear a bit more by all means but if I was Labour I would stay well clear of the jugular even if it is exposed.

  • andnowwhat

    Actually Pippa, Brown and especially Blair are up to their neck in this but much of this is driven by The Guardian who are more interested in taking Call Me Dave and Gideon down.

    Let’s not forget 2 things:

    1: The vast majority of this happened under Labour’s watch.

    2. The incredibly close relationship between Blair and the Murdochs.

    BTW guys, Wendi’s defence of Rupert just shows why you should get a new, younger wife every so often.

  • wee buns

    ”BTW guys, Wendi’s defence of Rupert just shows why you should get a new, younger wife every so often.”

    Sexual frustration needs an outlet.

  • pippakin

    andnowwhat

    I know and its been bothering me that Cameron, who I have no time for, is being treated as if employing a prat is a criminal offence. In that world jobs are given on who you know and most people thought the hacking story had gone away…

    I thought Mrs Murdoch behaved with courage, nothing to do with sex, or even testosterone.

  • tacapall

    The old man Murdoch claims he knew nothing well it seems like he’s going to have to go through the same denying process all over again. If its proven that reporters from News Corp offered to pay a New York police officer for private phone records of some 9/11 victims its goodbye Murdoch forever.

  • andnowwhat

    There’s plenty on Cameron Pippa. He was told exactly what Coulson was by people from within and outside journalism.

    Gideon is is going to get it in the neck too and from what I’ve read on the Guardian’s comments, Londoners see there’s going to be a serious attack on Boris too.

    Having said that, it was under Labour that the last report took place and that’s when the silliest of lies, diversion and excuses were accepted.

    Members of News Corp told lies to parliamentary committee? Who’s have thunk it?

  • Although Cameron has been made to look foolish, I can’t see anything at present that will bring him down. Unless, of course, Clegg does something rash like welshing on his grubby coalition deal. But that would be political suicide for him and his party so, no fireworks display at Westminster any time soon.

  • Mark

    Having been married to a young lady from Mrs Murdoch’s neck of the woods , your man with the foam was lucky she was near nothing sharp .

  • Alias

    “PS. on that last point, regulating the press in great depth is a waste of time as it is dying, more importantly how can the net be regulated?”

    DR, 75% of British people still read a tabloid every morning. That’s power to influence popular political opinion. And while that power might decline in ten years, a political party will be well aware that he can be punished in a much shorter timeframe by a powerful tabloid owner.

    Self-regulation relies on the editors and executives being pro-active in ensuring compliance with a code of practice in return for the state taking a less active role in regulation. That means that the editors and executives must actively monitor the hacks to ensure compliance.

    But there is a loophole that both makes it possible for those editors and executives not to self-regulate and that actively discourages them from self-regulating. Specifically, if they self-regulate and find profitable wrongdoing, they will be implicated in the wrongdoing if they don’t remove it and they will lose profits if they do remove it.

    Therefore, it is better under the present system not to become formally aware of any wrongdoing. Self-regulation disincentives self-regulation. The loophole needs to be closed so that the editors and executives have a duty to know what their hacks are doing and suffer a penalty for failing in that duty. Either that or the media should not enjoy any special position in regard to regulation.

    As for regulating the Internet: oh, brother…

  • Unfortunately the enduring image of today is the custard pie moment and I have to agree that Murdoch senior looked extremely frail at times.
    Credit to Mrs Murdoch.
    The story however should have been about three things.
    James Murdochs confidence in dealing with the straightforward stuff, the sincere and/or stalling tactic “I will get back to you” and lastly the fact that there were questions he SHOULD have known the answer.

    But the creatures under the stones (referred to in Mick Fealtys initial post) were allowed to multiply.
    The publics insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip.
    The cosy relationship between Press, Politicians and Police.
    While the concentration is rightly on the effect of phone hacking on “civilians” such as the Dowlers, the focus should be on illegal activity in the entire Press including the broadsheets.
    Some months ago I suggested tongue in cheek that I am a man without “ethics”.
    Rather obviously I dont believe that I am a man without ethics. Quite the contrary..
    But in my early career I took the word of a “professional person” and was chided by an older colleague “never trust a man with ethics”.
    “Ethics”, “Red Tape” and “Restrictive Practices” are all actually the same thing.
    “Restrictive Practices” was what working class folks did to protect their way of life in car factories and steel works.
    But as they were working class……this was baaaaad.
    “Red Tape” or “Beaurocracy” was the preserve of the civil service…again to protect their status.
    And “Ethics” is the preserve of professionals to do exactly the same thing, But somehow regarded as “good”.

    Real decent journalists….have frankly been “behind the curve” on this. And its time….long past time they asserted themselves.

    And I just noticed Ive used the phrase “behind the curve”. Sorry. At least I havent said “on my watch” or “tipping point”.

  • USA

    I thought it was disgraceful that young woman named Peers Morgan without a shred of evidence. She was not even close to being accurate with her comments / question. This “parliamentary privilage” guff is getting really old.

  • Harry Flashman

    @Mark

    “Having been married to a young lady from Mrs Murdoch’s neck of the woods , your man with the foam was lucky she was near nothing sharp .”

    Can’t beat an Asian wife (well you could try but you’d probably end up minus a vital piece of equipment while you’re sleeping).

    I spent most of the meeting being distracted by la belle Wendi and hooted with delight when I saw her spring into action defending her husband while his faffing son stood around gaping like a stunned goldfish.

    Never be fooled by the stereotype of the meek, demure Asian woman, they’re as tough as hell when they need to be.

    I might not admire Rupert Murdoch for many things, hang on actually that’s not true, there are many things I admire him for, chiefly for breaking the corrupt power of the printing unions over press freedom, but he certainly goes high up in my respect for his choice of wife.

    If you’re looking for a great wife lads, look east. Ignore the begrudgers, the snarky “mail order bride” comments (frequent here on Slugger) are a minor price to pay for a blissful domestic life.

    Trust me, I know of which I speak.

  • Harry,

    Is it generally accepted that Asian wives are faithful and loyal alomost to a fault? I’m not looking for one, just impressed with the way that Murdoch’s wife jumped to his defence immediately and threw that wonderful punch.

  • wee buns

    If only Wendy had been in charge of the ethics committee at NotW she might have schlapped some decency into it.
    Murdoch Junior’s reaction to the ‘willful blindness’ question was a tad willfully blind I thought, and interesting how he strove to sanitize allegations by calling it voicemail interception.

  • It takes a particular type of partisan myopia to keep repeating “it all happened on Labour’s watch”. It didn’t.

    Keep taking the tabloids and repeat daily:

    ¶ Why didn’t, first, Surrey Constabulary in 2006 and then the Met, most recently in 2009, not follow up on Steve Whittamore and Glenn Mulcaire?

    Ex-AC Yates insisted yesterday that he had been asked to review one newspaper article, not the original investigation. He accepted that the original papers — all 11,000 pages, which way back in 2006 would have shown the Dowlers, the 7/7 victim and thousands more had been targeted — should have been reviewed and “if they had been we wouldn’t be here today.”

    I’m trying in that essential truth to find any exclusively political failure.

    One journalistic “moment of departure” for me was Nick Davies in The Guardian of 31 August 2009 : it’s worth revisiting —

    From his cramped office at the back of his family home on a quiet street on the Hampshire coast, Steve Whittamore was for years the link between news organisations and a network of sources who could penetrate the security of confidential databases.
    Eastwards, on the Sussex coast, he paid a long-haired Hells Angel who had perfected a spiel that allowed him to phone up British Telecom to extract home addresses and ex-directory numbers. To his north, in Salisbury, he used a fellow private investigator who worked on mobile phone companies as well. To the west, in Devon, a civil servant in the Department for Work and Pensions had access to the giant database of the social security system. Inside a regional office of the DVLA, he had two men who sold him the private details of any registered car owner. At Wandsworth police station in south London, a civilian worker sold criminal records and other personal information from the Police National Computer.
    Whittamore is only one of a dozen or more private investigators who have been involved in breaking the law for Fleet Street. There is the former actor who uses his skills as a mimic to “blag” the same databases; the former detective who was bounced out of the police for corruption and who has spent years carrying cash bribes from newspapers to serving officers; the London investigator who paid police to moonlight for his agency and to provide live intelligence that he sold on to newspapers. Some have supplied the technology that allows journalists to use “trojan horse” emails to steal information from computers, tap live phone calls and hack into voicemail messages, the technique that led to prison two years ago for a journalist and a private investigator working for the News of the World.

    Whittamore was “busted” in March 2003. All that information was then available to the Information Commissioner and the Police. Then … nothing, apart from a detailed, and then largely-ignored ICO report, which has suddenly become widely quoted by Tory MPs. Meanwhile a lot of important people (read The Spectator throughout) were assuring us that Davies and Rusbridger were out on an unsupported limb.

    Read the rest of that Davies article and you’ll still be ahead of the game when other victims names appear; and you’ll see why Wade/Brooks warned about “worse, much worse, to come”.

    By the way, if you prefer the “facts”, with a strong admixture of bile, venom and unbridled libertarian bias, John Ward’s running blog on “Hackgate” is worth watching.

  • pauluk

    I reckon Michelle Malkin sums things up pretty well when she says:

    As a proud Fox News contributor for the past 10 years, I have come to News Corp.’s defense countless times and will continue to do so when critics distort the facts and wage unfair attacks.

    This is not one of those times. There is no defense for this godawful fiasco. …

    Hacking is a serious crime and grave privacy invasion. PERIOD.

    Yes, it is painful to see a great media champion/entrepreneur and a great media empire — of which NoTW was just a tiny sliver — under fire. The glee and double standards of News Corp. haters on both sides of the pond are hard to stomach.

    But there is no one to blame for this other than those in News Corp. who let the scandal fester, and whose inaction handed critics all the ammunition they are firing now. These are the lumps and now every single rank-and-file employee and contributor at News Corp. is being forced to suffer them.

  • Harry Flashman

    @joeCanuck

    “Is it generally accepted that Asian wives are faithful and loyal alomost to a fault? I’m not looking for one, just impressed with the way that Murdoch’s wife jumped to his defence immediately and threw that wonderful punch.”

    Well of course it would be ludicrous to categorise an entire race of women ranging from Chinese to Indonesian but it is certainly true that loyalty is a major influence in Asian life.

    I can’t help but think a western “trophy wife”, if you’ll pardon the dreadful expression but I think you get what I mean, might have been a bit slower to upset her hairdo or damage her nails compared to the absolutely instinctive reaction of Ms Deng to immediately respond to a threat to her husband.

    Of course there are drawbacks to this level of loyalty, particularly towards family which can be taken to absurd extremes.When you marry an Asian woman you’re pretty much taking on her family too in a way that is rarely found in western contexts

  • Harry Flashman @ 12:28 pm:

    taking on her family too in a way that is rarely found in western contexts

    Or in the case of Wendi Deng, the taking on of Star TV (which involved the taking off of BBC programmes) in a way that should never be found in western contexts.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Well of course it would be ludicrous to categorise an entire race of women”

    But fine to categorize “western women”?

  • Mark

    ” When you marry an Asian woman you’re pretty much taking on her family too in a way that is rarely found in western contexts ”

    I can second that Harry . The problem with Asian families is that they keep getting bigger . Upon hearing the news that her second cousin ( my wife ) was getting married to a falang ( white foreigner ), this future distant relative of mine was heard saying that ” now we can habb second baby and buy scooter ” .

    It doesn’t help that some Asian men are allergic to giving straight answers and working .

  • Harry Flashman

    @ Pigeon Toes

    “But fine to categorize “western women”?”

    I didn’t do so, I categorized a certain stereotypical type of woman, ‘trophy wives’ western or otherise, a category into which I do not for one moment believe Wendi Deng falls.

    @ Mark

    I resented that attitude a little bit at first but then I saw it from the family’s perspective. It was nothing to do with me being perceived as a rich foreigner (which I suppose I could well have been described) but more a generalised assumption that if one family member gets a bit of good fortune it’s their duty and obligation to help out the other, less fortunate, members of the clan.

    I am lucky in that my missus is as tightfisted as all get out and doesn’t put up with any nonsense. If I ever get to hear about any individual needing help and it is almost invariably a child needing help with school fees or an elderly relative with health problems, they will be genuine cases of hardship as my wife will have weeded out the other deadbeats long before I ever get to hear about them.

    @Malcolm

    “Or in the case of Wendi Deng, the taking on of Star TV (which involved the taking off of BBC programmes) in a way that should never be found in western contexts.”

    Really? So in western societies the owners of businesses don’t get to choose which services they want to provide? I wasn’t aware of that, when did that happen?