Can I open another front in the News of the World debate?
For some people the crime of hacking into Milly Dowler’s ‘phone (and, it appears now, the Soham girls) on top of all the other examples is simply so heinous that senior heads should roll regardless of blame.
For others the fact that Rebekah Brooks was the highly paid editor of the NoTW means that she should take the rap, either because she knew what was happening or because she ran an organisation with a culture which allowed such thing to happen.
But there is also the question is consistency and hypocrisy. One of the characteristics of the News International style of journalism, and particularly its red top and cable news variety, is that when it turns against someone it is pretty ruthless. NewsCorp papers may not be quite as self-righteous as the Mail, but they aren’t far behind.
Celebrities, football managers, politicians and public servants (think of Sharon Shoesmith in Haringey or Peter Fincham over ‘Queengate’) have all had the experience of going on a list which can ultimately result in the headline ‘in the name of God, go’ (used, among others, against the now revered Bobby Robson when he was England manager, and Gordon Brown).
I once described the mainstream media as ‘a disorganised conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage’. The search for and attribution of blame is how many journalists and editors seem to see their role. And if attributing blame trumps accurate and balanced reporting then so be it.
When newspapers go for jugular in a political context, little or nothing is heard of voices suggesting maybe things went wrong despite good intentions, not because of bad ones, or that policy mistakes or political misjudgements may in part have reflected unreasonable demands and expectations from us, the public. This is one reason why so many political debates generate more heat than light and why too little is learnt from policy mistakes.
The benevolent side of me is inclined to consider whether it is reasonable to argue that Ms Brooks is the best person to get to the bottom of a scandal which she presumably understands better than almost anyone else. That part might also be tempted to point out that it was our own insatiable desire for the details of affairs, crimes and other scandals which made phone hacking such an attractive pursuit for hacks and their friends in the police force.
But not only would this involve extending a sympathy to Ms Brooks and Mr Murdoch which they have rarely extended to anyone else, but it would also be based on the naïve hope that having found themselves poachers pursued rather gamekeepers armed they might in the future be more sympathetic towards others in the firing line.
But I’m afraid even my limitless faith in people’s ability to change for the better doesn’t go that far.
Having said all of which, this story is both about the worst and best of journalism. The Guardian reporters’ pursuit of this story despite determined attempts to block and discredit them is surely one of the best examples of fearless investigative journalism we have seen in recent times. This story will prove to be the most explosive in the history of journalism, thank goodness we had the journalists to uncover it.
And here’s the daily topical joke. Another old one I’m afraid; reflecting the political polarisation around the 80s miners’ strike…
The Pope and Arthur Scargill are rowing a boat along a river when the Pope drops his oar and the boat starts drifting towards the rapids downstream. The Pontiff is starting to panic when Scargill gets out of the boat walks across the river and calmly returns to the boat with the oar. The next day the banner headline in The Sun reads:
‘shock new revelation: miners’ leader can’t swim’
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.