As the heads continue to roll in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal — with Rebekah Brooks (the CEO of News International) and Les Hinton (the CEO of Dow Jones) both resigning from Murdoch’s fast-crumbling media empire, and Sir Paul Stephenson and his deputy John Yates from the embattled Metropolitan Police, just one of the three parties deeply implicated in this affair — the government itself — has so far refused to accept the implications of its deep involvement in the crooked behaviour of the News of the World and its parent company, News International.
This is all the more remarkable given David Cameron’s close relationship with not one but two editors of the News of the World, who were both in charge when the worst of the hacking took place — Rebekah Brooks, married to his close friend, the racehorse trainer (and former Etonian) Charlie Brooks, and Andy Coulson, who, of course, was the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications until January this year, Both Coulson and Brooks have, of course, spent time in police custody in the last week and a half.
In his desire not to be contaminated by his connections, David Cameron has been resorting to increasingly desperate behaviour, publicly abandoning Coulson, and generally denouncing the whole of Murdoch’s media empire as though he had not employed Coulson, and had not been close friends with Brooks.
This is in spite of the fact that, in May, David Cameron “denied that it was inappropriate” for him to have had dinner at Rebekah Brooks’ home (with James Murdoch as a guest as well) “while the government was considering the company’s takeover bid for BSkyB,” as the Guardian described it, and also that it has just been revealed that Cameron invited Coulson to Chequers in March, two months after he resigned as Director of Communications, a revelation that led Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, to accuse the Prime Minister of showing an “extraordinary lack of judgment.”
It is not known quite what else tied Cameron to the Murdochs, but it is abundantly clear that, before last year’s General Election, in exchange for the fabled support that everyone craved from Murdoch from Margaret Thatcher onwards, Cameron promised Murdoch that any stumbling block to his 100 percent takeover of BSKyB would be conveniently removed. I think we can also be sure that copious amounts of BBC-bashing also took place in Cameron’s cosy chats with various Murdoch dignitaries, and also that the liberalisation of the media was discussed, as was hinted at before the election, so that the prospect of a British Fox News was a reality.
However, to understand the scale of the corruption at the very top of the government, readers need only reflect that it took nothing less than the biggest scandal in living memory to stop the BSkyB takeover (giving Murdoch 100 percent control of BSkyB rather than 39 percent) even though that would been the death knell for any notion of fairness and competition in the British media.
Now that the unexpected has happened, Cameron is under assault from all sides, as he should be. Ed Miliband has found his voice and his purpose in attacking him, and in the Guardian today, Roy Greenslade called for Nick Clegg to overthrow Cameron in a coup. In another article, Patrick Wintour, Nicholas Watt and Vikram Dodd nailed how vulnerable the Prime Minister now is:
The “firestorm” he himself described is still raging, and as the body count rises in the form of arrests or resignations, he looks increasingly exposed.
Every day as the crisis continues, his judgment, and that of the chancellor, George Osborne, in appointing the former editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson as his director of communications looks increasingly inexplicable.
The reporters also picked up on the fallout from Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation, noting that Cameron “appears to be facing the thinly-disguised wrath of a Met commissioner angry that he is being accused of an improperly contractual relationship with Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor, when the prime minister arguably insisted on an even less appropriate relationship with Coulson.” They added that Stephenson also implied that he could not impart operational information to Cameron since he was too compromised with the chief suspects.”
As Sir Paul Stephenson stated, in the most damning passage: “Unlike Mr. Coulson, Mr. Wallis had not resigned from the News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge, been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation.”
The Guardian also confirmed the extent to which Cameron had been caught out favouring Murdoch over any other media proprietor, pointing out that:
[T]he record of meetings between Cameron and News International executives released on Friday does not reveal a modernising prime minister governing in the national interest, but a victim of a vested interest. His meetings with News International executives in a year exceed those with all other news organisations put together. Not a single figure from the BBC was granted an audience. It is one of those assemblages of small facts that change the way a public figure is viewed.
I do hope that the way Cameron is being perceived is changing in a negative manner, and, moreover, one that is permanent and not a temporary blip. He was not, of course, personally involved in phone-hacking, and nor is it a criminal offence to have cosied up to one media mogul in the most monstrous manner possible, and, moreover, to the exclusion of all the others. However, given Cameron’s demonstrable pro-Murdoch bias — particularly in the shameful manner in which business secretary Vince Cable was slapped down last December when he criticised Murdoch and the BSkyB takeover — and given the very public exposure of his poor judgment, and that of the Chancellor, George Osborne, when it came to appointing Andy Coulson, first as Director of Communications for the Conservative party, and then for No. 10, and ignoring all those who advised that this was not a good idea, I cannot see how Cameron can stay in office.
Just focus on the basics: The Prime Minister, warned about the track record of his Director of Communications, nevertheless employed him, and then, eight months after the General Election, watched him depart under a cloud as the phone-hacking scandal resurfaced. Just six months later, the scandal reemerged as the biggest scandal in living memory, and the Prime Minister’s former Director of Communications was arrested and questioned by the Metropolitan Police.
If this happened under a Labour government, there would be calls for the Prime Minister’s head. The situation should not be any different simply because the current Prime Minister clearly has no principles whatsoever and believes that he was born to rule. Cameron’s only practical experience before he became Prime Minister was in PR, but as a scandal of epic proportions engulfs him, he should be aware that running a country is not a PR exercise, and that reputations are not just something for other people, or a matter to be adjusted with a well-scripted presentation. In the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world concocted by the Prime Minister and his close aides, reputations can be fatally wounded, and careers abruptly curtailed.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Thanks, Paul, for the supportive words, and Allison for the video. And Dejanka, I also went out after the Murdochs. I was meeting my wife and a friend, but in any case I needed to get some fresh air after that performance. I saw the beginning, and she was very calm, and out to charm, and I understand that she didn’t really put a foot wrong: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/19/rebekah-brooks-phone-hacking-payments
Paul Walter wrote:
Yes, the real task will be to some how reform media so that broad sheet elements remain without throwing out the bath water, in several anglo democracies afflicted by burgeoning media/press dry rot over the last generation.
Agreed, Paul, although I wonder if regulation is a good idea, or if, perhaps, the public in general should be asking what they want the media for. The lack of logic interests me. People reacted suddenly, decisively and in large numbers to the revelation that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a dead girl, and, moreover, had deleted messages, giving her family the false hope that she was alive. This is genuinely disgusting behaviour, of course, but then many of these same people hadn’t flinched for a second when they’d been reading stories every week for years about the activities of celebrities, even when the same disgraceful techniques were involved. Increasingly, as so often these days, I end up asking why my fellow citizens are so generally complacent, inert and/or complicit in what’s wrong with the world.
Paul Walter wrote:
Will disclose am an Aussie, like many tragics up watching on a crisp winter night instead of Wimbledon or the Ashes. First up, as I understand it, your deregulated regulator apparently made howlers dealing with Murdoch and a parallel thing has happened here, over the same decade. When the regulator is stacked with the cosy fellow travellers of the dominant cultural regime, when we see evidence even some one with single-digit IQ can understand passed over, we can say the neolib model is no constructive employ or any improvement on the regulator model. When I think of the $Trillions squandered globally over the last decade for the want of a bit of media “code of practice” early in the decade, my blood boils.
Saghir Hussain wrote:
To be replaced by Boris?
David J. Clarke wrote:
The fact that this kind of sleazy malfeasance enjoins together the usual suspects: big business, the media, state security apparatus and the government should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. What is surprising is that the rudiments of a free and civil society are (apparently) still intact – to the degree that the political maneuvering of these criminal entities and their close and incestuous association has finally been exposed to the light of day. Expecting the smug and blue-blooded Cameron to pay a price for his indiscretions is, in all likelihood, wishful thinking; it would after all require that a painful forensic examination take place regarding the relationship between those that wield the power and those that spin the message and it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern the difference!
Regina Kaniewski wrote:
finally got a reply to my March letter to Cameron about UK and torture…from an American at the North American desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth…”the UK gov.unreservedly condemns the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as a matter of fundamental principle, We work hard with our international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice. we expect all countries to comply with their international obligations and we are active in pressing them to deliver on these commitments….the conditions in which an individual is detained must meet international standards. conditions that fail to meet this standard may amount to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment…we consider that conditions in US prisons generally meet international standards”….!!!???? wtf happened to international standards. i will be asking this young man if he has even HEARD of Pelican Bay State Prison
My blood boils too, Paul, and of course, few people have been asking the bigger questions about the media’s role in being the official propagandists for the “War on Terror” and the illegal invasion of Iraq. Murdoch may be the worst in many ways (for Fox News alone), but when we start looking beyond News Corp., lo and behold! most of the other mainstream media outlets were cheerleaders and manipulators too. The uncowed individual voices of unembedded journalism are here online — and our audiences are steadily growing — but we can’t yet get anything near offsetting the damage that the mainstream media can still do.
David, I also wouldn’t like to say that this scandal will bring Cameron down (although none of us know what may turn up next), but I do think it’s rocked his authority, and, importantly, I think his own party is not standing behind him as thoroughly as before. I could see him losing support simply because of his appalling arrogance towards everyone — including, I feel, many in his own party.
And Regina, thanks for that. Very sad.
Paul Walter wrote:
From a distance, the honeymoon looks over for Cameron. He is part of the”Elvedon Set” and this is Sunday Morning after the Night Before, for them. for the rest I agree, too many things are observed in the breach with this harsh ruling subculture and ideology that arose in the late seventies and early eighties.
Ah yes, Paul, the late seventies and early eighties, when we were at a fork in the road, and, instead of accepting the challenges of the fork that led to “less, constructively,” we followed Thatcher and Reagan along the route signposted to “more, more and more” — into the world of rigged, unfettered and deregulated financial speculation, which has been so ruinous.
David J. Clarke wrote:
Thanks for the work you do Andy. You and voices like yours are a light in darkness. Time will tell if this is the thorn that will deflate the PM’s bubble. The collusion between the Fourth Estate and governance is, unfortunately, nothing new (as old as the industry in reality). Ray McGovern has coined a suitable nomenclature: FCM – ‘fawning corporate media’ – that aptly describes the latest incarnation of a thoroughly compromised medium!
Yes, Ray’s spot-on with that description, David. Thanks for the supportive words. I’ll keep shining a light …
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Following the debate in the House of Commons at the moment. (BBC). I am so interested in analyzing Nick Clegg’s frozen posture. He is cleverly disassociating himself from this rotten culture that led to hacking scandal.
Thanks, Dejanka. I haven’t had the time to tune in yet. About to put up an article about America and Congress’s desire for a military state.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Good, I wasted my time again. The arrogance of David Cameron is astonishing. Everything is being destroyed. We have corrupted police, media, businesses and government and he said just minutes ago that he is actually enjoying the accusations by SLUMBER party (Labour). It is unacceptable to employ Andy Coulson, especially knowing his criminal background. Cameron didn’t know. Only stupid peasants, like me, are asked to provide a Criminal Record Bureau Disclosure to their employers. That’s if you need to work in schools or being a private tutor. To work with our government it doesn’t matter at all; you can be a criminal.
Yes, Dejanka, and it’s time the electorates started to realize that these people are, in general, uniquely qualified not to provide necessary leadership. Failures in business (otherwise they would have proper jobs), they are, instead, driven solely by their egos, their desire for power and, in most cases, money. As a result, they should be disqualified from seeking high office. Cameron is a disgraceful, enraging example of an arrogant nobody who believes he’s a feudal lord, whose only skills are in the public school debating society that is Parliament, and in talking down to the public who, sadly, are dosed up on deference as so often in British history. It’s thoroughly depressing and disgusting …
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
I was being sarcastic, of course. My main worry is that Pilger’s recent article about our society entering the pre-fascist state become a reality. We are deeply concerned about urgent changes, but at the same time I fear those changes will be like Nazi strategy was – ‘change things so that, at their most fundamental, they can remain the same’. That’s what I see today listening to our government and the opposition. Murdoch is our modern Goebbels. Frightening!
Thanks, Dejanka. Pilger here:
Is that the article you were referring to?
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Great post, Andy. It is disgusting and depressing that others can’t see what we see. I am often accused that it is not polite to talk about politics or serious issues going on in our society. it’s not about me, it’s about your, their and my kids’ future, here and everywhere in the world. Moguls, fat bankers, feudal lords did a great job using immoral and corrupted media to encourage this total submission of majority to colonisation of their time and of history by using monstrous methods, this spectacular terror. Can’t they see that?
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
“He not busy being born is busy dying.” I think Bob Dylan said that. The thing is, Dejanka, those who know that things are wrong, but do nothing, will only whinge when the worst of all worlds comes into existence, even though they only have themselves to blame. If we see wrong and do nothing, how can we expect things to improve? Because somebody else cares enough to rouse themselves? And if we give in — to sloth, apathy, all-consuming self-interest — can we actually enjoy our lives?
Regina Kaniewski wrote:
I agree Dejanka and Andy! I’m 56 and I feel that hardly anyone around me feels the same…I even get the feeling from some people including students that they just wish I would “get over it”…I don’t believe most of what I hear and comments like “you should talk to my sister she’s a conspiracy theorist” leave me cold. Theory= idea probability comes with evidence…I think most of this furore over Murdoch et al is a smokescreen. much as i despise that sort of “journalism” somebody has to keep track of what our governments are doing and I fear they are and have been doing far worse things than most of us can imagine….and how can a journalist find out ??
Good to hear from you, Regina. I try to keep one eye on the sideshows like this one — even if it’s a pretty big sideshow for a change — while devoting most of my time to the destruction of things that are apparently too big for most people to comprehend: the concept of a state that is for the people and answerable to the people here in the UK, and the very rule of law in the US, as, for example, here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/07/20/congress-and-the-dangerous-drive-towards-creating-a-military-state/
Jasvinder Khosa wrote:
Great piece. Thanks.
And thank you, Jasvinder. Good to hear from you.
[…] I think back to the already forgotten scandal of how David Cameron cosied up to Rupert Murdoch, seeking to allow him an unacceptable media […]
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: