Following the spectacular implosion of the NotW, the evaporation of the aura of invulnerability that’s surrounded the Murdoch media empire for pretty much my entire adult life, and the thorough shoeing that News International and its past and present heads, along with the Met and politicians (most particularly David Cameron) are currently - and rightfully - taking has been astonishing. It’s like witnessing a popular revolt against a long-serving dictator.
The fact that the Met were saying only, what, one year or so ago that there was no sign of new evidence and no need to reopen the original phone hacking inquiry into Goodman and Mulcaire given the number of people who’ve come out of the woodwork in the past week to say, “Hey, since you mention it, yeah, some grubby fucker did rummage around in my personal communications back then” speaks to either incompetence or corruption on a grand scale. What with the Met apparently sitting on a big list of names of those who’d had their voicemails illegally accessed - the 7/7 victims etc. - all that time and all. And, y’know, Rebekah Brooks famously saying to a Commons select committee that they’d paid the police for information. Years ago.
But I’m just a simple guy. Probably not for the cops to investigate all crime. Just some.
The fear that NI seems to have engendeed in politicians across the spectrum for years is astonishing and very sad; people in positions of power not coming forward to say in public: “Hey, this newspaper cracked my private messages and then tried to blackmail me. Let’s put a stop to this.” Presumably because they were worried about being pilloried by the Murdoch empire. It’s all well and good for the press to be part of the system of checks and balances by which those who claim to represent us are called to account. It’s quite another thing for that press to cow politicians into representing them or else, and then telling us what it is we want. Especially if the press organisation in question has reached such a size that it’s capable of buying just about anyone it cares to.
Equally, I must assume that most of the people working for the accused newspapers are actually decent people, including those who must have known they were writing stories based on material that could only have been obtained illegally and used extremely distastefully (the splashing of Gordon Brown’s children’s medical status across the press must have caused some people at the Sun to say, “You know what? We print this kind of thing and we’re monsters.”). The level of fear of losing jobs and finishing careers necessary to prevent those people spilling the beans - and I doubt it’s coincidence that so much is coming out now the NotW staff have lost their jobs anyway (I rather doubt lectures given by Brooks were recorded and leaked to the internet before people had nothing else to lose) - is equally sad.
So that’s NI, the police and the politicians, three groups who between them wield a vast amount of power. Who else is to blame?
Not all of you, of course. But you. Us. Society in general. I also grant you that you’ve been influenced to regard such things as news, as the must-read stories of the day, and you have been for generations. But the greed-led drive that tempts the press into breaking the law and tossing any concept of privacy, respect or decency into the shitcan comes from the fact that you want to find out what footballer is screwing what girl on the side. In any sane world, that’d be a matter for him and his family to deal with. Why the fuck should you care? But you do, and because you do, you’ll pay for the knowledge. Once everyone starts trying to be the first or the most with that kind of knowledge, well, then the biggest and the nastiest realise they can get it by doing things the other guys can’t or won’t, and they’ll get the biggest piece of the pie.
Everyone bitches about superinjunctions. A bunch of them recently were blown on Twitter. And what did it turn out they were almost all about? Affairs. People shagging other people they shouldn’t have, and so some of those people - for a variety of reasons - who had the vast amounts of money it takes to do so, took out the ultimate gagging order. These people wouldn’t have needed to do this if there wasn’t an insatiable public desire to gloat over the private fuck-ups of the rich and famous, and now instead of a horribly garbled mess of arguments over internet regulation and judicial restrictions on reporting, we’d be in a position where it’d be far easier just to do away with the sodding things to prevent people like Trafigura using them for far shadier and genuinely newsworthy matters.
The idea that ‘the scoop’ is everything, that he who gets the news first and biggest and in the most detail wins, came about, in part, because of you. 2.5m people bought the NotW every week. Millions more buy the other papers accused, not to mention the ones that haven’t been… yet. Millions more buy the rash of trashy gossip rags that feed off the leftovers. You want to know the news before anyone else, and you love your sleaze and your celebrity gossip and your pants-down scandals in Westminster. You support the system that produces it and it just can’t feed you enough of it. Supply and demand.
So next time you’re wondering who’s to blame for listening to the messages on the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, or for pilfering the private medical details of a newborn baby so a newspaper can sell a few more copies off the back of the family’s anguish, just remember that it is, in some small way, you that did it.
Until we as a society come to terms with what gets done in our name, and the inevitable consequences of that, nothing will really change.