The phone hacking scandal is becoming increasingly confusing. During the debate on the issue today, I confess I became utterly lost by Ed Miliband’s long explanation of the relationships and personalities involved. David Cameron was able to use phrases like “conspiracy theory” and “tissue of intruige” which brand the scandal as a Westminster fabrication. John Rentoul is right to say that Cameron’s critics need much simpler language to explain the problem with the Prime Minister’s judgement and relationships.
Labour’s tactic is to doggedly pursue the ‘smoking gun’ of lore: the archived e-mail or the scribbled note that proves that Cameron knew more, and knew it earlier. At yesterday’s select committee hearings, the questions were pitched to discover similar key facts that could skewer Murdochs R and J.
This is risky in both cases, because such evidence may never emerge. It is also counter-productive, because on the meantime, both the politicians and media barons get to punt the difficult questions with “let’s wait until the inquiry” or “I don’t want to jeapordise the criminal investigation”.
A narrow fixation on evidence that could further damage the Prime Minister, or ruin Rebakah Brooks, means that the wider issue – polical, police and corporate corruption – is left to fallow. Rupert Murdoch presided over the expansion of a corporate culture in which the phone-hacking of murder victims and other obscenities were the inevitable end result. Whatever he knew and whenever he was told, he is at fault, he is to blame. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s first act as Prime Minister was to employ someone who he knew had come straight from that morally barren Hades. There may not be a smoking gun, but you can almost see the steam coming off this scandal.
A few quick comments on the unfolding phone hacking scandal, and what it says about the double-standards of our society and politics.
First, let us note that the images featured on the front pages of many newspapers yesterday were those of the most iconic cases of recent years. Sarah Payne, hollyandjessica, Millie Dowler, Madeline McCann: the news-stands appeared to be some macabre Abduction Hall of Fame. This is actually a dream come true for rivals of News of the World. It is the invasion of privacy of these families that the rival newspapers are keen to report, because they too know that it is images of these children that sell. And by pasting the famous images onto Page 1, I would say that they too are stepping, once more, into the grief of these families.
Meanwhile, black men and boys (the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls) don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports. Is this because Glen Mulcaire and his News of the World handlers did not think the stories were sufficiently interesting? Or that today’s politicians and editors judge that an invasion of the privacy of (say) Damilola Taylor’s family would not sufficiently motivate the public, in a way that the Soham murders apparently do? Whichever explanation is closer to the truth, it says something unpleasant about our society and our media. It is ironic that, in expressing outrage at the practices of the tabloids, we fall back on the precisely those assumptions and values that we otherwise claim to despise.
A final note, also related to public opinion. In the chamber of the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister made some throwaway comment about how the phone-hacking scandal was no longer “just about celebrities and politicians”. It is sometimes difficult to remember that both those groups are humans beings too! They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.
They’re discussing similar issues in the USA too.
Now cross-posted with comments at LiberalConspiracy.org