It doesn't really matter what details emerge about whose cosy relationship with whom, about who was invited by whom to dinner where and who was paid a retainer by whom. (Great pronouns, hein?) It is a fact that politicians have, for a long time, perhaps always, got into bed with the media, and they haven't used protection either. So no surprises when it all goes toxic. The public don't care about the details, they don't care much about phone hacking either, primary school children do it to each other and nobody much has moral scruples about it. The public do want to believe that the police, public servants, even politicians, even journalists, are people of probity and integrity. The British public is quite rare in this desire. In France, where I live now, in Japan, where I lived a long time ago, in Latvia, where I lived more recently, the general public holds politicians in deepest contempt, believing them, not always rightly, to be venal and self-serving. In France the media are quite high-minded, or like to think themselves so, they do not stoop to the tabloid trashing of people's lives that goes on in Britain. But journalists are wined and dined by politicians, and vice versa, in France as in most places. The President of the Republic has a finger in media pies.
The question I ask myself is, is this right? Politicians have seemingly always thought that to get elected, to get power, you need the print media with you. I remember at the beginning of the 1997 general election campaign in the UK Mr Salter put the Sun's front page on his campaign office wall "The Sun Backs Blair", it shouted. Well, Neil Kinnock did not lose in 1992 because the Sun was against him. It is perfectly possible to have a career in politics without selling your soul to the print media. I did it for many years. And I got elected despite weeks of sneering from the Reading Evening Post that I was a no-hope, lame-duck candidate, and re-elected to the accompaniment of savage attacks from the Reading Evening Post and constant tirades of lies from the Guardian. And I wasn't alone in that.
It is arguable that the print media have become pointless, that we do not go there for news. I subscribe to The Times on iPad, and I look forward to it every day, but its news stories seem stale when I look at them in the morning - it has all been thrashed out on Twitter over the past 24 hours. Rupert Murdoch has probably understood that there is not much point to the print media, which is why he let the NotW go - its readers will probably not buy another tabloid on Sundays. I used to get the Screws regularly, but there is no equivalent in France and I have never bought anything else in the UK, nor would I if I went back there. Murdoch may well let the Times and Sunday Times go too, and focus on the broadcast media empire he has. Well, we'll see. But I remember my father telling me in the mid-60s (he worked in advertising) that since the advent of television people had stopped reading the papers for news. They wanted comment and to understand more about what was going on. He didn't know that the era of reliance on broadcast media for news was to be fairly short-lived, and that now we read the news again instead of listening to it - we just do it on line these days. So that was true 50 years ago, but newspapers did not disappear, and they will not disappear now,
Back to my original question - do politicians need the print media? My answer is no, and that those who thought they did, and who sold them a piece of their soul, pay heavily for something they did not need in the first place. And online media - despite paywalls and so on, online media is something we control. We have our Twitter feeds, which are not censored, and we do not have to take anyone to lunch to be able to publish what we like on them, and we can blog and publish what we want. I follow Lady Gaga on Twitter, but if I didn't like what she does I wouldn't bother. I knew an MP who lost his seat at the 2005 election, who was about the most media-savvy and media-connected I have met, and was litigious too. He lost because no-one was bothering much in his constituency - people had seen him in the paper but they hadn't met him. People got cynical. And voted for the person who came to their door, not the one they had seen on the telly.
Cllr Jan Gavin in Reading posted recently that some local politicians were too "cozy" (her spelling - where did she get that one from, and how did she work as a teacher for all that time with that standard of literacy? Oh.) with the local media. But if you read the post it is clear that she is resentful that a LibDem or two is able to get quotes into the Reading Evening Post, which she has been told is the exclusive preserve of Reading Labour. She didn't mean that it is a bad idea to be "cozy" (in fact I think I will adopt that spelling, and then you will know I am talking about Reading Labour and you will know to stop reading). So, David Cameron, and anyone else in British politics, if you thought you needed the Murdoch family, you didn't, but it is too late now. Learn from it, or die.