Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dial M For Murdoch

I downloaded this to my Kindle yesterday (oh how I love that thing) and have now read it.  I must say I was impressed with it as a source book.  It is clear, mostly chronological, and detailed while being readable.  It has a clear agenda, that the Murdoch Empire is Evil and has Corrupted Britain.  Well, that is not the full story, as any fule kno.

Tom Watson and Martin Hickman have put together quite an impressive account, which work has probably done much to save Watson's sanity.  But it is those who appear to be mad and obsessed who have often got hold of something which is true and/or needs to be disclosed, against the forces of those who not want the stone lifted up.  There is quite a lot of cut-and-paste in this, as you might expect.  For example, early on they trot out the story about the paediatrician whose job title was mistaken for paedophile - but they copied that from the Guardian, and it is wrong.  No paediatrician was burned out of their home, either.  Mr Salter was in on this stuff, as I noted here last summer.

Thes two have worked hard to find some impressive and entertaining quotes, such from as the New York Times, which described those attending the British Press Awards 2005, at which the News of the World won a bunch of awards, as "a club of misanthropic inebriates".  Larf?  I nearly passed me fags round.

Pertinent to the same previous post of mine is this: "In February 2003 Devon and Cornwall (police) had raided Lawson's (a private investigator) firm, Abbey Investigations, and found that in late 2000 Lawson had supplied a national newspaper with checks of the criminal records of Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nick Brown, then Agriculture Minister, and another Labour MP, Martin Salter.  The newspaper which bought the checks (which came back blank) has never been named but, in 2000 and 2001, News International was siding with Tony Blair in his frequent rows with Gordon Brown, and Rebekah Wade's News of the World had placed Salter on a 'naming and shaming' list for criticising the 'For Sarah' campaign."  This is the only place I have seen that the checks came back blank.  Even Salter didn't say so at the time, as well he might not, because he has frequently bragged that he has  criminal convictions for possession of cannabis and assault.  Any other report or mention I have seen has said that the criminal record checks produced nothing of interest.  Not to that thread, no.  But a criminal record check obtained informally as opposed to a CRB check, would show everything on the record, including spent convictions.  Just saying.

The "For Neville" email was sent on 29th June 2006,  and it contained transcripts of voicemail messages between Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association, and an associate.  The content was not apparently very interesting, it was just that it was clear from the transcripts that phones had been hacked - and now this had been disclosed to its victim.  All this stuff is what this book says, others may dispute it on matters of fact, I don't know.  I do know that Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter, is most offended at having it said, later in the book, that he inhabits a semi-detached house.  For example.

In October 2007 there was a clause in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which provided for a custodial sentence for breaches of the Data Protection Act.  By the following April this clause had been dropped, although the Bill had been ready for royal assent the previous October.  Journalists and executives might have gone to prison otherwise.  I'm prepared to believe that. But who knew?

On the Max Mosley story (Nazi orgy which wasn't), Neville Thurlbeck allegedly emailed one of the women present to threaten that if she and the others did not cooperate in the writing of a follow-up story unpixilated pictures of them would be published, thus identifying them. According to this book Thurlbeck acknowledged doing this, under pressure from above. But sometimes there is a whiff of conspiracy theory here.  Chris Bryant, well known for being self-important as well as loathsome in various ways, said that the underpants picture of him (from the Gaydar site, seeking partners) was published eight months after he had asked Rebekah Wade in Parliament about payments to police.  It might, just, be that News International had other priorities than Mr Bryant's underpants.

Quoting from Thurlbeck (in a private conversation with Tom Watson): "All I know is that when the DCMS was formed, or rather when it got on to all the hacking stuff, there was an edict came down from the editor and it was find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use.  Each reporter was given two members and there were six reporters - that went on for about ten days.  I don't know who looked at you. It fell by the wayside: I think even Ian Edmondson (the news editor) realised that there was something quite horrible about this."  If I were a member of a Select Committee of the House of Commons (and I have been) I would be surprised if the tabloids were not snooping around.  Thurlbeck has professed himself pissed off at his confidence being breached in this way, by quoting a private conversation in this book.  I don't see why.  Happens all the time.  Has happened to me loads of times.  He calls the task of snooping espionage rather than journalism.  Well, maybe, but I don't really see that.

The book is a smooth read, as befits something basically written by a journalist.  There are not that many infelicities, considering that it has been produced quite quickly, although a CID officer is named "Fillergy" and "Fillery" in the same paragraph.

News International tried to marginalise those who were seeking to make its life difficult.  Well, what would you expect it to do?  What do people generally do? What would you do? At a BSkyB reception at Labour Party Conference 2010, a Times journalist told the Labour MP Stephen Pound that Tom Watson MP was about to check in at the Betty Ford clinic because of heavy drinking.  What is amazing about this, if true, is not that it was said, but that Tom Watson did, or at least he says he did, give up drinking for six months as a result.  Who's the patsy here?  Do the tabloids tell MPs how to live their lives? Should they? Should MPs obey?

It is very helpful to have detailed just how Yates of the Yard (and others) failed to check the evidence of criminality that they had been given.  Good to have all this stuff in one place.

Neville Thurlbeck (who has a "soft and precise Wearside accent", hmmm) was arrested in April 2011.  On 4th July 2011 the Guardian broke a story that the NotW had deleted messages on the phone voicemail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, to make room for more.  At that time the Met, Surrey police, NI and the Dowler family all believed the NotW was responsible for the deletions.  Five months later the Guardian would admit that this was bollocks.  Still, whatever, hey.  It's only the red-tops that make things up, hein?

The answers to the crossword in the final edition of the News of the World (1 across, 4 down, 10 across, 7 down) were Tomorrow, We, Are, Sacked.  Lolz.  I've kept that edition, as a souvenir.

The book reminds us that, when asked why he had not dismissed Neville Thurlbeck, at the parliamentary inquiry in July 2011, James Murdoch said he had never heard of him.  Was this true?

Scotland Yard was "humiliated" by the launch of a new, "proper" investigation.  Hmmm.

Potential smears, too.  The NI receptions at the 2011 party conferences were cancelled, but Michael Gove MP, Conservative Education Secretary (whose wife is a Times journalist) took the opportunity to praise Murdoch anyway.  "Gove's experience as Education Secretary might be useful if, as has been suggested, News Corporation makes a move into the educational publishing business."  I love that "as has been suggested".  I use it all the time.  It's how not to have to back up what you say as fact, and how to protect your sources.

Watson's approach and dialogue sometimes appear juvenile, and he does chase the cheap sound-bite.  Quoting himself at a parliamentary hearing: "Mr Murdoch, you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise."  Whatever else James Murdoch might be, he is not a mafia boss.

After the Guardian's Marina Hyde had wrongly reported that the Sun had doorstepped one of the Leveson Inquiry's junior counsel, a couriered parcel arrived from Wapping for Alan Rusbridger, containing a  toilet roll and a note which read "I hear Marina Hyde's turd landed on your desk.  Well, you can use this to wipe her arse."  Mmmm, stylish.  But Marina Hyde is a shit, so very pleasing.

Chris Bryant said early in 2012, rightly, that there was a "three-headed scandal... mass criminality, then the mass cover-up and then, from 2007, the inexplicable failure of the Met properly to investigate..." But it does seem a bit like special pleading when it is the victims of the tabloids who are the ones wielding the trusty sword of truth.

Sometimes facile "the battle of Prince William's wounded knee".

Well, those are my impressionistic quotes and observations.  While I have no time for Tom Watson and his associates, I am glad to have read the book.  I am glad I have it, because it is informative, and those mentioned in it are likely to come forward now and say so if they have been misreported there.  Which is all to the good.  I'd love to know what those closer to the centre of these matters actually think now.


Anonymous said...

You know - you have read it so I don't have to . Thanks. I am not goign to read it now.

It all feels a bit last century/ bit of new century - and anyway the bitch is dead etc.

Harry said...

At least you were able to download it to a Kindle. You don't seem to be able to do that any more as the Kindle edition appears to have been withdrawn. Amazon can't or won't say why. What's that all about then?