Hack Attack

Hack Attack How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch

Nick Davies’ Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch is one of the most important stories of this century so far. The hardback book is a big tome and the weight of evidence contained with it is compelling. It tells of a six-year long effort which succeeded in exposing the widespread criminal activities taking place in the newsrooms of Britain’s best selling newspaper, despite attempts to scupper the investigation by the public corporation that owned the paper, the police and the official press complaints body.

The News of the World hacked voicemails of the families of dead soldiers, victims of crime and terrorist attacks, dead school children, members of the public who happened to be associated with people in the public eye, politicians who both did and didn’t hold sensitive information to the state, royalty and people who just happened to have be famous due to their profession or the way the media wind blew. They didn’t just pounce on those who didn’t change their voicemail pass codes, their private investigators changed passwords through employees in mobile phone operators. They hacked emails. And they had private investigators listen into phone calls and disrupt police investigations.

And for years they got away with it until this investigation finally broke through numerous walls of denial and obstruction to expose not just the News of the World, but the abuse of power by its owners.

While Rupert Murdoch owns a number of companies, which has had further restructuring since the investigation started, for simplicity, Davies refers to the global parent company as News Corp and it’s main UK subsidiary as News International. Davies notes News Corp’s stable included one of the big six film studios (Twentieth Century Fox), one of the world’s biggest publishers (Harper Collins), a social networking site, both downmarket tabloids and reputable titles and stakes in TV networks in the Australia, the US and the UK, as well TV holdings across Europe, Asia and Africa. As a consequence, they have a degree of control of the output of news to the public while pressurising or influencing those whose livelihood were directly effected by these many arms, be they police officers offered book publishing deals or newspaper columns, actors who were employed by film studios or politicians in fear of orchestrated campaigns of ‘monstering’ against them, which the book documents.

The different routes the investigation takes are fascinating, with the murder of a private investigator in 1987, the tails and bugging devices employed as weapon by the hunted, the obstructive redacting of documents by Scotland Yard and the strategic, systematic deletion of emails are all sinister elements in a much bigger tale.

Just this week, another of News of the World’s news editors, Ian Edmondson, whose name crops up several times in the book, was jailed after finally admitting (after a previous not guilty plea) conspiring to hack emails over six years. Six years. Not just a one-off, the court heard Edmonson was one of four news editors convicted hacker Glenn Mulcaire worked for.

The exposure of the systematic law-breaking, invasions of privacy and payments to police officers (with the sign-off from those with the financial authority limit), continue, undermining any credibility News Corp tried to cling on to. First, with willful blindness, they denied everything and smeared accusers, then they blamed a rogue reporter, then a steady flow of patsies in the newsroom although way up to Andy Coulson, before sacrificing the News of the World brand, in an effort to stem the flow of truth creeping up ever higher on their pyramid where governance clearly wasn’t a priority.

With the help of brave whistle blowers, the crucial breakthrough finally came when the Guardian website broke the story that the News of the World hacked the phone of dead schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Memorably (though not mentioned in the book), that Monday evening the item was the lead story on both the BBC and ITN 10’o clock news bulletins, despite both organisations being reluctant to previously publicly to dig too deeply into News Corp, yet Sky News (in which News Corp had share and was trying to take full control of with the public support of Tory ministers who had a number of private meetings with News Corp during the bid) only mentioned it briefly as their third item. News International’s papers continued to ignore the story for the next couple of days, throwing mud at The Guardian, until, when realising the floodgates were open, News Corp deliberately released information it had held to for years on to implicate the News of the World further, before announcing it closure, while already creating a platform for The Sun on Sunday to replace it. Another tabloid, with a style of its predecessor that focuses on gossip, targets high sales and takes an editorial and reporting line that perpetuates the right-wing beliefs of its proprietor.

Early in the book Davies contrasts the freedom and backing he has to peruse the investigation he takes, against the bullying culture in a tabloid newspaper, where reporters are intimidated and humiliated, encouraged to do anything for story, while developing a cynical attitude to the profession, when a large expense account is more important than acting with any degree of honour.

The picture painted of the News of the World, rife with bullying, class A drugs, sexual harassment and many other behaviours the paper would report on as a major exposure if it happened outside the newsroom or to a target of their corporation’s choice, is a window into a dark heart of hypocrisy, and should raise questions to the reader about who allowed the News of the World and it’s agenda to proposer through sales and clicks on the website.

Murdoch’s companies own so much content it is practically impossible for consumers to avoid in their entirety. But anyone buying a product like the News of the World, whose mission drive was always clear, or supporting it through advertising, encourages the victimisation of both individuals and sections of society as acted on by the paper. The same is true for victims of the more recent  hacking of iCloud, with personal images shared on the internet. Customers and stakeholders alike were complicit in the decay of society which allows a invasive, puritanical and hypercritical nasty culture to thrive.

When people take a stand, as happened with those who weren’t silenced with this investigation, by continuing to dig despite intimidation and a stream of blockages, and then again with the national outrage upon the Dowler revelation, things can change. The book is a story about power, lies and corruption which thrives in a neoliberal environment which has cut back regulation and allowed the very rich to get stronger while the poor are weakened. But it’s also about people fighting for truth and justice.


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