And so the scales fell from their eyes: after almost two years of being in various stages of denial, the right leaning part of the blogosphere, and an increasingly significant part of the press, has realised with the news that schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was not only hacked, but that messages were deleted in order to free up space and get hold of yet more messages, that Phonehackgate is serious.
Because, as I’ve told on many previous occasions, this is not just about a few slebs and politicians. It is about organised and forthright criminality, and on an industrial scale. And this much was screamingly obvious from the start. But instead, some on the right saw the Damian McBride affair, the involvement of the Guardian, together with the silence from other papers, and concluded that it was a revenge thing.
Those who had read the go-to book on the machinations of the Fourth Estate, Flat Earth News – coincidentally authored by Nick Davies, who has been in the vanguard of pursuing Phonehackgate – knew otherwise. As Davies puts it, “dog doesn’t eat dog”: the press, generally, keep quiet about each other’s dirty secrets. This was shown in exemplary fashion by the case of Matt Driscoll.
Driscoll brought an action against the Screws for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. The tribunal, before which a newsroom culture of bullying under then editor Andy Coulson was laid bare, ruled in his favour. The ruling was given back in December 2008, almost eight months before the Phonehackgate wagon began to roll. Driscoll was awarded almost £800k in compensation.
The payout is believed to be the highest award in the media field. Yet only the Guardian covered the case. Even when the Maily Telegraph mentioned the case, in February last year, it was only in the context of suggesting that Labour MP Tom Watson had got the affair into a committee report as an act of political point scoring.
So when the hacking story burst into life in July 2009, it should have come as no surprise when most of the Fourth Estate ignored it. Worse, some went to considerable lengths to rubbish the Guardian, notably Mick Hume in Spiked magazine, whose talk of “ill judged moral crusades” and rehashing of the left-versus-right argument show how utterly out of touch he was.
Hume told that “the unavoidable truth is that the Guardian’s campaign ... has been a badly misjudged pathetic mess ... is not breaking a big new scandal, and cannot make its central allegations stand up ... sanctimonious tone of the paper’s coverage ... relative lack of evidence”. But at least he discussed the case.
For most of the others, they stuck to the iron code governing those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet. Dog doesn’t eat dog. It’ll all blow over.