Whether you characterise it as “Cash for Cameron” or “Cam Dine With Me”, CrudGate has shown that the Fourth Estate has its uses. And the lame defence by the Tories this afternoon in Parliament – a hapless Francis Maude being asked by a forthright Dennis Skinner if Young Dave’s absence was because he wasn’t being bunged enough – has if anything made their plight worse.
But there is also the juggernaut that is the Leveson Inquiry rumbling on in parallel, and the fear that its conclusions might emasculate the freedom of the press (although there is more chance of hell freezing over). So what better opportunity to stick it to those who have been lining up to tell of tabloid excess, intrusion, hacking, blagging, surveillance, and the rest?
While those at the Telegraph agonise over Maude’s car crash on the Today programme this morning, and his attempt to use the affair to launch a Commons whataboutery attack on Labour, over at the Mail Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips seized the moment and went on a characteristic rant at Leveson and all who sail with him.
The expose of Peter Cruddas by Rupe’s upmarket troops at the Times was, for Mel, exactly the kind of thing that may be in the firing line from Leveson, especially if he gets the support of all those in the “political class” that she so despises. Just to make sure readers get the point, there follows a list of stories that proves her point. But one paper and one story does not appear.
No prizes for guessing that the story is Phonehackgate and the paper the deeply subversive Guardian. Mel once worked on the Guardian, but now the mere mention of the title sets her off raging against all those rotten liberal lefty Islington types with their supposedly hateful views which never somehow coincide with her authoritarian and intolerant view of the world.
This is important for two reasons: the hacking, blagging and bribing was not being reported by any other papers because they were not only benefiting from it, but breaking the law themselves, and often on an industrial scale. Moreover, the idea that “dog doesn’t eat dog” meant that the Guardian, and later the Independent, were the only ones prepared to report the scandal.
Leveson is not going to touch the kind of reporting that brought CrudGate to light. And Mel probably knows that. But the idea that Leveson is A Potentially Very Bad Thing is being advanced by politicians – pace “Oiky” Gove – and editors like the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and for one reason: they want to be able to keep on setting the rules themselves, and keep on intruding when they see fit.
That is what Leveson must resist. My money is on him doing just that.
The Leveson Inquiry goes alongside some serious police investigations. These centre around networks of corrupt police officers and others who were accessing large quantities of sensitive information. Some of this was going into the Murdoch's papers but some of it may have been going somewhere else. It looks as if the police are, at long last, taking this very seriously. The Leveson Inquiry is dealing with the media aspect: the fact that Murdoch's papers bought heavily into this corrupt network, so how can freedom of the press rise from the ashes of this mess?
The Conservative Party got involved in this mess. Their attempt to say that this was not a story failed. They are now trying to lodge in people's heads the idea that this is a left-wing attack on the freedom of the press (through one of the few good best pieces of investigative journalism for many years!). I think that this week the Sunday Times has tried to show that it too can do investigative journalism (having been a shadow of its former self ever since Murdoch took over). It seems unlikely that the result of the Leveson Inquiry will be that this kind of investigative journalism is put at risk, because Lord Justice Leveson has said explicitly that this is what he wants the media to do.
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