How serious is the whole Cambridge Analytica story? Many will be asking this question already for one reason - hardly had that story seen the light of day, than the spin started. It was a “non-story”. Barack Obama’s campaign had done the same thing. If it had been the Rotten Lefties (tm) doing it, they wouldn’t be kicking off now. No-one really understood this data business anyway. And they hadn’t really done all those bad things, honestly.
At this point, those who remember the moment that Nick Davies first opened the Pandora’s Box that was the phone hacking scandal back in 2009 may be experiencing a sense of déjà vu: we have been here before, and the spin we are seeing over CA is of the same kind as that deployed then. Moreover, we know now that phone hacking was not a “non-story”. Nor is CA. And the latest events in this saga show why.
Harold Wilson memorably said that a week is a long time in politics. Now, the CA saga makes 24 hours seem yet longer. Let’s start with the WaPo telling “Cambridge Analytica, data consultant for Trump campaign and others, suspends CEO amid federal probe of its use of Facebook data”. Alexander Nix had been suspended. Or had he?
Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer wasn’t buying that one. “UPDATE: An ex-employee source points out ‘Cambridge Analytica is a legal fiction. Alexander Nix has been suspended from NOTHING.’ This is a very good point. More to follow”. She was right.
Wendy Siegelman confirmed it. “UPDATE: Emerdata Ltd created by SCL/Cambridge Analytica's Julian Wheatland, with Erik Prince's business partner Chun Shun Ko appointed director Jan '17 - just added Rebekah Mercer & Jennifer Mercer as directors, along w/Alexander Nix”. Keep your eyes on the ball, everyone.
The problem, though, was once again picked up on by Ms Cadwalladr. “Journalists! There's a whole new rat's nest right here ... New Mercer-backed venture with Cambridge Analytica's newly-defenestrated Alexander Nix”. And the problem? Far too many journalists are in hock to organisations in whose interest it is not to talk about this scandal.
Anyone doubting that should refer back to yesterday’s spin. Oh hello, what’s this? “Emerdata Ltd has not registered as a data controller in the Uk. which makes you wonder what it's actually doing here”. That needs watching. But most papers won’t go there.
And how devious is the whole exercise? Ed Krassenstein had that one figured out. “Alexander Nix and the Mercers have created a new data company, EMERDATA LIMITED. Just yesterday Jennifer and Rebekah Mercer were named directors. The address on the business is identical to SCL Group (Cambridge Analytica). Don't let them get away with this!” Same address. But too many in the UK will let them get away with it.
Yet all good journalists should be on the case, if only because of the sheer nastiness of intent, as Kyle Griffin of MSNBC pointed out. “An email written by one of Cambridge Analytica's employees to a pro-Trump super PAC indicates that Cambridge hoped to capitalize on the Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton and her ally, The Daily Beast reports”.
So why are so many not going to follow up this story? Here’s Ross Colquhoun with a little taster. “Here's a photograph of the Chairman of the board of SCL Group, which The Times and The Guardian have reported as being the 'parent company' of Cambridge Analytica, campaigning alongside former Tory leader David Cameron”.
That’s the same David Cameron who took Andy Coulson into Downing Street, despite being told he should have steered well clear. What did I say about phone hacking coming round again? Well, phone hacking really has come round again.
Yes, it's not just about them
And what will happen this time is that, as with phone hacking, it will be a small group of independently minded journalists slowly but determinedly prising the lid off the worm can, while most of our free and fearless press sits on its hands and pretends it’s not happening.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The media establishment was a disgrace then, and it’s a disgrace now. Another read-and-weep moment.