They say a week is a long time in politics. Well this feels like a century. And I've spent much of it updating my American friends on a very British story. And each time, watching their virtual jaws drop lower and lower.
There's been a news story running around for a while that the best-selling English language newspaper, News of the World, had been a bit naughty. Published for 170 years, the last few decades of have seen it owned by Fox News' Rupert Murdoch and News International, becoming a sister Sunday paper to their daily paper The Sun. It has since moved on from exposing vicars and priests attending orgies to hacking the mobile phone voice mails of sports stars, royals, pop stars and politicians to get stories.
This is the kind of thing that seems to drop the jaws of Americans, but although illegal in the UK, it's not a type of journalistic behavior that seems outside the norm to the public in general. It was seen as something saucy and naughty. Even if the ex-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was caught out having an affair with his secretary, has kept talking about it every chance he could.
Here it is, though, in a nutshell: NOTW editor Andy Coulson resigned in 2007 over phone-hacking allegations, but NOTW maintained that there was only one dodgy private detective and one dodgy journalist who were at fault and everything else was whiter than white. No one believed them.
No one apart from Prime Minister David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his director of communications (press secretary), and who is best friends with the previous NOTW editor, and current News International executive, Rebekah Brooks (who had at one point had been arrested for assaulting her then-husband and soap-star actor known for playing a hard man).
Coulson had to resign again when the phone-hacking story reappeared, as celebrities found they could threaten to sue NOTW and get an instant six-or-seven figure settlement. That was the status quo until this week. And jaws started dropping over here as well.
Last Monday, we learned that NOTW had hacked the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler. And that they had deleted messages on the phone because it was full, and they wanted to see who else would call. And that this deletion caused the police to believe that Milly was still alive.
Suddenly it wasn't celebrities affairs, being exposed, but the investigation into a murdered child being damaged.
Then in a live news programme on Tuesday night discussing the matter, one politician said they'd heard that NOTW had done the same to another murder case in the town of Soham, when two young girls went missing, found dead. It was then rumoured that the parents of another murdered child, Sarah Payne, and then-editor Rebekah Brooks gave them a mobile phone personally. Which was then hacked by NOTW. Of course it was.
The normally sensationalist British tabloids were reticent to cover the story, the suspicion is they were all at this phone hacking in some way. So the broadsheets, radio and TV were left to stick heir noses in the trough. Only News International's sister company Sky News was initially reticent, reporting the story without even including NOTW in the headline. People were calling for boycotts, for sackings as, despite the best attempts by Murdoch's press, the story wasn't going away no matter how hard they tried to scrape it off their shoe.
On Wednesday we learned that the mobile phones belonging to the family of dead British soldiers had also hacked. And jaws broke the floor tiles.
On Thursday we learned that the police were investigating illegal payments made by NOTW to police in return for information. By this time, we were all just picking up broken teeth from the floor and making strange groaning noises.
Suddenly the Prime Minister had to condemn the paper. Advertisers were pulling all their ads. Even the Murdoch press was having to cover the story a bit, with Rupert Murdoch himself condemning the actions, and his son James Murdoch admitting that he, and fellow executives had misled Parliament. It was a perfect shitstorm.
So Rupert Murdoch closed the paper. After almost one hundred and seventy years, last Sunday's edition was the final edition of paper, the advertising space being donated to worthy causes. Hundreds have lost their jobs… but Rebekah Brooks has kept hers in News International. Rupert Murdoch flew in to protect her and address the matter — indeed, some have claimed that two hundred employees have been sacrificed to keep her job. She's been in work everyday, but she's not talking to anyone outside the offices. Which, with her shock of long curly bright red hair, is really hard.
On Friday Andy Coulson was arrested on the charge of corruption, along with a number of other journalists. The editor of the Guardian has stated that he told David Cameron not to hire Andy Coulson for these reasons, even if they paper couldn't legally print them all at the time. Cameron insists he just wanted to give someone a second chance. We look forward to Jack the Ripper's appointment as Home Secretary in due course.
Yesterday we discovered allegations that NOTW had tried to hack the mobile phones of those who died during the 9/11 attacks. Today we discover they tried to buy contact and movement lists of the British royal family from police. If Murdoch though he could put a stop to the scandal, by closing the paper, he was very wrong.
All this time, there's been the matter of News Corp, News International's parent company, buying a majority stake in Sky Broadcasting, the dominant commercial TV/phone/internet provider in the UK, with large stakes in British sport, and bought-in films and TV. The government had been expecting to pass it through without too much fuss. Suddenly, there's fuss to spare. The government is overflowing with fuss. And Rupert Murdoch has stepped right in it.
For once, for the first time in forty years, British politicians are no longer trying to kiss Rupert Murdoch's ass. For the very first time they are all trying to kick it. And it feels good, so very good.
Just today we discovered that NOTW newspaper stablemates, the Sunday Times and The Sun obtained private bank account details of the last Prime Minister Gordon Brown through illegal means. And more scandalously, the medical report of Brown's sick infant son, so The Sun could run a story only known to the Browns and medical staff.
And now everyone expects Rupert Murdoch to launch a Sunday edition of The Sun newspaper as if that will make everything better. When that happens, no one's jaw will drop.
Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
Tags: David Cameron, Fox, Gordon Brown, Indecision Internationale, Rupert Murdoch, Scandalgate, United Kingdom