Of course, the News Of The World phone hacking scandal is not new, the story has been rumbling on for years now. Illegal practices have been uncovered, people have gone to jail, and David Cameron’s own press secretary lost his job along the way, thanks to his involvement. But until this week, the story was largely ignored by the mainstream press. Only The Guardian and Private Eye really gave it any time.
The Guardian, in fact, mercilessly followed the story when all around them were saying to give it up. There have been various points along the way when the journalists working on uncovering the shady practices at the News Of The World, while under the leadership of Rebekah Brooks and the aforementioned former Tory spindoctor Andy Coulson, must have thought the rest of the media would join them. Though I think it’s fair to say they’d never have expected that, when that moment finally happened, it would turn out quite like this. But still, at least they’ve finally been completely vindicated for their persistence.
As someone who works in the media, but at a remove from the action of this story, it’s been fascinating to observe. From the emergence of the information that would rally both the other media and the wider public to the story – the hacking of the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler – to the closure of the News Of The World yesterday, this story has continued to throw up new and amazing details with no sign of a dip as yet.
There’s still plenty more come. Coulson was arrested this morning, just after David Cameron had issued a speech about the former NOTW editor’s failed “second chance”, it remains to be seen if he’s charged, and what impact that has on the PM. Rebekah Brooks remains in charge of News International, despite her involvement in this scandal (or lack of involvement – as editor at the time of the Milly Dowler hack, both are unforgivable), but for how much longer? And what about the Met, there are huge questions about police corruption that still need answering. Plus, of course, us in the media are especially interested to see how long News International will leave it before launching the Sunday edition of The Sun (a logistical merger of NOTW with its sister title having already been in the pipeline).
News International’s response to all this has been, and still is, fascinating to watch. Not least as it’s all kicked off just as the government was about to approve the takeover by News International owners, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, of the whole of BSkyB, a decision now delayed. Such is the commercial and political power of the Murdoch family and their company, never before have they faced such scrutiny and unanimous backlash. And they were clearly completely unprepared for the assault. Interviews given by Simon Greenberg, News International’s Director Of Corporate Affairs, are testament to that.
One of my favourite moments from this week was Greenberg’s interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 on Tuesday, just after things started to kick off. Coming shortly after Ed Miliband’s embarassing looping interview, in which he repeated the same answer again and again in response to questions on public sector strikes, News International’s man on the ground proves it’s not as easy as it looks to blindly state the agreed PR line.