Before reading Dial M for Murdoch I thought I knew the story and didn’t need to read it. It was like wondering, “Should I watch the movie Apollo 13?” I knew how it ended. I knew the broad strokes of the story: Disaster in space, astronauts limp home using the lunar module, everyone lives. But while watching the movie I found myself gripping the armrests. Maybe they won’t make it! (Spoiler alert! They all live.)
As I watched the movie I got to know the people, I could root for the astronauts, marvel at the ingenuity and tenacity of the ground crew. I saw the bravery and skill of the astronauts while watching the stress on the families on earth as they waited helplessly while forces beyond their control tried to work the problem and keep the ship intact.
Reading Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman gave me the same feel as watching the movie Apollo 13. I knew the ending. I knew some broad strokes. News of the World, a Murdoch paper, got caught hacking the phone of a missing girl, they got busted. Some cops were involved, News International got caught covering it up and decided to shut down News of the World. People were paid off, some Murdoch executives went to jail, some powerful political aids and police resigned and then Murdoch got a pie in the face while testifying. (Spoiler alert! Murdoch lives.)
Reading the book I got to know the people, I rooted for MP Tom Watson and reporters Nick Davies at the Guardian and Martin Hickman at the Independent as they uncovered and exposed corruption. I marveled at the slipperiness and tenacity of the News Corporation legal team and upper management as they stalled, paid off victims, intimidated politicians and bribed police. I was astounded at the scope of the illegal actions to gather confidential information which, as one official put it was, “on the industrial scale.” Glenn Mulcaire, the key figure involved in the hacking had the names and phone numbers of 4,375 individuals of which 829 were likely victims. The names ranged from royals like Prince William and Harry to politicians and their families such as Labour and Conservative MPs and Tony Blair’s wife. Besides the expected footballers and celebrities there were mothers and fathers of terrorist attack victims and parents of missing school girls and murder victims.
I read about the stress on the families whose privacy was invaded and in some cases reputations were ruined by the media and were failed to be protected by the police. I loved reading of the bravery and skill of the lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris who worked for the victims.
Eventually Lewis and Harris, together with Watson, Davies, Lewis and a squad of decent police helped blow up part of Murdoch’s empire. News International executives, phone hackers, and police detectives were arrested and some went jail, a multi-billion dollar media consolidation deal was scuttled but sadly the Murdoch ship is still intact and Rupert Murdoch is still in charge.
I’d like people to read the book for a number of reasons.
1) It’s a well written, gripping read. Mrs. Spocko and I watch a lot of British murder mysteries and police procedurals , and this would make an excellent series (It would need at least 12 episodes. I’ve already cast some of the roles in my head. Helen Mirren as Sue Akers, Head of Organized Crime and Criminal Networks, who finally looked into the case after it being botched and downplayed by other top people in Scotland Yard (appropriate casting since Mirren used Akers as her model for DCI Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect series. Hugh Grant would be perfect as hacking victim… Hugh Grant.
2) The scope of the corruption, illegal actions and influential power of the News International empire is astonishing. To think that this kind of actions don’t extend into the US (and other countries) is naive. Sure, the bribing in the US might be legal in the form of campaign contributions, but I’ll bet 1000 quatloos that some of the same “dark arts” are being practiced in Murdoch’s empire in the US as in the UK.
I think about how easily former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson moved to politics to become spokesperson for Prime Minster David Cameron. Then I note how in America our political players become “analysts” on Fox News as they wait for their next elected office. I’m sure those jobs will have no impact on future Fox News coverage of those political players (snarky, snark snark).
3) Use it as a model for busting up the US Murdoch empire. Because the book was written by MP Tom Watson and journalist Martin Hickman, and includes extensive interviews with the lawyers Lewis and Harris, we are able to see the strategies and methods used by each group. If there is anyone looking to bust up the Murdoch empire in the US we can learn a lot. Such as:
People don’t care about the privacy of celebrities but they DO care about the privacy of people unwillingly thrust into the news by tragedy. So I would look more closely at the allegations that 9/11 victims phones were hacked.
On the other hand, celebrities have money and lawyers to peruse cases and take on Fox News — how many quatloos you want to bet George Clooney’s phones, computer and personal information has hacked?
The political will to go after News Corp in the US is going to be very very weak. They are as afraid of Fox News as the politicians in the UK were afraid of the Murdoch papers, and with good reason. They knew how to influence and attack people they didn’t like, especially when they wanted to punish someone. Whomever takes them on will be attacked, we need to support them in the process.
The role of investigators, police and other agencies need independent oversight. The level of involvement of police in the US might not be as widespread as in the UK, but the power of the Murdoch empire to downplay and hamper real investigations with money and favors is not to be ignored. As Sue Akers, Head of Organized Crime and Criminal Networks, said, officials were being bribed not for public interest stories but for ‘salacious gossip’ and that papers like the Sun had tried to cover its tracks by paying cash and channeling the payments to friends and relatives of public servants. As she said in her witness statement:
The payments have been made not only to police officers but to a wide range of public officials. There are other categories as well as police: military, health government, prison and others. This suggests that payments were being made to public officials who were in all areas of public life.
Watson and Hickman end the book by recounting the corruption brought about by power.
They listened to phone messages, of course, but they also blagged, bribed, spied and bullied, and imposed their will through blackmail, corruption and intimidation.
Rupert Murdoch was not running a normal business, but a shadow state. Now exposed by the daylight, it has been publicly humbled, its apparatus partially dismantled and its executives in retreat, at least for the moment. It stands shaken and ostensibly apologetic but it is still there, and Rupert Murdoch is still in charge.
Please welcome Martin Hickman and let’s dig into the story.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]