Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Unfortunate Experience

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire of influential newspapers and TV stations/channels, a media monopoly bar none,  has been shaken by the British phone hacking scandal (journalists hacking into the cell phones of the rich, famous, or just plain unfortunate). The police in the U.K. just arrested Rebekah Brooks (see above), the former chief executive of News International, the British newspaper unit of News Corp. By 'former,' I mean 'resigned five minutes before the cops showed up.'

As you can see above, she probably has Murdoch's direct number. So how far does the scandal go? As far up as Himself (that's Murdoch on the left)?

More interesting is how the police and the journalists in the U.K. operated in tandem, like two parts of a well-oiled machine (in Ireland, 'well-oiled' can also mean 'loosened by drinking'), to each other's benefit — cops would feed scandalous news of crime and criminals to the newspapers, in return sometimes for, yes, cash payments. When the cops fucked up, that sort of news would be buried, so of course Scotland Yard went easy on the British tabloids when the phone hacking thing started to gather momentum.

How easy? Well, it wasn't just at the level of Police Constable Plod and Reporter Zoe Inkyfingers: the New York Times today says that from November 2005 to November 2010, Scotland Yard officials met more than 30 times with newspapers owned by News International, a British subsidiary of News Corporation.

Here is famous English playwright and critic Alan Bennett, describing vividly how the relationship worked. You can imagine a million stories and situations in which this scenario would play out, to the dishonor of everyone. Bennett had just been mugged in a supermarket, in 2010:

I give my details, and my address and phone number, to a constable who, when I get back home, duly rings with the incident number. Ten minutes later, less than an hour after it has occurred, the doorbell rings and on the doorstep is a rather demure girl: ‘My name is Amy. I’m from the Daily Mail. We’ve just heard about your unfortunate experience.’