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Rebekah Brooks - pants currently ablaze

With the demise of the News of the World currently dominating the internet, radio and television, it seems appropriate, at this juncture, to throw my hat in the ring and proffer some sort of opinion, particularly in view of the fact that this blog site/website, call it what you will, is called Lies Lies Lies, and there’s a lot of those going around at the moment.

Journalism is a shady business at the best of times. I’ve been doing it for 22 years and, in my time, I have worked, briefly, for national tabloid newspapers. Somebody asked me about that period of my life the other day, enquiring whether my writings then had any relation to fact. It was a serious question but probably the wrong one. The problem here is not an argument about the facts, it’s about how the facts were obtained.

It is preposterous to conclude that Rebekah Brooks (formerly Wade) and Andy Coulson were unaware of how information was obtained when they were publishing stories about the Milly Dowler tragedy, the Soham outrage, 7/7 victims and soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan. If Brooks thinks the argument, ‘I didn’t know’ can be in any way believable then I’m Bagpuss.

I remember doing a day’s sub-editing shift at the Sun newspaper on a day when Brooks (then Wade), was the editor. She arrived in the office at around 4pm, flouncing in like she was auditioning for Pride and Prejudice, and then announced that she had spent four hours in prison after police had been called to her home. It had been reported that she had attacked her then-partner Ross Kemp and had subsequently been questioned, at length, by police over the alleged assault.

As she arrived in the newsroom, following her so-called ordeal in the cop shop, she shouted, with what seemed like a sizeable amount of hubris, that, ‘I’ve been locked up!’ At this point, a section of the newsroom started applauding her. Then a very wise journalist, who had been silent during this celebration, turned to me and said: ‘Wonder if they would be applauding if it had been a man assaulting a woman?’ It kind of put the whole thing in context as I stared at a screen a row in front of me. It featured the-then home secretary David Blunkett who had been caught having an affair with the nanny of his children. More importantly he had pulled a few strings to get her working visa fast-tracked and had been forced to resign as a result. The Sun’s proposed headline that day, with the picture of Blunkett and his guide dog, read: ‘Walkies!’ It seemed crass and hyprocrital in view of the earlier office-based brouhaha generated by Wade.

That was then and this is now and the main story surrounds the same person. This morning, on my way to work I tuned in to Radio 5 Live to familiarise myself with the latest developments surrounding this saga. In the course of the broadcast Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor, went off-topic and described a strange feeling he was having about what has happened to us, y’know, us. Our Society. He said that this phone hacking story pointed to a wider problem and this was when the enlightenment bells started to ring in my head.

Three years ago the banks collapsed because, essentially, they were lending money to people who couldn’t afford to pay back. That would be us. Britain had got greedy. Its inhabitants had started filling their homes with stuff they couldn’t afford and, as the media age mushroomed, they demanded salacious entertainment as they sat proudly in carefully considered grand designs. The need for a scoop became even greater. People needed to know new stuff so papers like the News of the World, desperate to meet the public’s need, started hunting for even juicier stories.

As a result we found out that MPs were crooked, celebrities played away from home and footballers were thick. But that’s old news and we wanted more. Then we got it, from information harvested from phone hackers…

Around 2.7 million people buy the News of the World every Sunday, but oddly everyone’s now outraged. Surely there’s got to be some hypocrisy? Then again, is all this that surprising? We love to point the finger, just don’t like it when that finger curls around at us. 

I listened to Ed Miliband – a big finger-pointer – this morning. His beard-growth-inducing diatribe went on for bloody ages and its content nearly caused me to vomit quite violently in my glovebox. Miliband, as much as I want to like him, possessed an ingloriously sanctimonious tone. He should have been in a pulpit. Of course he’s puffing out his chest at the moment because he understands the political capital he can gain from this, and with David Cameron making the monumentally moronic decision to recruit Coulson, the Labour leader holds all the aces. Cameron will be the loser, even if Miliband makes the mistake of milking this too much.

But I can’t help thinking that the people pointing the finger the most are to blame for all this too. I didn’t read the News of the World, not on any ethical grounds but because it was consistently boring. When I listen to claptrap from a ‘disgusted’ woman from Reading’ on Radio 5 Live, I just get the feeling that she is probably lapping up all the celebrity gossip in publications like Closer, Reveal and all the nonsensical products that fill the magazine racks in the UK’s newsagents on a weekly basis. Yep, it may not be News of the World in all its charmless hostility, but this kind of voyeuristic journalism wrapped up in a glossy cover is pretty much the same no matter how you package it. In some respects I’d rather read the News of the World – at least it’s honest about its dishonesty.

Which brings me to the paper itself. Shutting it down was a cynical, but necessary move and, as the story develops, I don’t think News International will produce a paper called the Sun on Sunday because it’s just too close. People will see straight through that and I can’t believe that Rupert Murdoch will do anything that stupid. He won’t want to get anywhere near that murky water again because he’ll have enough trouble trying to defend The Sun newspaper when the inevitable revelations about it, and phone hacking, come to the surface. I suspect that News International will probably go for something a little more sober like the iPaper just to underscore News International’s claim: ‘We really have changed… an’ that.’

So, like drugs in sport, MPs on the make and bent coppers, there’ll always be rogue journalists and tabloid newspapers involved in some sort of skullduggery. Expect this story to re-emerge in five years’ time when there’ll be a similar outrage. You can change the regulations, you can have a Press Complaints Commission that actually has some balls, but it’ll always be the same because you should never trust what you read in the papers. It’s all lies, lies lies…

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