This excellent book reveals the true horror of a media empire run wild, spreading corruption into almost every area of public life.
The consequences for democracy are huge, with Nick Davies really unveiling nothing less than the equivalent of the Watergate scandal in the UK.
A central figure in this deceit is former News Of the World (NOW) editor Andy Coulson, who went on to be placed at the centre of government, serving as the Prime Ministers chief of communications. Coulson is now serving a prison sentence.
Davies charts the often lonely furrow that he and the Guardian had to plough in trying to reveal a web of corruption that embraced not just the News of the World newspaper and its journalists but other parts of the media, the police and politicians.
Davies became involved as a result of an interview he did on Radio 4’s Today programme, with NOW managing editor Stuart Kuttner, when the latter underlined the rogue reporter thesis.
It was from here that Davies pursued the line that phone hacking had not just been done by a lone reporter in Royal correspondent Clive Goodman and investigator Glen Mulcaire, who had been jailed in 2006.
The truth was that the hacking was being commissioned on a huge scale by news editors and others on the NOW payroll. The police had the evidence from the Mulcaire case but at best had been negligent in not following through, at worst wilfully failing to investigate crime.
The book charts the Guardian’s battle to get the truth out, with most papers siding with the bully in the playground – News International.
One of the strengths of the book is how it exposes the whole corrupt morass of the hacking but also gives background incite into how power works and the particularly corrosive network of relationships that existed between the police, politicians and News International.
The bullying of Gordon Brown to get him doing what NI and ultimately the Murdochs wanted him to do in policy terms. The revelations about direct influence on matters like the Iraq war, privatising the health service and opposition to Europe, leave the reader asking who are these people and what right to they have to be influencing the democratic process in this way?
The use of the dark arts to destroy people or the softer approach, of keeping a secret then expecting to call in the favour later.
Davies outlines how a whole coalition of interests came together in a campaign of opposition. There were those being hacked, the politicians (often one in the same) and the Guardian. At one stage the paper does not seem to be progressing far so it decides to share some of the information with other media outlets such as the New York Times and the BBC. This increases the pressure.
Davies then starts linking up possible hack victims with lawyers, while NOW victim Max Moseley funds some of the legal actions and provides general financial support.
The pressure builds and builds with the police eventually waking to the fact that they really ought to do something.
There is then the race between getting the full enormity of the hacking scandal out and NI’s desire to purchase a larger controlling interest in broadcaster BSKYB.
It is a close run thing, with the decisive revelation being the hacking of murdered teenager Millie Dowler. Once this hacking and that of others like the families of the murdered Soham children Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells and the parents of Madeleine McCann, the whole saga goes onto another level.
There is universal condemnation, NI become toxic, with the political class as one- even including friends like David Cameron- turning away.
One though who stays loyal is Tony Blair, who notably at the time of maximum pressure on chief executive and former editor of then NOW and the Sun Rebekah Brooks suggests she set up a Hutton style inquiry as he did in 2003, following the Iraq war. This would “clear you” and “accept shortcomings and new solutions,” Brooks relays to James Murdoch.
The book is a excellent expose of a corrupt abuse of power. The final three pages of epilogue are particularly powerful, putting the whole scandal into the context of the neo-liberal onslaught that has hit people the world over for the past 30 years. Soberingly, Davies concludes: “For a while we snatched a handful of power away from one man. We did nothing to change the power of the elite.”
Davies does undoubtedly over –egg the role of the Guardian, riding into opposition on its trusty stead to oppose the evil Murdoch empire. The Guardian did play a vital role, standing virtually alone among national newspapers- many of whom no doubt were concerned about their own dirty linen getting aired in public. However, there were others like Private Eye magazine who played a vital role in unveiling the scandal.
Davies also adds a bit of colour, referring to his riding his horse around the hills of Sussex at times of frustration – a mobile phone never far away. However, all in all this is an excellent read, a must for anyone who wants to really understand the corrupt forces at work in Britain today.
Whatever else maybe said, Nick Davies and the Guardian have done a great service to journalism and democracy with their work in this area.
*Hack Attack by Nick Davies
Published by Chatto and Windus price £20
*Hack Attack: Absolute power corrupts absolutely - see:Morning Star - 22/9/2014