I just closed Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack.” If you’re in the U.S. the Kindle edition is $9, the hardback is out at $16. In the U.K., the book is on ‘buy one get one half price’ at Waterstones or is £7.49 on Amazon. It’s money very well spent.
It’s the account of the ten year battle to finally bring to light the role of Rupert Murdoch’s News International organisation in using illegal means to acquire information; the way the organisation deliberately attacked individuals and their families if an individual dared to protest their behaviour; how News International created a climate in which neither police, regulators nor politicians dared tackle their corruption because the consequences would be massive assaults and vilification by a news organisation that owned a vast percentage of news coverage online, on paper and on TV in the U.K. and internationally. It’s about how that organisation explicitly and knowingly lied over the course of a decade to the police, to the regulator, to the courts, to all the democratically elected representatives of the British people. Andy Coulson even sees fit to lie directly to the Prime Minister’s face for months on end.
Here are a few numbers. In the court trials that took place over the last few years, the representatives of our democracy, the Crown Prosecution Service, were able to muster £1.7 million, one full time solicitor and one administrative assistant to make the case. News International spent £30-40 million aggressively defending its representatives and deployed an army of legal representatives and support staff. Why does it matter? It’s an example of what happens when greater powers are invested in private corporations than in our public services. The corporation is able to devastate any attempt to make them take responsibility for the harm they’ve done to the public good. The government that the people have elected to represent, as best as possible, their collective interests and to protect them from harm is no longer able to wield true power in the face of the buying power possessed by the corporations. There is nothing defending the lives and well-being of the public; we are all at risk.
It goes deeper. News International is an organisation that recognises that governments are the only bodies able to exercise any control over their behaviour. Therefore News International deliberately advocates the shrinking of governments, the reduction of their revenue, the weakening of their regulatory powers, the most stringent controls over their spending. News International does so in order to ensure that it possesses a competitive advantage over the only organisation able to exercise any restraint upon their corruption. It attacks tax levels, attacks public service in general, in order to reduce the expertise and skills available to the judiciary, to the police force, to the tax authorities, to all levels of our political establishment making it less likely wrong-doing will be detected, prevented or punished.
The hacking scandal was not a case of a few celebrities getting their fingers burned. Of the hackers exposed after all those years, one had hacked a minimum of 5,500 people, another had hacked a further 1,600. Those people included the family and friends of a couple who’s child was abducted. It included the family and friends of a murdered school girl – the newspaper’s representatives went further and didn’t hand over evidence that at the time they believed indicated where the girl was, they wanted to claim credit themselves and to sell more papers so didn’t give it to the police. News International went after the family and friends of two girls murdered in the town of Soham. In other words, if you, your family, your parents, your children, your friends – anyone you know – gets caught up in a tragedy, all their conversations and information (medical records, police records, bank records, employment records, diaries, etc.) and yours too would immediately have become something News International stole and used to make profit for their company.
News International destroyed 210 million emails during the course of the investigations. The leaders within the police service who led the early investigations were being wined and dined by, and were friends with, the people they were meant to investigate – the police deliberately misled parliament, the public, the courts and the inquiries. The Press Complaints Commission which was meant to ensure that newspapers respected the laws of this country saw its role as being to deflect criticism away from its richest benefactors and was too scared to speak out against them because it would mean News International (the Sun, the Times, the News of the World, Sky News) would send teams out to attack and slur them. The governments, both Labour and Conservative, were too busy trying to ensure good coverage and to avoid attempts to undermine them with sleaze stories, critical coverage and attacks that they were unwilling to speak out and decided instead to give jobs to people who had broken the law, to attend their parties, call them friends, privilege their views. News International was allowed to tell your government and my government what their policies should be. Surely that’s meant to be the right of the people?
At root, in amidst the sheer scale of it all, there’s a simpler story of bullies and damaged people who gain satisfaction from the exercise of power over ‘the little people’; it’s a tale of people who grew up as we all did on the bible tales of doing unto others as you would have done unto yourself…Then abandoned that in favour of personal profit over any moral consideration. Rebekah Brooks, having acquired information indicating that people she called friends, Sarah and Gordon Brown, had just learnt their six month old baby had cystic fibrosis – an incurable condition that would lead to life-long health problems and a life expectancy of between 37 and 50 years – called them and reduced them to tears by refusing to allow them time to reveal the information themselves because Mrs Brooks wanted to sell newspapers by using their pain as an exclusive front page story.
It’s an amazing book. Well written, lengthy but with so many moments of stunning revelation that you’ll barely be able to close your mouth at times for sheer fury. I found myself punching the air through sheer frustration as the suit-wearing white-collar criminals slipped through the net (while setting themselves up as judge and jury over everyone else.) Amazing. Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack”. An amazing book and I’d like to bow respectfully to the author for what sounds like a harrowing experience over more than a decade.