The scandal that continues to swell around Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in the United Kingdom features all the trappings of a flood that keeps breaking through hastily built barriers to wreak new inundations.
Despite immense efforts, News Corportation minions were unable to sandbag the torrent within the News of the World and the paper went under with a last poisonous gurgle in July last year. Now the saga has burst its banks again, spreading to Murdoch’s other UK papers — and for conduct unrelated to phone hacking.
And fittingly, the new source of outrage is a vast reservoir of information on the Murdoch empire’s internal doings known as Data Pool 3.
On Saturday morning, News Corp announced that “four current and former employees from The Sun” had been arrested, and searches undertaken at their homes and offices. The four have now been identified as former managing editor Graham Dudman, executive editor Fergus Shanahan, crime editor Mike Sullivan and news desk executive Chris Pharo. News International chief executive Tom Mockridge confirmed News Corp was providing “legal support” to those arrested. It later became known that a serving police officer has also been arrested. None of the five have yet been charged with any offence.
Unquestionably, the arrests mark a new high water in the crisis for News Corp: it is the first time that The Sun has been implicated and the alleged conduct has now spread well beyond phone tapping. This follows earlier allegations of computer hacking by The Times.
In a must-read piece published in The Guardian online on last night, Nick Davies, the journalist generally credited with first breaking the News phone-hacking story, explained the significance of Data Pool 3:
“It contains several hundred million emails sent and received over the years by employees of the News of the World — and of the three other Murdoch titles … For News International, Data Pool 3 is a nightmare … no one know what is in there. All they can do is wait and see how bad it gets.”
As Davies describes, not only do police think Data Pool 3 may hold more incriminating confirmation of corrupt journalistic practices at News Corp papers, it could also contain evidence of News Corp staff deliberately attempting to hide — or even destroy — information to prevent if falling in to the hands of the police and the judiciary. Now that News Corp has apparently shifted from obfuscation to co-operation, any loyal servants who carried out a cover-up must be feeling extremely nervous indeed.
In the short term, the further escalation of the crisis surrounding News Corp must cast doubt over Murdoch’s much rumoured plans to launch a Sunday Sun to replace the defunct News of the World. Early last week Labour MP Tom Watson claimed knowledge from a “News Corp source” that “Rupert Murdoch has seen the draft designs of the Sunday Sun with a launch in April at a discounted price”. If the rumour heard by Watson was accurate, the April launch now must surely be unlikely.
Meanwhile, the emperor himself — who will surely allow all and everyone else to be submerged including hapless son James before he himself goes under — continues his new syntax-heavy, meta-public presence on Twitter. He’s not mentioned the Sun arrests, but after being asked yesterday (along with @trealdonaldtrump) by @surfingpunter (138 followers) “you both know how to get a younger woman, would you say looks & personality helped in anyway?” Rupert Murdoch (161,594 followers) took the time to answer: “Of Course!” It is hard not to read Murdoch’s response as falling somewhere in the liminal space between irony and delusion.
The waters of scandal are still rising: as Watson has observed there are still years of this to run, through multiple inquiries, processes and investigations private and public.
If Data Pool 3 proves as lethal as has been suggested, it seems set to become known as a meme or a metonym. The name is so marvellously sinister in its banality, an expression straight out of science fiction villain dialogue shtick, and may come to stand for any situation where digital archiving provides the auto-nemesis of those who have succumbed to hubris.
If Davies is right, the significance of Data Pool 3 is that it may ultimately swallow up the emperor himself, who, as he disappears beneath the surface of the molten disgrace over which he has reigned will no doubt still be tweeting, “Of Course!”