Where is Rupert Murdoch when you need him? Over the weekend he was madly tweeting about gun control, education, the American dream and the Tour de France. But when his favourite editor and surrogate daughter, Rebekah Brooks, gets charged with three counts of phone hacking at the News of the World, we don’t get a peep out of him.
Nor is there any reaction today from Rupert’s favourite newspaper The Sun, which leads its website with the much more interesting “GB Teen’s Web Troll Torment” and “Carly Rae: S-x Video Is Not Me”.
The criminal charges against Brooks, her fellow ex-NotW editor Andy Coulson, the paper’s pet private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and five former NotW journalists can certainly be found on The Sun’s site, but only if you scroll down to the bottom of the website, past 20 pairs of t-ts and around a dozen footballers, and don’t get sidetracked by stories such as “Pixie Geldof and Nick Grimshaw get their boobs out in Ibiza”. And they are hardly given the splash treatment.
And that’s remarkable, because it has to be one of the biggest stories in the history of British journalism when the entire senior editorial team of a Murdoch newspaper is charged with a series of criminal offences that could see them all go to jail for up to two years for each offence.
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It’s also a big story for the British public, because Brooks and Coulson are both charged with hacking into the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. It was the revelation last July by The Guardian that the News of the World had done this that finally blew the lid off the scandal.
And it’s a big story because Coulson left the News of the World after the first hacking convictions against Mulcaire and Clive Goodman in January 2007 and landed a job with the leader of the Conservative Party, and now Prime Minister David Cameron.
Finally, it involves Rupert Murdoch, whom a large number of people in Britain despise for what he has done to papers such as The Sun (see above).
In other words, it has all the ingredients of a ripping yarn.
Of course, the eight people charged, who include all those we named yesterday, including managing editor Stuart Kuttner and assistant editor Ian Edmondson, may well escape with a fine. They may even be acquitted. But, unless they all plead guilty, their trials will ensure that the sordid details of phone hacking at the News of the World between 2000 and 2006 will be aired in a series of high-profile cases that will drag on for the next year or more.
One can see now why James and Rupert Murdoch have been trying to insulate themselves from damage, by (variously) resigning directorships, ceding CEO roles and retreating to the US.
Unfortunately for the Murdochs, this firewall won’t stop the reputational damage from spreading. Nor will it extinguish any commercial pressures if the trials help convince British TV regulator Ofcom that the Murdochs and their companies are not fit and proper persons to hold a TV licence.
Worse still, after the trials are finished, there is the threat that the Leveson inquiry will re-examine what happened at the News of the World in far greater detail than any trial ever could, and prolong the pain for another year.
Yesterday, after an impassioned speech from David Sherborne, counsel for some of the hacking victims, Lord Leveson emphasised that he is still prepared to do this if the trials do not shed enough light on what really happened.
And all that is before we get to finding out who was responsible for the cover-up that even the Murdochs agree took place.