I wouldn't normally class a book written by a politician as a page turner, but this one most definitively is! If it weren't for the almost contemporaneous Leveson enquiry and the daily revelations, one more astonishing than the other, about the Murdoch media empire and hacking scandals, we could think of this story as a made up political media dinasty intrigue novel. What makes it astonishing is that it's all true and all credit to Tom Watson's courage, tenacity and determination to get to the point where it has become a mainstream story of total relevance and era defining importance to all of us. Credit must also go to people who helped and stood by Mr Watson.
The writing flows well and the facts and "storyline" presented in a way that does keep you interested in the detailed truth as well as the overall scandal and impact it has had on the protagonists. From the moment I saw the list of "dramatis personae" (literally titled as such) towards the start, I knew I would find the book genial to read. There are moments that do make you angry, because of the things that the Murdochs and employees have done, but it is important to get through those to be able to have some appreciation of the enormity of the scandal.
I am quite prepared to see Murdoch et al as being in the vanguard of the Devil, I bewail the dominance of the News International empire in so many aspects of our lives and remain outraged by the cosiness of areas of the media, the police and politicians to each other. This story needs telling as it touches on issues at the heart of our democracy, so 4* for that. But it is a dull read, in my opinion, without the sort of distance from the subject which a more analytical approach by someone with a less personal axe to grind would have provided. Somewhere a good deal short of 4* for that. One of the most disappointing things about this book is that it plays so effortlessly to the converted (me!) and in doing so allows a sense of smugness to colour the narrative. Murdoch receives a good kicking, deservedly, but I find the tone here less than satisfactory. I have great sympathy for Tom Watson's sufferings at various points in the narrative, but feel there is too much of a sense of self-presentation, as both hero and victim, for it to do the job which needs to be done. To be frank, someone with my prejudices really should have felt that this was a better book!
on 26 April 2012
I thought I knew something of the journalistic world but this is unbelievable. In this book Watson and his collaborator take the lid off a can of rotting slugs. Corrupt or timorous police, politicians too afraid for their own skins to act (or worse still as corrupt as the police), journalists so far out of control that the word amoral doesn't begin to describe them. And the worst of it is that its NOT fiction.Hearing Murdoch senior plaintively complain this morning (26 April) that he and his sons were kept in a state of blissful ignorance by a cabal of very naughty News International senior executives had me caught between hysteria and fury.
OK, enough of the indignation. What is it like as a book. Well its very readable and given that it is written from the viewpoint of two men who feel a burning sense of wrong, the tone is surprisingly detached and analytical. How far some of its conclusions are justified is something that we will probably not fully judge until the final report of the Leveson enquiry. However the self complacent and amoral arrogance which comes through in the reported utterances of so many politicians and senior NI execs are too reminiscent of the rantings of those MPs who resented being caught out by the expenses scandal to be anything but disturbing. The only bright spot is that there are still policemen, MPs and journalists who have standards and the courage to uphold them. So, not an easy read, but its one you'll not easily forget and hopefully the shock will still be around at the next election.
on 9 March 2013
Having followed the phone hacking scandal and Leverson enquiry very closely I was aware of much of the detail written in the book. I did, however enjoy reading it in book form and thus being able to understand the time frame better. I don't think you can argue with the facts in the book and just as importantly the assertions. News International was all powerful and they knew it. They were, and probably still are, vicious, vindictive and not overly concerned by the truth. Their relationship with police and politicians was unhealthy to say the least. I am a tremendous believer in press freedom but at what price. They destroyed lives for titillation and they and the rest of Fleet St will continue to unless controlled and my suspicion is that this government, and probably a Labour one too, will prove not to have the guts and determination to deal with a truly potentially evil force.
There is plenty of information to be had here about the News International scandal and of Rupert Murdoch's alleged role in it as it is written by one of the prime movers in bringing the whole affair into the public arena. The problem for me with the book lies with the annoying and out of place literary style adopted, one suspects, with a view to obtaining a more popularist readership. For myself I would have preferred a more sober and restrained way of addressing this very important topic.
That said,this is still a book worth reading for anyone concerned with the role of the media - and those who own and run it - in the society of today.
To say the media has gone to town with the whole phone-hacking affair is no understatement. We think we know everything there is to know and, still, there is so much more to the scandal that is yet to be revealed. This book brings together all the strands into one manageable arena, and provides a step-by-step account into how the whole sorry affair unfolded and brought us to the point we are at now.
So many of the events seem too far-fetched to have happened (and allowed to happen) in a western, supposedly democratic country, and yet they did. Very few people, who are meant to protect our laws and rights, come out of this with any sense of decency, as this book reveals. From the Met Police to journalists to politicians and decision-makers at the highest levels of Government and regulators, it seems few were untainted by the Murdoch scandal. Some - who could have stopped the hacking years earlier - were misled into believing things were not as bad as they seemed, and chose to take what they were told at face value. Others did not explore all the evidence available to them before making decisions that had repercussions (and allowed the illicit means of obtaining stories to continue).
There are a few heroes: Tom Watson, the MP equally liked and loathed, but without his persistence we may still all be living in the dark and dank world of tabloid `journalism'; Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist who refused to give up with the story, Sienna Miller who spoke out when others didn't, Alec Owens, a former Information Commissioner's Office investigator who raised concerns as far back as 2003 but was supposedly told the press were too big to confront.
Some of the main points that really stick out are how there were suspicions of illegal hacking as far back as 2001 and just how far one man (family) was able to hold the British establishment to ransom. However, a thought that springs to mind: what was News International's weapons? Newpapers. The bottom line is to sell as many as possible, beat your rivals and make a profit. And who are they catering to? The public. Does that make us all culpable?
Whatever your thoughts on those who wrote this book or Murdoch, I would say it's a must-read for everyone. No one is exempt: rich, poor, famous, infamous, anonymous, left-wing, right-wing. Anyone was fodder, and those we trust to keep our democratic values in place have let us down badly.
Even though there are still trials to take place and (I suspect) yet more events and evidence to uncover, this book is timely. As it says in the appendix, there could still be up to 700 potential victims to be named. Could the worst be yet to come?
on 28 July 2013
Useful but flawed book about the phone hacking scandal engulfing The News of the World, the police and politicians. Given the story is unfinished, with various individuals facing court action, it is an incomplete story. Also the consistently anti-Murdoch leanings of the authors - comparing him to a mafia boss - damages their objectivity. If there is a heaven I doubt it will containing many newspaper proprietors, journalists or politicians.
The book's most interesting revelation is that phone hacking originated at The People and when journalists moved to the News of the World the practice took transferred there. The main question is who knew what when? of the illegal activities taking place. Criticism of the PCC is rather unfair as that organisation was set up to deal with misrepresentation and unfair treatment, rather than illegalities which should be dealt with by law. One misleading fact the book repeats is that the Murdoch owns 39% of newspaper readership. Nearly two-fifths of the national newspapers sales may be of one of the four Murdoch titles, consumer choice, but millions of daily and weekly regional newspapers are bought, which may have a greater influence on their readers' opinions than the national titles.
The main scandal is the collusion of journalists and the police and it is to be hoped that the guilty will be punished and that in future newspapers will abide with the rules of any new charter.
As to the Murdoch empire, the main problems appear to be in American rather than the British legal system. Once the octogenarian Rupert is no longer in charge, once suspects the company is likely to dispose of its four newspaper titles. I hope the two Times newspapers would find a buyer, but the world would be better place without the other two.
I suspect Tom Watson and Martin Hickman would agree with me on that.
Labour MP Tom Watson and The Independent's journalist Martin Hickman's book sets out the background to the phone hacking scandal perpetrated by News International and covers the process of exposure up until the end of the Leveson Enquiry. Published before Lord Leveson's report was issued, this isn't a complete guide to events but is a comprehensive timeline of events before and during the inquiry, and draws on a lot of the testimony made to Leveson. It's particularly interesting to see just how unwilling the Information Commissioner, police and politicians were to do something about the known problem. The extent to which News International had effectively muzzled democratic institutions with threats of exposing dirty laundry (or just making it up) is depressing, as is the lack of backbone on the part of anyone in authority.
Murdoch's painted as a Machiavellian operator who ingratiates and threatens with impunity. I was particularly interested in his links to the political parties (although it noticeably glosses over Labour connections post Blair) and there's a lot on Rebekkah Brooks and her friendship with David Cameron whose questionable judgment is fully exposed here. The detail on the attempts by News International to cover up its misdeeds - whose laughable ineptness is matched only by the wilful blindness on the part of the police - is fascinating.
Watson (for me) overeggs his own contribution to events and there's no introspection on the extent of Labour's collusion with Murdoch's papers. The authors overstretch when trying to damn the Murdochs and show a lack of understanding how big organisations work (e.g. James Murdoch probably didn't fully read legal advice or email correspondence as directors typically don't). The focus on Murdoch means that they miss the fact that other newspapers (including the Daily Mail) were doing it as well, so the wider ramifications go unanalysed. There's also a certain amount of repetition in the text as the authors go over old ground several times in the text to make the same point. Finally, the publication date means that there's no coverage of the aftermath of the report and the on-going discussion re media regulation and I'd be interested in reading an update that addresses this.
However the book digests complex facts in an easy, page-turning way and it's impossible to read it without feeling outraged about the shameful situation.
on 4 March 2013
Having bought this book looking to find out a bit about why Murdoch possesses his reputation as an authentic press baron, I can say that I was not disappointed. It charts his emergence and also outlines his modus operandi. In addition to this however the book outlines facts that I was totally unaware of. I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of the scandal having kept up to date with it through several media outlets. However there is so much more to the tale. The actions of this specific segment of the press were (and probably still are) shocking. They are criminal and more so than common media coverage would imply. I was disgusted to see how the majority of the mainstream press avoided these details, presumably out of fear. The book shows how the British press operates with impunity and exercises undue influence over politicians who are too keen to protect their political chances.
The company acted shockingly guiltily and whilst not much proof can be presented this is largely due to their efforts. In effect this was an industrial cover up. Evidence was destroyed remorselessly by actors from the top to the bottom of the story. These parties are all guilty be they data protection companies or red haired executives. The latter's involvement is confirmed through the debacle regarding her laptop, which was saved from a similar fate by a coincidence.
The undertone of this whole book is the complicity of the media savy generation of politicians that now run the country. In the mainstream narrative it is a common to suggest that these people are not men of conviction, but rather that they are media men. Those who court power for the sake of it. This book offers an example of this behavior. I was quite disgusted to see Jeremy Hunt's involvement, but perhaps more shocked to see David Cameron's complete lack of integrity when it came to this scandal.
There is no such thing as repeated coincidence or luck. If someone is consistently lucky or fortuitous when it comes to what can be proved this points to actions thoughtfully made. News International is surely guilty, but lack of proof and unwilling witnesses will likely protect them. The scale of this scandal is shocking. Indeed I would liken it to a movie. The worst thing is that the people who allowed these things to happen are still strolling around with their red briefcases.
I had been reading about the phone hacking scandal in the Guardian for some years, but as more and more networks of power, cover-ups, and obfuscations were described I found myself becoming increasingly confused. "Dial M for Murdoch" provides much needed clarity.
In a lucid and gripping account, journalist Martin Hickman and MP Tom Watson describe how 'what began with the battle of Prince William's wounded knee had turned into the worst scandal in British public life in decades'. Step by step the authors build up a picture of the corruption and utter moral bankruptcy within the News of the World and, more generally, News International. Although I was familiar with many of the events described, I was still shocked afresh at the newspaper's brazenness and at the complacency or fear displayed by various bodies including the police, the PCC, and Parliament.
"Dial M for Murdoch" was finished in April 2012 and so, of course, events such as the outcome of the Leveson Report and of various criminal prosecutions are still not known. I would, however, thoroughly recommend this book for those who want a clear idea of how we got to where we are now. Tom Watson, and to a lesser extent, Martin Hickman, were both players in the unfolding scandal and they themselves appear in the narrative, mentioned in the third person. Personally, I tended to cringe at the scenes where Watson appeared in which we were treated to boastful descriptions of his alcohol consumption and undue emphasis was placed on details such as his unprompted pouring of a glass of water for James Murdoch at the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee session (mentioned twice!). However, Watson can probably be excused these moments, as it is clear that when a majority were trying to ignore or downplay the allegations, Watson was tireless in keeping the story alive, enduring personal harassment from News International as a result.
The tight turnaround for the book also seems to have resulted in some sloppy editing: Kimberly Quinn and Kimberly Fortier both appear (and are separately indexed) with no indication that they are the same person, the law firm Harbottle & Lewis becomes 'Harbottle and Co' at their first mention, and a lack of commas results in several confusing sentences.