The Heart of the Matter II: the deadly dance of premiers and proprietors

The power of Murdoch over the British police and prime ministers is not a new story but thanks to the New York Times it may be diminished

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
4 September 2010

There are three big issues posed by the Coulson scandal:

  1. The collusion of the Met with Murdoch's men
  2. The Prime Minister knowingly making his spin doctor someone who has presided over a "flourishing criminal concern" on Murdoch's behalf
  3. The organised silence of the UK media especially the BBC about these two well established facts until the New York Times documents them.

Five Chinese Crackers has just published a great post on the collaboration between the Met and Murdoch's News International, also linked to by Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy.

But everybody knew. Here at OurKingdom I wrote a post called The Heart of the Matter on 5 April. I quoted from Peter Oborne's exceptionally brave and forthright column in the Observer that warned David Cameron a month before the election not to take Coulson with him into Downing Street because,

the case against Coulson today is considerably graver than the case against Campbell. As deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World, he was presiding over what can only be described as a flourishing criminal concern.

Like Oborne, I also referred to the brilliant, assiduous investigative work of Nick Davies. I noted his Guardian column documenting that "Police ignored News of the World phone hacking evidence":

While Scotland Yard's public position remains that it did all that its resources and the law permitted, some police sources admit privately that they failed to fully investigate the case, that decisions may have been distorted by a fear of upsetting Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, and that it was "unfortunate" that the officer in charge of the inquiry, assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, subsequently left the police to work for News International as a columnist.

In short, the entire NYT story had been researched and a powerful conservative columnist had even drawn the necessary conclusion, but it was not considered "news" by the rest of the media, print or television. This is exactly the kind of story a public interest broadcaster should feel obliged to follow up.

Instead, as Oborne himself explained, the British media "operates under a system of omerta so strict that it would secure a nod of approbation from the heads of the big New York crime families".

One of the ways this is enforced is through the vicious dark arts of the bosses' spin doctors themselves. Why didn't Coulson sue when Oborne alleged his responsibility for a criminal conspiracy? Because that would keep the issue 'alive'.

Instead, the word goes out that 'the story does not have legs'. Journalists who raise it are scorned as being interested in 'yesterday'. It does not matter whether or not the allegations are true, all that matters is whether or not they are news - or as Blair would put it, "the cutting edge of the future".

In this appalling world which controls our politics, what matters is what makes the headlines and if truth is buried in the process, well, that's the point.

Of course, Coulson must now be ejected from No 10. But it is most unlikely that this on its own will break the deadly dance of premiers and proprietors that crushes the life out of our democracy.

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