The Murdoch Show – A Review

Banana cream pie.
Critical Notice

The end of an extraordinary day, says the TV man. Did anyone else think so? To me it seemed a let-down; predictable, unchallenging, frequently tedious.

What we were watching was, as reader jonolan put it, theatre. And not even good theatre, unless you count the intervention by the pieman – that at least was unpredictable. Otherwise its sole moment of flair was Assistant Commissioner John Yates’ surrealistic claim to be a postbox.

The prince came across more like a villain, and it was the king who vacillated. He wanted to apologise as profusely and humbly as possible – yet he wouldn’t accept the blame. Such inconsistency in a character strains credulity.

The best you can say for the production is that it was well rehearsed. The Murdochs delivered their lines effectively enough: News Corp is a highly ethical organisation, the News Of The World a completely inexplicable and isolated aberration. It was at least a daring conceit. And memorable – though mainly because they kept saying it at every opportunity.

Then in the last act a whole new theme was introduced. The News Of The World was revealed by Rebekah Brooks to be a crusading journal, focused only on protecting children and the rights of soldiers, a paragon of what newspapers should be. But the transformation hadn’t been justified by anything that had gone before, so it lacked conviction.

That’s what this show needs more of. Conviction. Preferably several.

Murdochs – 1, Bunch of MPs – 0

Well, play suspended. Wonder what the member of the audience hoped to achieve there.

Then, I wonder what anyone was trying to achieve. The committee investigation was too unfocused to do anything of much use. They kept slipping and allowing the Murdochs to reiterate their “We’re sorry, we’re nice really, forgive us” message. Rupert even buttered them up by suggesting that MPs should be paid a million each. Now he’s getting to tell them some of his life story.

I don’t believe they didn’t know perfectly well that some of their papers used illegal techniques to get stories – even if they managed to remain carefully uninformed about who and where and when. But they’ve managed to say the opposite so many times, it’s bound to influence perception. Really, the MPs let them use this as a press conference.

Now That’s More Like Hacking

The controversial front page of the Sun.
The Sun - Not Famous For Truth

Funny how it doesn’t seem to be in the news this morning, but last night all the websites of Murdoch’s UK newspapers were brought down. The Sun’s by LulzSec, the fun-loving hacker network – they switched it to a fake version that announced Rupert Murdoch’s death – the rest probably pulled by News International itself in a somewhat desperate effort to protect them.

I like the humorous anarchy of LulzSec and their ilk, but I fear an organisation as media-canny as News Corporation will be able to turn this to their own advantage. You want to make Rupert Murdoch look like a victim, you attack him with something even more feared and poorly-understood than himself. Interweb hackers, that can do all sorts of mysterious and dangerous things. Things that are – sharp intake of breath – bad for business. Bring down a Murdoch website, and you give him a chance to portray himself as a champion of free speech. Which would be ironic in any number of ways, not least because most of Murdoch’s websites were not free.

Meanwhile, rumours fly that Murdoch is about to be deposed as head of News Corporation.

Meanwhile, perhaps even as you’re reading this (video feed), Murdoch and other heads of News International will be giving evidence before an investigating committee of the UK parliament. They didn’t want to much.

Meanwhile, the next domino in the Metropolitan Police has fallen: Assistant commissioner John Yates, the UK’s leading terrorism officer.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower who originally broke the phone hacking story has been found dead. The police say it’s not suspicious, but… The police say it’s not suspicious.

So thanks for the lulz, LulzSec. But it looks like things are already way beyond that.

Don’t Call It Hacking

News of the World (album)
I'm Seeing A Whole New Meaning In This Now

Calling it “hacking” makes it sound difficult and technical, when basically what the News Of The World did was phone voicemail boxes that, like most, had easily-guessed PINs. It was spying. It was intrusion. It was burglary. It invaded the lives of innocent people every bit as violently and recklessly as breaking into into their homes and ransacking their bedrooms. Where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, they find a stranger there, manipulating their lives for money.

‘Hacking’ once meant something very different; it was a morally neutral or actually positive word, simply meaning skilled use of computers. Ironically there was even a hacker code of ethics – a concept these debased editors would have to look up.

This has added a great deal more fuel to an already raging debate over libel and privacy law. That reform is desperately needed is, as the “superinjunction” debacle showed, beyond question, but such difficult decisions would be better not made in the context of newspapers carrying out criminal acts. Laws made in anger and haste are likely to be bad for all journalism and all freedom of speech, not just Murdoch’s papers and their like.

And it should be remarked that other British tabloids are quite capable of doing breathtaking violence to basic moral concepts. Look at today’s Daily Express. In the light of a study that failed to find a link between salt and early death, they label all people who discouraged eating salt as ‘fascist’.

That’s what the Daily Express thinks fascists are. Not people who overthrow democracy, who rule by fear, who murder all opposition. People who say you shouldn’t eat too much salt.

Evil is infantile.

(Updated 22:00)