Mar 122013

I don’t know much more than the bare bones of this particular story.  The BBC reports it rather sketchily at the moment as breaking news; even the My San Antonio website doesn’t make it all that clear whether criminal proceedings are attached to the $10 million payout by the LA archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, designed it would seem to settle four cases of child sex abuse.  There is talk of further punitive claims against the Church, mind – but I don’t think I fully understand what this means either.  Of course, $10 million can never serve to repair the abused childhood of any poor young person, but – at least in an English context – $10 million would I think be considered pretty punitive already.

I do – out of ignorance – wonder what’s happening here, though.  Is the Church really not of this world?  Are criminal laws not applicable for those who move in the grace-filled circles of godliness?  We hear, as over time the details seep out, of reports having been sent to the Vatican time and time again.  Someone with more money than sense then pulls out their temporal wallet and finds the means to settle what can surely never be settled.  Confession is supposed to be good for the soul, but it would appear that the Church has a very cardinal side too – and the response to these very cardinal sins is not unlike, say, Mr Murdoch’s in the face of phone-hacking scandals various.

That is to say, get out the chequebook.

By now, you must be thinking me very naive.  “Why not?” you may ask.  “If the aggrieved are happy to achieve closure through a wad of promissory notes, who should be reserving for themselves the right to intervene?”  Well, I may be naive, but I’m bloody well not stupid.

I was watching a TV interview last night with an Italian priest – a fairly young Italian priest.  He was sat on a terrace outside a bar, a cup of coffee to hand I think; a brain as sharp as anyone’s might be.  During the interview he cared to remind us of the example of St Francis of Assisi.  No airs and graces there – though plenty of a very different kind of grace.

He asked, almost pleaded, for a different kind of Church: a Church of the lay people; a Church for the real people.

A Church, essentially, which was of this world.

If the Church is to lead its faithful out of the mire in which a wider society finds itself, both politically and economically, both democratically and socially, then it needs to understand this world.  And it can only understand this world by understanding how to engage with its miseries.  To distance itself, to separate itself, to see the hand and works of the Devil in everything bad that its representatives carry out, is to repudiate all sense of personal responsibility and liability: to excise, in fact, from the people who form the Church all possibility of a true redemption.  You cannot be redeemed unless you want to be; unless you express true sadness at what you did, even as you shouldn’t have done.  But to go down the path of saying the Church is capable of no evil – and where it is, it is the acts of extraneous forces or weak men or sheer greed – is to argue that the structures of the Church have no impact on how its flock, clergy and faithful end up behaving.

This is what they said at the start of the Germany that became the seedbed of Nazism.  Structures do matter – terribly too.  The environments we construct – or perpetuate from generation to generation – affect the behaviours we exhibit.

I’m not versed in the Bible; am not versed in the religion I was born to.  But I do feel that if God existed … well, He would not choose structures for His work on earth which distanced that work from the earth He was looking to save.

In any case, it seems clear enough, with the examples I have linked to above, that such distancing from the grassroots has served no purpose whatsoever: to an outsider looking in, it would seem that there is now very little difference between a) those who, from the depths of Wapping, formerly ran the blessed News of the World; and b) those who, from the depths of the Vatican, currently evangelise the blessed Word of God.

Both, in a nasty and very ultimate place, understand the power of money to make problems go away.

Nov 102012

Puffles summarises in one tweet tonight what I have been feeling for longer than I can remember:

Puffles (*notes*) the crisis of establishment institutions continues. BBC, politics, banking, newspapers, police…all in a v short time space

Now some of you already know that in 2003 I was almost sectioned for an illness which came over me as a result of the lies told around the Iraq War.  The illness came over me because of other reasons too – but principally it involved me furiously writing a blog where I tried to demonstrate that what the politicians were saying was false.

I failed, and fell quite seriously ill as a result.

I was interviewed by a highly unsympathetic psychiatrist at three o’clock in the morning for about two hours – and condemned myself to a month in hospital through the very words I spouted in those two hours.  I was undoubtedly ill, I can’t deny it; had, indeed, done some very strange thing in the weeks leading up to that moment – but my recovery was so much quicker than my social worker said it would be (she told me I could expect to be able to do no more than two hours a week voluntary activities for months once I got out when in fact I started work almost immediately for a fast-food company on a twenty-hour shift) that although it took a while for me to get my wits together, it did finally become sufficiently self-evident that my savage distrust as exhibited by the diagnosis in question was not entirely due to illness: in massive hindsight there is for me a grand sense that the reality was closer to my perceptions and the illness was a consequence not of seeing falsely but – rather – of seeing all too clearly.

I mention all of this today because what is happening in our society, as Puffles summarises so presciently and accurately, may lead far more of us down similar roads of mighty distrust.  I suspect that it no longer really matters whether Mr Murdoch is doing cartwheels over the latest revelations at the BBC (more here), whilst his own irresponsible leadership disappears over the media event horizon; nor should anyone worry whether Hillsborough and Orgreave will finally get the justice they deserve; nor, even, should we care if Masonic paedophile rings riddle the country or not.  No.  In truth, the wider damage has already been done.  Those of us of a paranoid bent are becoming the commonplace, not the exception.  Those of us who see shadows everywhere are seeing we are right to see them anywhere.

In truth, the reality is that the mighty distrust which in other times was judged ill-founded has become a normalised and common reaction to everyone and everything we perceive.


This evening my son was walking home from playing football.  He popped into the local Spar to buy himself some Ben & Jerry’s.  Whilst he was there, a blonde woman of around fifty looked him over in a way which called his attention.  He then left the shop and continued his way home.  At the top end of Caughall Road, near where we live, the lady in question, sitting alongside a man who my son didn’t properly see, stopped her car across the road and offered him a lift.  My son didn’t know her; had never seen her in his life prior to the Spar; couldn’t understand why she should even know where he lived.

A case of potential paedophilia?  My son is seventeen, so I don’t think so.  But I phoned 101, all the same, with the details.  The police also found it quite disconcerting.  They didn’t take my details as there was little detail to report, beyond that the car was green and was driven by a blonde woman in her fifties, but did remark that whilst they would have recognised the pattern if my son had been a child, a couple attempting to pick up a seventeen year old was certainly rather strange.

My family called me paranoid for phoning the police.

Was I?

Surely, in the light of all that’s going down, they should see me as foolishly trusting.

To go to the police in precisely that part of the world where accusations of alleged and historical investigatory reticence have recently surfaced is – you could argue – a sign of madness in itself.

Anyhow.  The broader conclusion we might come to could not really be worse.

In the light of all the terribly uninvestigated things that it would now appear have been taking place over the past forty years, one thing ties all these establishment institutions together: all of them – from politicians, the BBC, News International, the police, banking and the Church to business leaders and organisations various – have committed the same mistake.  Lines of command, where authority breeds an unquestioning allegiance, have proved to have been responsible for rotting our institutions from within – to such an extent, in fact, that the whole bloodied pack of cards is tumbling apart in evil procedural slow-mo … even as they attempt so ineffectively to devise a better truth.

The haemorrhage of good was never so terrible as of late.

In the absence of a true war, we seem to have stumbled across an awful instinct to reproduce the conditions that lead up to civil war.  Only the English, as we know all too well, have such a stiff upper lip that they can but ignore these conditions; they can but ignore the implications.

This is, nevertheless, a war of civil characteristics: a war where people begin to side with their tribes; a war where tribes begin to form like puddles in the park; a park which ends up dramatically flooded by a superstorm; a superstorm which terminates communities as it rapes their sense of trust.

The damage is done – as I said above.

Right and wrong don’t really matter any more.

All that matters is fear.

And a growing – encroaching – violently destructive sense of horrific disbelief in almost all the things we once held dear.

Sep 202012

This piece from Rob Marchant, from the end of August, has just come my way via Bob.  It’s about the Guardian newspaper’s online presence – in particular, the mini-website Comment is Free.  Worth reading in its entirety – so let’s read it.  Meanwhile, I’ll wait for you to catch up.


Whilst driving back from Spain this end-of-summer, I remember feeling just about everything Marchant says in his piece: essentially, that something was going haywire for the paper with respect to Comment is Free.  I read Norman Geras’s blog quite regularly too.  I don’t always agree with what he says in his focussed and concise posts, but I always value his measured way of saying it.  And if you’ve been reading the latter’s posts over the past year or so, enough evidence of streaks of left-leaning anti-Semitism has filtered into the daylight of his virtual column for anyone to want to wonder exactly what is happening..

I’m instinctively inclined to believe there is a reason for everything – and when that reason is difficult to understand, it’s simply we haven’t thought profoundly enough.  In the case of Comment is Free, however, the reason really isn’t that deep or disconcerting.  The freedom to comment – in a liberal society, both a sacred responsibility and right – is being used quite crassly as a marketing tool to drive, engage, maintain and sustain web traffic to the paper’s digital advertising.  This is, of course, from a business point of view, entirely understandable.  In an age of “free” content, building a media environment which can continue to pursue the kind of investigative, current affairs and societal reporting the Guardian undeniably provides is a damn difficult job – especially when social media coattails almost require you to engage in good faith with the audience-chasing enemy.

But who said working in the professional media industry was going to be easy?  The greatest challenge doesn’t lie in the money you need to raise; that’s a marketing process, and there are plenty of marketing rules and tools out there.  That’s a question of turning interesting writing into product advertisers want to be seen alongside.  It’s a question of selling.  It’s a question of positioning.  It may, of course, be that advertisers have pretty poor taste these days; it may be that voters and citizens are to be more generally distrusted than the leaders they are supposed to distrust; it may be that social media inputs are, more generally, degrading our intelligences.  But whatever the reality, the job of pushing content consistently has its sector, its costs and its solutions.

No.  The greatest challenge in the kind of publishing the Guardian is currently involved in – moving as it is from a print-based medium to the rough-and-tumble of non-immersive content – lies in striking a balance between informing and engaging in a popular way and informing and engaging in a populist way.

Perhaps we are truly at the edge of a kind of precipice: whilst there are those who say the kind of investigative journalism which brought the Murdochs to heel will never take place without the populism of Comment is Free, there are others who might argue that citizen journalism, properly executed, combined with a revamped form of WikiLeaks-style information dumping, would manage to do the job just as efficiently and just as precisely – as long as, of course, freedom of speech and freedom from consequent government persecution were both guaranteed givens in our societies.

What’s absolutely clear is that – long-term – any attempt to create a vehicle for social change out of the mad pursuit of eye-goggling page impressions is condemned to serious failure.

And to be honest, what I’d really like to recover from my youth is my old and much-treasured Grauniad – that organ of gently idiosyncratic information, humane enough to contemplate regularly corrected spelling slip-ups.  A newspaper which felt it knew what it was to be English: slightly eccentric; an honest combination of reporting and journalistic angles; a slightly inefficient way of covering the news which allowed for real voices, individual styles, good faith and a kind of referred people power.

Those communicators were people, first and foremost.

Not brands, defining their and our expectations.

Marketing has its place, of course.  I just wish those who use it knew what that place was.


Further reading: I’ve just stumbled across this post I wrote back in spring.  These paragraphs are particularly appropriate, I think, to Marchant’s general thesis:

Which is why it does occur to me that in much the same way as Thatcher lived on in Blair, and in much the same way as Blair’s legislation has facilitated Cameron’s destruction of the Welfare State, so the Guardian‘s proud talking-shop which is Comment is Free has more than a little of that vacuous and morally empty hole which is said to have occupied Murdoch’s empire.

“We do what we do because, essentially, it sells news.”  I imagine these words, of course – I’m hardly privy to the private thoughts of Mr Murdoch.  But in the Guardian‘s trajectory, in its allegedly partial attachment to certain causes – and in its resistance to others – we have the makings of an argument which suggests that our favourite liberal paper has so grown up in the shadow of Murdoch that it has replicated, on the left, whether intentionally or by accident, even his empty soul.

Along with everything this might imply.

Which brings me to my initial question: does Murdoch’s legacy live on in the alleged amorality of the Guardian‘s Comment is Free?

Sep 122012

Steve is an expert in Freedom of Information requests.  He does a damn good job of trying to wheedle out of generally unforthcoming institutions the kind of information we need to run a democracy properly.  He does more than most of the rest of us manage together.  He deserves a medal.

He is, however, operating under a conceptual con – a con I am sure he is aware of.  Douglas Adams had it best described when he gave us the answer to the Ultimate Question.  This, of course, if I remember rightly, being the number 42.

The problem, of course, if I remember rightly, being the question which 42 was the answer to.

In fact, if truth be told, we know the answers for most of our important life issues.  We knew the reality behind, for example, the Hillsborough tragedy way before its facts were published today.  We just couldn’t prove it.

That Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire was in some way mixed up in the governance of the nation was also patently obvious to so many citizens – and yet very little could be done before a phonehacking tragedy, and a very small group of convinced citizens, served doggedly to uncover an awful trail of behaviours and apparent cover-ups.

The burden of proof that our legal system requires is based on providing hard evidence.  But what if the citizen’s right-to-know is deliberately tied down by strategies designed to make it far easier and safer to declaim answers in private than ask any daring and appropriate questions in public?

It’s not Freedom of Information we need: not that terrible game of often half-blindly identifying the areas of thought which might be in play.  It’s the whenever-and-wherever right to see the questions and assumptions that lie behind the answers.  It’s the frankly democratic right to know what their goals really are when our governors cross the thresholds of a supposedly representative democracy.

It’s the mindsets they hide which we should have every right to access.

It’s what they say behind closed doors and really think inside closed minds which – in the 21st century – needs to be in the public domain.

Not Freedom of Information processes which allow us to ask the questions we may already know the answers to but, rather, a much wider right: a right we could term a Freedom of Anytime Access to the documents and strategies of state which invisibly underpin our lives and our futures.

The con is the game that is Freedom of Information – clued-up citizens playing an intellectual cat-and-mouse with poker-faced upper-handed leaders.

The solution must surely lie in that Freedom of Anytime Access I mention above.  By default, an inside track on the real intentions of the powerful.

Only then can there be any chance of any kind of reconciliation between those who know what they’ve done but so frequently don’t admit it – and those who damn well know the truth but are unable to prove it.

May 142012

I read this recent story from the Guardian with bemusement:

A former News of the World reporter has claimed that journalists at the now defunct newspaper regularly made up stories and unethical practices were rife because of a “culture of fear” at the tabloid.

Graham Johnson, who worked at the newspaper between 1995 and 1997, said many employees carried out illegal operations and fabricated articles due to pressures from the top.

Yes, with bemusement I say.  Who on earth might have believed it were otherwise?  It’s not only the tabloid newspapers which have operated on a continuum of the truth – most organisations and individuals which like to believe they edit and describe reality as it is are inclined to waver towards and away from a theoretical accuracy.  Therein the importance of a democratic society which depends for some of its freedoms on a supposedly free press.  Getting it wrong in the short-term can sometimes be a requirement for getting it right in the long-term.  We sometimes need to tell lies in order to dig out the truths.

Whether we like it or not, slander and libel are necessary extensions of a healthy democracy.

Journalistic truth is a little like psychosis, surely: the defining line of whether someone or something might be deserving of such a label or not depends on how it affects their ability to function appropriately.  We cannot say whether the tabloids or the broadsheets fiddle about with this continuum I describe more to our advantage or to theirs (though I’m inclined to believe it’s generally to their advantage instead of ours); what we can say for sure, however, is that the truth is neither necessarily to be found between two extremes nor never to be found in the obvious centre.

Sometimes, then, the attempt to tell a truth involves a sticking-a-pin-in-the-donkey’s-tail unpredictability.

Made-up stories in the News of the World?  I’d be surprised if we assumed there weren’t any in our broadsheets.  Just imagine if we lived in a world where truth was guaranteed: how lazy and uncritical might we become.  In fact, either by omission or by default, the truth is malleable and never precise.  Only the winners get to fix our histories; only the powerful to fix our news.

Any mainstream media organisation which tries to imply they are so very distant from what they now allege happened at the News of the World is simply in denial as far as their relationship with the world, and its reality, is concerned.  This is not a post-modern argument I am making: just an observation that our recent past has very clearly demonstrated that the truth is fragile.

And, what’s more, highly dependent on where you stand – as well as with what authority.

Feb 012012

This story – whilst an old one from May 2008 – came my way via my favourite tweeting gasman, Gary Robinson, on Twitter this morning:

Two pest controllers were called to coax a 4ft (1.2m) orange snake into a bag after it was found by a tenant in her house boiler.

When Lee Marshall, 40, spoke to an “almost hysterical” young woman from Southsea, Portsmouth, claiming she had seen a snake he thought she was joking.

But he and a colleague discovered the creature slithering inside a boiler.

Coincidentally – and also via Twitter, but this time via my favourite MP, Tom Watson – we get a report from the Independent, as well as a related .pdf file held on Parliament’s web servers, about the subject of Rupert Murdoch’s News International phone-hacking scandal.  In the incident under question, the Independent seems to imply a key email might have been held back from shareholders last year in order to ensure control would not be lost of BSkyB.  This, then, is what the Independent has to say of the very same year as our snake in the gas story – but this time a month later in June 2008:

A key email which cast significant doubt on James Murdoch’s repeated assertions that he was never told about the true extent of phone hacking at the News of the World was kept from public disclosure last year while the media heir faced a shareholder revolt over his leadership of BSkyB.

And this:

Had the email sent by Mr Myler in June 2008, which talked of a “nightmare scenario” of further phone hacking claimants, been made public around the time of its discovery by a “reviewer” in a crate of material recovered from the offices of the closed NOTW it is likely to have significantly heightened the pressure on Mr Murdoch.

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and phone hacking victim who attended the AGM, said: “Had this information been available at the time of the AGM, I am sure more shareholders would have said ‘sorry James Murdoch but thank you very much and goodbye’.”

Meanwhile, what we presume is the full sad and sorry behind-the-scenes story – what apparently caused this key email to be “lost in review” – is contained in this recent letter (.pdf file) to the Parliamentary Committee investigating the hacking scandal.  Well worth your time.

Just a couple of final observations to wrap up. 

People get paid to not do their job like this, you know.  Or, on the other hand, to do it all too well.

Though I’m sure neither of the above has happened in this particular case.

When one can choose between rank conspiracy and rank incompetence, 99 percent of what happens in this world is due to rank incompetence.

Isn’t it?

Dec 292011

What would New Labour have looked like if the News of the World had closed in 1997 – instead of collapsing ignominiously in 2011?

This thought comes to mind on the back of a comment of mine which came out of an exchange with Brian at the foot of a previous post:

Yes. That’s true. That the debate [on neoliberalism] wasn’t conducted *was* a serious failing of Blair and New Labour. But Murdoch still ruled the roost. A thought experiment then. What would New Labour’s regime have looked like if the News of the World had collapsed in 1997 instead of 2011? Think that one through and perhaps contextualising Blair might be easier for us all.

Just imagine what might have happened if Blair – suddenly released from his obligations to the man who had helped crown him – could have moved Labour forward in exactly the way he must only have ever dreamt about.

This was before tuition fees had splintered Labour’s faithful; before Iraq had broken the back of the patient church that still constituted the Party, even in 2003; before a whole host of concessions to the rancid right of British politics had distorted and fatally damaged his ability to perceive the real opportunities for a moral democracy.

For it is the strangest matter that the more moral become the discourses of those who would lead nations, the more violent and militaristic become the realities they proceed to deliver.

But let’s imagine that Murdoch & Co were vanquished as now: temporarily at least, without too much room to regroup.  Blair could have created a government of an easy three terms – not doing God; not doing triangulation; not doing the Daily Mail or the Sun.  Just being what became him most naturally: listening to the wider people and reinterpreting their discourse for the good of a wider voting constituency.

Politics has always produced leaders who know how to crystallise and exemplify the desires of a generation.  And where this has not happened, we have had lost generations thrashing about wildly.  It would seem, right now, that we are awaiting that moment again.  And the generation we form a part of has a grand opportunity to remake the future – with or without the help of the commentariat.  As already pointed out:

[...] what if a politician was wise enough to propose pulling – first of all – the wool over the eyes of the commentariat itself?  That is to say: let’s imagine that Miliband, in this case, intended not to give too many gobbets of psychological stroking in the direction of self-important observers – observers who had become so used to being seen as astonishing crystal-ball gazers, by virtue of a privileged connection and control over the people we actually wanted to vote into power, that they found it absolutely impossible to contemplate that any politician might wish to play a different more solidly democratic game and at the same time be half-competent.

And so they interpret, supposedly on our behalf but surely far more in their own rank interests, that Ed Miliband can’t communicate; Ed Miliband doesn’t know how to fight; Ed Miliband is in hock to big trades union interests; and Ed Miliband is plain and simply the wrong man.

Plain and simply the wrong man not because he’s wrong for us, the voting public, but – rather – because he’s very wrong for the commentariat.

You know what I think?  I think most politicians and commentators in modern politics are actually jealous of Ed Miliband.  That he has got so far without owing anything to the media of one sort or another must really frustrate them in their own carefully marketed strait-jackets of thought. 

Which is why I do say: “Ed, you still have my vote.  The power you can take advantage of, channel and mould is as yet largely untested, untried and unseen.  But if you manage your opportunities well and effectively from now on in, if you manage to see them exactly for what they are before the rest of us are able to even sense their wisdom, you will be marking out a new territory: a new territory which will change British politics forever.

“It’s now your only alternative. 

“It’s now our only option.

“So understand it for what it is – and take it whilst you still can.”

Nov 122011

I read this story from the Mail today almost as soon as it was published.  I thought it might be wise to wait and see.  Even after everything that has happened, and even after everything we’ve all written, I did wonder if this was just one accusation too far.  James Murdoch and his NLP-like ways of disconcerting his verbal opposition, his carefully open body language, his convincingly couched appeals for reasonableness to those others sidelined in attendance as awful accusations were declaimed by Tom Watson, as well as Murdoch’s oh so appealing naivete in the face of a dreadfully suspicious world, all still continued to make me wonder if he – and by extension the Murdochs in general – were truly as bad as they are painted.

But the news continues to dribble out.  First from that Mail story I link to above:

The latest twist in the case emerged 24 hours after Mr Murdoch – the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch – was grilled for two and a half hours on Thursday by a House of Commons select committee.

In a bruising second appearance before the Culture Committee, he insisted he had not learned until recently that the practice of illegally eavesdropping on private phone messages went beyond a single ‘rogue reporter’.

Then Andrew Neil tweets that:

Source close to R Murdoch tells me emails uncovered by police in India (see today’s Daily Mail) potentially ‘devastating’ for James M down.

Only for Tom Watson to confirm this incredible piece of information barely an hour and a half ago:

“Every Single Member Of The Committee Investigating [Phone Hacking] Were Followed By Private Eyes” 6 months ago!

Meanwhile, my attention is drawn to this similarly ongoing story – and it occurred to me a thought experiment really might not come amiss.  It describes how alleged abusive behaviours at a Catholic school were being investigated by the Church itself – an exercise which in the words of one observer was akin to putting “Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.  In a more recent report on the outcome of an external investigation into these selfsame accusations, we get this text:

The report’s key recommendation was that Ealing abbey monks lose control of St Benedict’s. It listed 21 abuse cases since 1970 with Carlile saying the form of governance was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.

The report said: “In a school where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

“Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their sacred vows … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

“Secondary fault can be shared by the monastic community, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations.”

Historic fault also lay with the trustees and the school for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for “unpalatable eventualities”.

In his criticism of school governance, Carlile wrote that the existing structure lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.

So let’s rewrite that just a little – and see how it might pan out as template for – say – a massive global news-gathering corporation called Miljenko’s News:

The report’s key recommendation was that the Miljenko and his inner circle lose control of Miljenko’s News. It listed thousands of phone- and computer-hacking cases since 1999 with the report’s author saying the form of governance was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.

The report said: “In a corporation where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of its editorial community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

“Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their legal responsibilities … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

“Secondary fault can be shared by its board and top management, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing the public and democratic discourse at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the awful temptations that might attract some with corporate vocations.”

Historic fault also lay with with the shareholders – especially the institutional ones – for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for “unpalatable eventualities”.

In his criticism of corporate governance, the report’s author wrote that the existing structure lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.

For two things occur to me, you see.  What surprises me, first, given that the original version of our thought experiment tonight describes how a corporate body like the Catholic Church would allegedly appear to have been consistently allowing the abuse of children since 1970, is that this story is not grabbing the headlines this weekend as much as Mr Murdoch’s also alleged – and perhaps ethically analogous – disregard for what is admittedly an utterly different set of public and private mores.

Just remember the litany however.  Thousands of alleged cases of phone-hacking, uninvestigated by the British police for almost a decade; families like that of Milly Dowler absolutely led down the garden path of cruelly raised hopes; a body politic pulverised by Murdoch Sr’s total control over its democracy; and now, if Watson and Greenslade are to be believed, a surveillance of lawyers and MPs which continued well into 2011.

Whilst it was supposed News International was cooperating with the authorities.

Talk of Dracula being in charge of the blood bank.


What surprises me more, however, and after all, is that if such a report as the one we read above can be written on an institution as mighty as the Catholic Church, especially in the uncompromising tone we clearly can detect and note, why – then – cannot we do the same in relation to News International? 

And sooner rather than later?

Murdochs, monks and dirty habits.

There’s no getting away from them.

Closed environments, shuttered communities, organisations where money is no object.

And there was once a man called Jesus all people would probably have been proud to have in their belief systems.

Just as there was once a Murdoch called Keith all journalists would probably have been proud to have in their profession.

How the mighty fall.

And how very far.

Sep 192011

I’m inclined simply to link to this feature article by Harold Evans from last night’s online edition and today’s paper version of the Guardian.  Link to it – and then allow you (I guess – I hope) to fume.  But I have to do more.  I can’t just leave it at that.

This, on Murdoch’s performance at the recent hearing before MPs on the question of phone-hacking, for example:

Observers in the Portcullis room were divided on the efficacy of Murdoch’s testimony. Some thought his answers revealed a doddery, amnesiac, jetlagged octogenarian. He cupped his ear occasionally to ask for a question to be repeated; at one moment he referred to the prime minister, David Cameron, when he meant Alastair Campbell, former prime minister Tony Blair’s press adviser. Others saw the testimony as a guileful imitation of “junior”, the ageing mentor to Tony, the capo in the Sopranos, who feigned slippered incompetence to escape retribution. I thought, on the contrary, that Murdoch was a good witness, more direct than his son James, who unnervingly sported a buzz cut reminiscent of Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. His father was as taciturn as James was loquacious. Murdoch père paused to run each answer through his shrewd mental calculations of the legal implications of his own words, occasionally smiting the tabletop in front in a kind of brutal authoritarian emphasis that began to make his wife Wendi Deng distinctly nervous. She leant forward to restrain the militancy.

And then we have a rather more direct description of exactly how Murdoch is – even now – able to impose without having to take ownership for his “actions”:

How much Rupert Murdoch knew and when he knew it may not be pinned down because he exercises what the sociologist Max Weber defined as “charismatic authority” where policy derives from how the leader is perceived by others rather than by instructions or traditions. The concept of charismatic authority as applied to the Murdoch empire may be best understood – as a concept, I emphasise, and not a personal comparison – in the use made of Weber’s definition by Sir Ian Kershaw, historian of the Third Reich. Kershaw argues that Hitler was not much absorbed by the day-to-day details of Nazi Germany’s domestic policy, but was nonetheless a dominant dictator. Kershaw explains the paradox by adopting the phrase of a Prussian civil servant who said the bureaucrats were always “working towards the Fuhrer”. They were forever attempting to win favour by guessing what the boss wanted or might applaud but might well not have asked for. Similarly, in all Murdoch’s far-flung enterprises, the question is not whether this or that is a good idea, but “What will Rupert think?”. [...]

A couple of more comparisons before I finish with the reality that genuinely shocks me today.  On the one hand, on Robert Maxwell – at one point Murdoch’s direct competitor:

Maxwell was the meat axe, a muddler, a volatile sentimentalist, a bully and a crook.

Then, on the other hand, a thumbnail sketch of dear old Rupert:

Murdoch is the stiletto, a man of method, a cold-eyed manipulator.

And, finally, this story, as News International proposes to draw a line under its behaviours – and thus, paradoxically, perpetuate them – through its tried and tested method of buying off injured parties with wads of dosh:

Milly Dowler’s family have been offered a multimillion-pound settlement by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, in an attempt to settle the phone-hacking case that led to closure of the News of the World and the resignation of the company’s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

It is understood that News International has made a settlement offer estimated by sources at more than £2m, a figure that includes a donation to charity. But the publisher and media group has not reached agreement with the Dowler family, whose lawyers were thought to be seeking a settlement figure of closer to £3.5m.

So that’s all right then. 

Isn’t it?

But how can we possibly contextualise this?  Well, we could do it on the basis of annual turnover.  The BBC reports $32.7 billion in the year to June 2010 (the profit report here).  What does the figure mentioned above of £3.5 million really represent, then, to a man like Rupert Murdoch?  You know what I mean: for sorting out the pain and grief to the Dowler family, as far as this may be possible – and as a consequence of a set of behaviours his empire might arguably appear to have been built on.

How about – and as I’m feeling generous tonight – rounding up to a princely sum of 0.02 percent?  I think I got that right – maths was never my strong suit, mind.  So I’m happy to be corrected by anyone who’d like to doublecheck.

But let’s just say – for argument’s sake – that I am actually right.  We then have a figure for compensation for this massively high-profile case – a case which, remember, has led to the closure of Murdoch’s best-selling newspaper – of 0.02 percent of annual turnover

And yes, that’s the turnover of just one piddling year!

Whilst the phone-hacking and the competitive advantages it brought his newspaper empire have apparently been going on for at least a decade.

Now if you didn’t have that money, that’d be curtains for this company.  But since the spare cash is apparently lying around, and the will to pay it out is similarly prevalent, it looks like Mr Murdoch – “the stiletto, the man of method, a cold-eyed manipulator” if there ever was one – will get his own way yet again. 

Even in the case of Milly Dowler.

Even in such horrifying circumstances.

Even after everything that’s happened in the past six months.

So do his shareholders really have nothing more to say on this matter?

Aug 182011

The state is always supposed to be the preserve of the left whilst the right are seen as out-and-out defenders of the individual.  But if we accept the establishment is inevitably a right-wing construct, whether the government in power is nominally progressive or not, it does occur me to think quite otherwise.

It’s recent sentencing policy, as the Mirror describes it, which makes me want to beg to differ.  Whilst the danger to an established order posed by the looting carried out by thousands would seem to indicate that David Cameron’s zero tolerance to crime is a shared response – by many on the right – to the need to uphold the integrity of the rights of victims, I do begin to wonder exactly who that victim is – and whether we couldn’t argue that the state as a whole takes priority here over any other.  The fact that the police and a wider establishment appeared to do everything it could to brush under the carpet the thousands of crimes against the privacy and integrity of individuals – apparently committed by people working for the News of the World newspaper – would suggest something quite different from the line Mr Cameron is currently trying to spin on the subject of protecting us all: that is to say, it would suggest that the right loves the state a jolly lot more than the left has ever been accused of so doing.
If we are happy to leave unchecked for more than four years more than four thousand examples of phone-hacking because they only affected individuals individually (that is to say, they didn’t threaten the oneness of the state), and yet manage to rush through in less than a week more than one thousand convictions in London alone related to the recent rioting and looting, what does this say about our regard for the integrity of the individual?  Individuals’ property – and what this represents – I’ve no doubt has weighed heavily on people’s minds (and quite rightly so).  But individuals’ right to privacy and to the integrity of their communications?  Doesn’t that count for anything any more?  For what we’ve been talking about in the recent phone-hacking scandals is the making of money out of the unhappy privacies of ordinary people.  The invasion, in fact, as painful and psychology hurtful as any looting might be, of personal spaces we surely all have a right to maintain.
If we are willing to intervene and interrupt Blackberry Messenger when and if it is necessary to protect the state from being perceived as too brittle, we should be more than willing to also intervene and interrupt – as well as duly, and in a timely manner, pursue and prosecute – the misdemeanours of those who attack the fabric not of the state as an entity but rather, quite separately, of its component parts – component parts which also serve to generate tapestry and wholeness.

By which, of course, I mean to say individuals’ lives we all experience and which form at an individual and discrete level

Any other response might lead the cynical amongst us to conclude that – even in Coalition Tory-land – the primacy of the state is far more of a priority than the reality and true needs of the individual.

Aug 162011

It’s interesting how this is panning out.  Whilst at the time of Clive Goodman’s original prosecution, it seemed imperative – for the integrity of the established order – to maintain the idea that these were isolated events and examples of rogue reporters, thus leading to a now well-documented, curious and lackadaisical approach by the police to the investigation in question, in the case of the recent English riots the integrity of the established order has depended on a pretty fearsome application of English law.  Witness this case today in Chester, the town where I live – or, indeed, this case where stealing water has lead to a six-month jail sentence, and where it would seem most people in England are currently quite happy to see this man spend time behind bars.

Now as Adrian fairly argues in relation to today’s case in Chester, incitement to a criminal act can reasonably be understood to compare quite favourably (or perhaps I should say unfavourably) with the act itself.  So I’m not going to argue with the draconian nature or not of such sentences.  What I really would like to underline, instead, is why the established order has seen fit to spread the pain (for want of a better word) so widely in the case of the riots – but not in the alleged phone-hacking cases of News International, its reporters, editors and executives, its apparent police hangers-on and other related folk.

There is, therefore, a clear lack of fit here in the attitudes and behaviours of those who prosecute and sentence in the English justice system which would appear to be most revealing in relation to whose interests are really at stake.

And the implications, if nothing else in this matter, are something I really do find most resistible.

Update to this post: there is, of course, as always, an alternative explanation to conspiratorial dynamics – an explanation which, more often than not, is actually where the bigger truth of the matter will lie.  Cameron describes the recent riots as “criminality, pure and simple”.  That is to say, easy to prosecute.  Meanwhile, it’s quite possible to believe that the phone-hacking scandal was “criminality, pure and complicated“.  Which might lead us to conclude, without any desire to cast aspersions other than those of incompetence, that it was all too much like hard work for anyone to want to properly pursue its implications.

Aug 162011

I studied a brilliant film at university called “Letter from an Unknown Woman”.  And its director, Max Ophuls, will forever remain one of my all-time favourites.

Meanwhile, the briefest of synopses at the IMDb website indicates the following:

A pianist about to flee from a duel receives a letter from a woman he cannot remember whom may hold the key to his downfall.

I am reminded of this film, for some peculiar reason, in relation to a slightly different matter.  To my unreasonable delight, in amongst the awful fireworks of the recent riots in England (for I still haven’t read anywhere a satisfactory explanation as to why they’ve only happened in England), it would appear today that the News International phone-hacking scandal has been reignited by the release into the public domain of this letter.  Not exactly a letter from an unknown woman then – as it was in fact written by Clive Goodman.  But, in the light of recent events at News International, including the resignation of its former CEO, Rebekah Brooks, its publication today couldn’t half be construed as an indirect missive to a not entirely unknown lady.  As well as a number of prominent gentlemen out there.

And if the implications of Goodman’s letter are as the Guardian describes them, I do wonder how these clever and powerful people could have believed with such impunity that telling incomplete truths was a secure and politically intelligent way forward when dealing with parliamentary committees of the kind we have here.  Unless, of course, their whole and daily ecosystem was made out of the kind of slippery relationship with reality that not only eloquence but also wealth and massive yes-people deference bring to one’s ability to maintain a sense of proportion.

On Twitter, this affair is rightly tagged #hackgate – precisely because the people involved should have remembered what happened to Nixon.  It wasn’t in the evil deeds that his people committed where his ultimate downfall lay.  Rather, it was in the arrogance of believing that he was beyond the reach of any jurisdiction because of the power he had acquired prior to and after the events in question.

When you commit indiscretions, do not get immediately caught and then learn to live with their permanent reality is – exactly – when you acquire a curious patina of Teflon-like impermeability to that sense of proportion I mention above.  If the corporation can be described as a kind of sociopathic entity – not because of its people as such (many of whom are well-minded to act honestly) but, instead, because of its ultimate and exclusive mission to increase shareholder value to the exclusion of everything else – is it at all surprising that some of its top-flight leaders may also acquire disagreeably disconcerting qualities which separate them so dramatically from ordinary people far down below?

And given that only very occasionally do they need to step outside their bubbles of yes-people deference, is it also at all surprising that when they do they get it so dramatically wrong?

What we saw in July, when Rupert and James Murdoch apparently told incomplete truths to a parliamentary committee, was two powerful gentlemen who expected the same treatment from the representatives of the people as they get in those daily ecosystems I referred to earlier.  It’s not that they expected to get away with telling porkies.  It’s, rather, that they didn’t expect for their authority to be questioned once laid down.

The psychology of power laid bare – that is what we are witnessing now.  And it’s really not a pretty sight.

Jul 192011

I’ve just seen the Murdochs give their account of what has happened during the past decade in News Corp.  Essentially, top-level executives got paid immense amounts of money to receive oral advice from highly expensive lawyers, either directly or via intermediaries – and then somewhere along the line, some individuals or other apparently hid, misplaced or confused key evidence which would otherwise have made it impossible for the executives in question not to commit to root and branch removal of criminal activity.

I may of course be wrong about all of this – but that’s my reading of it right now.

I do have two things to say on this matter: one, I actually prefer Rupert to James.  James has this most irritating habit of personalising all objects, so he says “I can’t speak to” something instead of “I can’t speak about” something.  Also, whilst Rupert took his time over most of his responses, James filled the silences with banal soliloquies of corporate speak.  I much prefer watching someone think before they open their mouth, even if it is to express their inability to remember, than suffer the awfulness of hearing a language I love so very much mangled by the tongues of those whose principle aim seems to be to avoid all sense of responsibility.

And the second thing?  Well, as I tweeted during the show itself:

Am I glad News Corp only does TV, news & films – just imagine if it did nuclear power with that lack of corporate control. #NOTW

If they thought this was going to be the moment they regained the initiative on being fit and proper as far as owning the totality of BSkyB was concerned, surely ordinary laws of corporate governance wherever would indicate they really weren’t fit and proper to run anything.  Not necessarily because of outright and overt criminality but, rather, simply because of an utter incompetence in relation to a correct and judicious understanding of corporate responsibility more generally.

An utter incompetence which absolutely beggars belief.

Jul 192011

I’m currently watching policemen talking to MPs about their relationship with newspaper staff and organisations.  It’s just been announced that ten people in New Scotland Yard’s communications department, of which there are apparently a total of forty-five individuals tasked in the role of representing the police to the outside world, have in the past worked for News International. 

In the Britain of today we might expect the police to watch and report on the press and the press to watch and report on the police.  Singularly, however, it would seem that – instead of the latter – the police and the press actually employ each other.  And almost on the nod.  Without any vetting process whatsoever.  (Though nominal tendering procedures do seem to be in place.)

(Goodness me, for my lowly job at the bank, I had to go through an outsourced and independent vetting process where – if I remember rightly – even my medical record was covered off.)

I am sure you will be able to see it on YouTube and iPlayer and Sky over the next few days.  A sequence of talking-heads, repeating the same unhappy mantra: “I don’t know.  I wouldn’t know.  It wasn’t my job to know.”

And we still have Brooks and the Murdochs to go.

Jul 152011

I used to work for a company which broke up a certain section of its workforce into hunters and farmers – hunters were the salesforcey types who achieved new business and farmers the support staff who ensured new and existing customers stayed put.  It was a good and useful definition – an exact analogy which cut through much prejudice.  It helped both parties and the outside world understand better their roles and interactions.

Whilst reading my Kindle edition of today’s Guardian in the doctor’s surgery this morning, I came across a similar piece of clarity described by Allegra Stratton (the bold is mine):

It is at this point that sociologists normally reach for samples of opinion from swing voters and core voters, from the upper, middle and working classes. But this is a very old school way to slice and dice the country. Graeme Cooke, at one time head of David Miliband’s brains trust, has since been working on a thesis that the electorate has changed as much as the challenges for politicians.

He has analysed the British Values Survey and broken us all down into three types: Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers. These are dispositions, not policy proclivities. These are the new tribes, and they do not have life-long loyalties to political parties.

Pioneers (41% of Britons) are global, networked, like innovation and believe in the importance of ethics. Prospectors (28%) like success, ambition, seek the esteem of others and if they think a party can help them help themselves, they are on board. Settlers (31%) see things in terms of right and wrong, are wary of change, seek security and have a strong sense of place – patriotism and national security motivate them to vote.

And it would seem that where politicians manage to cut across and satisfy all three strands – as Ed Miliband appears to do so over the News of the World scandal – a jackpot of sorts is hit.

So what are the implications?

All the social classes split up in roughly the same proportions. Settlers were most numerous after 1945 but as people became steadily more affluent, “post-material attitudes” dominated and so now Pioneers are the largest group.

And so to Murdoch. Pioneers would have liked Ed Miliband to tackle Murdoch long ago but while they are a big group, they are not big enough to wage a campaign and indeed, eventually, win an election. A fortnight ago Prospectors would have been wary of what they would have thought a quixotic campaign against Murdoch. Settlers would have disliked the squall of a fight. After the Milly Dowler hacking revelations, a campaign suitable for Pioneers suddenly became appealing to Settlers too. Prospectors joined in as it became clear to them at some point that Miliband was “winning”.

Prospectors are looking for someone who can advance their standards of living and social status.

It’s reductive, yes, but it shows the spectrum of dispositions with which we all have come to the Murdoch tale, and will bring to future moments of reckoning. And it’s how political strategists will be thinking about events.

This is fascinating stuff – as fascinating as the hunter-farmer dichotomy I mentioned at the beginning.  I’m only just beginning to absorb its truths.

The world gets far more complicated – for this is perhaps the end of class warfare as we have known it.  A completely new and far more level playing-field for us all.  Perhaps the political equivalent of open-data access, in fact.  For here you have to satisfy every social class’s needs. 

And those politicians, who think they need to use new technologies to broadcast the same messages as before in order to connect with the social classes of old, will not only be sadly and confusingly mistaken but will also eventually find themselves out of the political running through an apparently bewildering lack of any fault of their own.

They simply won’t get things their electorate does get more and more because their concept of the electorate will be woefully inexact.

Not only the politicians – I daresay even those businesspeople who ignore these new ways of seeing.

In fact, I daresay even those businesspeople who believe closing down newspapers and resigning from posts are actions in themselves sufficient to compensate for previous ills.

Jul 092011

Three links so you know what I mean.  First, this shocking story which came my way via John Naughton’s Twitter feed.  As Naughton points out:

Just in case you’re feeling sorry for the poor ‘innocent’ NoTW staff who came after Coulson/Brooks, try this for size:

Then two pieces by Fraser Nelson, writing his last column in the News of the World here – whilst in the Spectator you can find a broader and more discursive analysis of the paper’s achievements here.

Read them and reach your own conclusions.  Mine for what it’s worth?  The beast that is corporate hierarchies these days has a lot to answer for – at least as far as the dynamics of what’s happened is concerned.  And as the victims of this awful affair – both external and internal in my opinion – begin to dust themselves off over the coming months, the trauma and pain they’ve all had to live under will only, in its progressive absence, become finally apparent.

I do wonder if it isn’t all symptomatic of a much wider malaise, though.  We love what these large companies can do with their massive concentrations of wealth.  Gadgets, energy, fast food and ideas.  What would we do without them? 

I just ask myself whether the bad that so demonstrably exists really has to accompany the good that so clearly is generated.  If, as Nelson claims, tabloid journalism is such an art (and I’m inclined to agree – at least from a purely linguistic and technical point of view) …

When I was an aspiring journalist, I was in a class where we were addressed by  the (then) editor of the Glasgow Herald. “Please tell me I’ll never have to write tabloid” one of the students said. “No you won’t, son, because you’ll probably never be good enough” came the reply. I was struck by that, an later found out how true it is. It took me ages, trying to do whatthose brilliant red-top journalists can do instantly: distill complex facts and issues down to their essence, write not wasting a single word or a second of the reader’s time. No broadsheet waffling. It is respect for the readers, and their appetite for serious and substantial scoops, which made the News of the World so successful.

… then where and why did it all go so sour? 

And keeping in mind the reality of the first story I linked to today, isn’t it fair to say a degree of self-delusion is – even now – operating amongst the industry’s workforces?  Even amongst such quality writers and observers of the human condition as Nelson clearly is?

A final tweet to finish – allegedly deleted tonight from the Twitter feed of the News of the World‘s sister paper, the Sun:

Quick, blame anyone but the man to blame MT @Sun_Politics: NotW RIP. Miliband, Guardian & BBC; how proud you must be of your work this week

If true, the delusion is complete.  And it doesn’t half sound like a serious case of Stockholm syndrome – but this time for journalists working in massive corporate organisations. 

Perhaps we could redefine the condition for 21st century purposes: how about Wapping syndrome

Would that suit?