The hacking-gate heroes: four men in search of a scandal

The BBC refused to cover the News of the World hacking story till Tom Watson, Chris Byrant and the Guardian gave them no option.

Since then, their coverage has at best been haphazard. Having initially turned their back on it, they’ve subsequently failed to catch up.

None of the newspapers except the Guardian and, to a much lesser extent, the Independent, initially covered the new developments in the story. It’s a scandal so big that the New York Times has published thousands of words on it. But the British papers – including the ‘serious’ ones – nakedly refused, because it’s too close to home. Which the BBC – apparently not seeing this abrogation by the papers as a rupture in the fabric of democracy – didn’t report.

Four men dragged them all to their duty. Tom Watson and Chris Bryant have been heroic. Without their dogged and incisive interventions, the story, which was flagging in the second half of last week, would not have made it to last weekend. And it would certainly not have taken off and dominated the news as it has for most of this week.

The single most powerful motor driving the story forward has been Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger. Like the BBC, the Guardian is a smug, sanctimonious and irritating institution. But at least the Kings Place liberalistas have something to be smug about.

The lanky, bespectacled Rusbridger may be floppy, crumpled, endlessly thoughtful and comically posh. But he is brave. He is a proper journalist in a fine tradition. Alone amid a craven British media, deserted by a shamefaced and shameful BBC, he has thrown the resources and the credibility of his paper at this case. Already, he has been utterly vindicated and great personal credit accrues.

The fourth man has gone unnoticed, but has been the second most important after Rusbridger in piling on the pressure. He is John Bercow.

Opposition MPs are always demanding urgent questions and emergency debates. One of the reasons nothing ever changes in this country is that the Speaker never grants such requests. Particularly when there is not much clamour from much of the media.

No previous modern Speaker would have granted the request for an urgent question on Monday or a special debate yesterday. During the debate on the urgent question, the Tories tried to close it down by the old tactic of remaining seated. If not enough MPs are “standing” it is held to mean that interest in the debate is waning, making it probably time for the next business.

This is what the government tried on Monday. Their whips told the troops to sit down and shut up. The home secretary would have to take some nasty medicine, but not for very long. Then if the Tories and Liberals showed no interest, the Speaker would move on.

He didn’t. Labour members kept standing, and the Tory Speaker kept calling them. The home secretary’s pain went on and on, and the Tory-Lib Dem government’s shame became more and more obvious.

Like Watson and Bryant (though not, as far as we know, Rusbridger), Bercow has had a very hard time from the newspapers. The easy, tempting, human thing to do, in which case, is to keep your head down and hope they leave you alone.

That is particularly true if you are the Speaker of the house of commons. You have every right to tell yourself that you’re now above the fray, that you shouldn’t take sides, that it is decorous and fitting for the Speaker to abjure controversy.

But that is cant and cowardice and Bercow has disdained it. In Parliament – from where this scandal has been effectively pursued in the absence of an inquisitive media – he has been leading the charge. Which is greatly to his credit and to the nation’s benefit.

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3 Responses to “The hacking-gate heroes: four men in search of a scandal”

  1. Jules says:

    I think you need to include the Guardian’s Nick Davies in your list. It’s his reporting over the last few years that have kept this story alive – excellent sources and great writing.

  2. Editor says:

    @ Jules

    Quite so.

  3. ianrobo says:

    very good post and the right are clearly worried about this story, I ask why ?

    Why is coulson is so damm important not be ditched ?

    too close to Cameron but ditching him now would have no impact on the next GE at all

    barely registers with most voters

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