In praise of… the Guardian

by David Talbot

Since early 2008 the Guardian’s daily editorial encomium has praised some 841 men, women, organisations, objects and events. But given the extraordinary proceedings that have marked a seismic week in British journalism, no other entity deserves more praise than the Guardian newspaper itself.

If the paper’s revelations had only concerned lurid journalism it would be disgraceful but not sinister. However, the way that the News of the World, the police, the press complaints commission and some politicians appear to have prevented the exposure of systematic phone-hacking, is a reminder of just how much of a stranglehold the Murdoch empire has over British officialdom. The man is rarely seen, but his presence is always felt. Until now all Conservative and Labour leaders have served a rite of passage to canoodle with the Murdoch apparat with a desperation that demeans them and their office. This political corruption has often been rather more alarming than any duck island, and all together far more destructive.

This is one of the biggest scandals in British public life for decades, but the actions of many a hitherto respected institution has been feeble in the extreme. The Metropolitan police has been disgracefully uncooperative, which yet further highlights their sordid links to the media. Parliament, bar a noble few, so long beguiled by the power of the Murdoch press, has dared not speak out. The prime minister, speaking at the dispatch box on Wednesday, effectively evaded questions as to the complicity of the then News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks in the whole affair. And vast swathes of the British media turned a blind eye, in the knowledge that they too were indulging in the very same practices and fearful lest the forensic focus fall on them and their dealings.

But the Guardian has performed a profound public duty by shining a light on the most disgraceful actions of Fleet street. When the scandal over phone hacking at the News of the World first emerged, News International insisted that it was a maverick operation run by a lone “rogue reporter”. This, as events have proved, was an utter falsehood.

The Guardian’s revelation, two years ago today, that News International had paid more than £1m in damages to three people in the football world who were victims of voicemail interceptions by Glenn Mulcaire, should have been an explosive national story. Instead, it was met with derision and silence. News International, doubtless pleased by this ghostly silence, feverishly attacked the paper, denouncing the Guardian’s apparent attempts to mislead the public. Most of the press decided it wasn’t much of a story. The press complaints commission decided that there was nothing wrong. And many MPs were sympathetic in private, but indicated there was little in it for them in sticking their heads above the parapet.

Slowly but surely, however, the Guardian, led by the investigative journalist Nick Davies, lifted the lid on one of the sorriest tales of wrongdoing in British newspaper history. Be in no doubt, the expose of phone hacking and the collapse of the News of the World would not have happened without the pugilistic pursuit of the Guardian. Two years on from the paper’s first story on the extent of phone hacking, the full truth of what was going on at the News of the World is finally being laid bare.
The arrest of Andy Coulson is a far cry from the News International’s original stance back in July 2009, when the chief executive wrote to MPs claiming that the Guardian newspaper had “substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public” over its coverage of phone hacking. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Guardian has done an untold service to the British public realm by unearthing the unwavering depravity at the heart of one the country’s most read newspapers – and for that it deserves praise indeed.

David Talbot is a political consultant.

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “In praise of… the Guardian”

  1. Interesting piece, David.

Leave a Reply