Journalists hack into the phones of murder victims. Cops get cash in envelopes at McDonalds. The prime minister rides police horses with Murdoch empire executives. The phone hacking scandal is both surreal and seemingly never ending. Dial M for Murdoch is an account of this by Tom Watson, the Labour MP and The Independent’s Martin Hickman.
Watson’s work with freedom of information requests and his questions in the House of Commons have helped push more truths into the light. The book provides a good and at times pacy account of the scandal up to now. And for that alone it is worth a read.
The closer you have followed the story the fewer revelations you will get. But that is not the authors fault and most people will find some “I had forgot about that” moments.
It is to their credit that they devote space to the murder of Daniel Morgan. The murder shines a light on the dark relationships between the press, police and politicians and is too often sidelined in the scandal.
Watson and Hickman are not interested in phone hacking so much as the cover-up that followed revelations of hacking in 2006, and the collapse of News International’s defence in July 2011, when “one rogue reporter” – Clive Goodman – gave way to “one rogue newspaper” – the News of the World.
The book loses focus when it is covering Watson himself. He is written about in the third person regardless how personal the anecdote and it doesn’t work as a device. But most details of the scandal are here (though not all and not all accurate).
It is quite a good guide to the main threads. It runs through the accounts of how none of the institutions of the state were prepared to stand up to Murdoch.
There is good stuff on the evils of the Murdoch empire but the authors miss the point that Murdoch is not a “rogue” capitalist – he is a very good one.
The relations between the political class, the police and the media are presented as things that have gone wrong rather than as the way in which the state and business work hand in hand.
The whys rather than the hows of the scandal are thin on the ground. The establishment is floundering around, looking for ways to stabilise the situation. But attempts to stem the scandal are met with constant leaks of new information that only build the crisis further.
There will be more parliamentary committees, public inquiries and the like. The strain on the sinews that tie the system together mean this scandal won’t go away. Dial M for Murdoch is not a bad reference point for the first stage.
Dial M for Murdoch is published by Allen Lane, £20
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