Has the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch? Insight with Nick Davies
Asking this question and many more was City University lecturer and former editor-in-chief and CEO of ITN, Stewart Purvis, who did not let The Guardian journalist off lightly, diving straight into some difficult questions about Davies’ own ethics and background.
In the wake of the revelations, Davies has faced a barrage of often vitriolic criticism. Purvis asked whether, in the face of so much over-whelming hostility, Davies ever thought of calling it a day. “I’ve read you elsewhere saying that underlying all your journalism is some deep-seated need to hit back at all who take power and abuse it”.
Davies agreed that part of his journalistic drive over such a long investigation came from a desire to speak out against abuse, but it also came from the necessity to defend his own credibility:
“Because [News International] kept attacking us, I couldn’t let the story drop. It wasn’t just a question of putting out a story and telling the truth, we had to defend our credibility.”
Purvis also raised the point that it fell to “little old you” to fully expose the hacking scandal when the trial of Goodman and Mulcaire in 2007 clearly pointed back to the paper. Davies‘ role in the story has been held as both an indictment to the failings of the free press and also as a validation of the strengths of the press. Was there a simple explanation?
“First of all you have newspaper failings: they’re owned by Murdoch, they’re up to the crimes themselves, they’re Tory supporters – all really worrying things that are influencing so-called ‘news judgment’. Beyond that, you have the PCC that I would say was, in certain important respects, intellectually corrupt. And beyond that you have the thing that makes this story worth writing about. . . . It’s about power and the way that power works.”
The media mogul of Davies‘ book generates fear in two ways: first by exposing people’s personal lives, hurting and humiliating them, and secondly, through organisational fear:
“If you are trying to get your party elected and you see your campaign being destabilised by hostile newspapers, you can’t run your organisation. What I think is interesting is that like a bully, once they have beaten up a few kids, people will start to tiptoe around the bully and placate him.”
Referring to this later on, Purvis pulled out a comment from The New York Times review of Hack Attack by David Carr, who wrote that “despite the book’s title, the truth never catches up with Rupert Murdoch.”
So has it? Almost. Davies said that during the summer of 2011, there was a chain reaction of disgust building on the emotional impact of the Milly Dowler story, The Telegraph‘s revelations that families of the victims of the London bombings had had their phones hacked, as had families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Suddenly nobody wanted to be Rupert Murdoch’s friend and everyone was changing sides.
“There was a moment when the truth caught up with him. But . . . slowly the power comes back.”
A member of the audience asked, “As in the context of big stories and big exposes, where does this one rank?” to which Davies answered with a story:
“I was at university when the Watergate scandal broke . . . and the idea that these two guys, Woodward and Bernstein, armed only with notebook and pen, could bring down the most powerful politician in the world because he was abusing his power, was just sensationally exciting. So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll go and be a reporter.’ . . . [Then after the phone hacking scandal exploded] the phone rang one night and I picked it up and a gravelly voice said, ‘This is Carl Bernstein – I just want to say well done,’ and it brought tears to the eyes! It was like God calling!”
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