One day crisis management textbooks will analyse the flurry on the bridge of News International this weekend. As truth everybody suspected but nobody could pin down slowly emerges, rubbing its eyes, NI’s whole strategy — lying and deceit with an occasional tub to the whale — is increasingly feeling like Niedergang if not Götterdämmerung.
The News of the World closure was a desperate attept at damage limitation, and the question for Ttanic watchers everywhere will have to be whether, in the present media environment, the watertight doors within the ship can hold against increasing water pressure.
This week has seen the dramatic slamming of a big watertight door on the biggest section on board, a title that in its glory days could boast the largest English language circulation on earth. As hapless hacks drown in their section, many of them are bound to harbour less than kindly thoughts towards the Cap’n on the bridge and his senior officers.
They are, after all, the people who went down there to clean everything up after the Glenn Mulcaire hacking scandal of 2006. René Girard says that wherever human beings gather there is an inexorable scapegoat script at work, but why them? They were the good guys. Well, Monsieur Girard would say, in a real scapegoat script the good guys always do get it in the neck.
There was a simple commercial logic to closing the News of the Screws. The brand was sinking fast, as advertisers bailed out, feeling rather slimed by its behaviour. Some of them may be unintelligent enough to think a Sun on Sunday would be wildly different. Many will suspect this is a case of change the name and do the same again.
Conspiracy theories abound. One journalistic friend told me yesterday that the whole thing could be a strategy to confuse investigators by closing down a crime scene. Another explained Murdoch never gets it wrong and was looking for a way out of this particular medium as its circulation wilted, along with that of all conventional dinosaur powermedia.
Well, I don’t know. I do know that as the Police swoop on Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman the position of Rebekah Brooks becomes increasingly untenable. Here is a good and gifted journalist whose newsroom was apparently perpetrating some 4,000 crimes over a few years, the principal evidence for which was the content of stories being published every week. Yet she asks us to believe she, unlike her four million readers, knew nothing. Where on earth did she think all those revelations were coming from. Mystic Meg?
As to the rest of News Internatonal they have just, James Murdoch tells us, given the police evidence of serious wrongdoing down the years. Where did that come from? If they had it why did they not give it to the police earlier? Or even read it themselves and do anything about it apart from shooting the sergeant? The News Internatonal brand is certainly rotten from the head down and nobody outside the organisation yet knows how far down the rot reaches.
Although I have had other things to do with my Sundays down the years, I shall miss the Screws. Its cheeky chappie antics were essentially end-of-the-pier stuff, although politicians quivered before its chickenshit right wing hufflepuff, and that of the Sun, in all kinds of subtle and no-so-subtle ways. Shame on them that they walked in fear of it, but that can hardly be blamed entirely on the papers. Big media used to be very powerful, we all believed.
There is a sting in the tail, like the final scene of Roman Polanski’s Night of the Vampires, where the nubile miss he has rescued from all the vampires in Transylvania bites the vampire slayer. Readers of Flat Earth News will remember Neil Davies section on this kind of carry on, in which he reveals that the involvement of the Daily Mail in such dark arts was, in the teeming summer of such behaviour, probably more extensive than that of News Internatonal Titles.
Yesterday’s Mail openly defied the Fleet Street convention that dogs never eat other dogs. Its headline crowed over the demise of “The Newspaper that Died of Shame.” This could be the Acme of the Daily Mail’s famous hypocrisy. The soft but insistent niff of rotten rat in its own basement is better concealed, but no less inherently pungent.