Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What people in power do when people not in power are not around

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Just read the Author’s Note to Hack Attack, by Nick Davies. Here’s the beginning—you can continue reading via the “Look Inside” feature at the link. You have to scroll down past the dramatis personae and the TOC, but then you hit the Author’s Note, which begins:

Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch

This is the strangest story I’ve ever written.

In the beginning, it was next to nothing. Two men were arrested – a private investigator and a journalist from the News of the World. Both of them ended up in prison, but it was no big deal. The crime they had committed was minor. Their jail sentences were short. The only eye-catching thing about it at the time was that their crime was quite quirky: they had discovered that they could access other people’s voicemail messages and had spent months eavesdropping on three staff at Buckingham Palace. Even so, it was a small story, dead and gone from the public eye within a few days.

And yet, I ended up spending more than six years of my working life trying to unravel the bundle of corruption which lay hidden in the background. Soon there was a small group of us working together, discovering that we had stumbled into a fight with the press and the police and the government, all of them linked to an organisation which had been created by one man.

Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful people in the world. You could argue that he is, in fact, the most powerful. News Corp is amongst the biggest companies on the planet. Like all his commercial rivals, Murdoch has the financial power to hire or fire multiple thousands of people and the political power to worry governments by threatening to withdraw his capital and transfer it to a more co-operative nation. But, unlike his rivals in business, his power has another dimension. Because he owns newspapers and news channels, he has the ability to worry governments even more, to make them fear that without his favour they will find themselves attacked and destabilised and discredited. Certainly, a man who is both global business baron and multinational kingmaker has a special kind of power.

So the simple crime story turned out to be a story about the secret world of the power elite and their discreet alliances. This is not about conspiracy (not generally) but about the spontaneous recognition of power by power, the everyday occurrence of a natural exchange of assistance between those who occupy positions in society from which they can look down upon and mightily affect the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women. In this case, as often, that mutual favouritism took place amidst the persistent reek of falsehood – not the fevered plotting of Watergate lies, but the casual arrogance of a group of people who take it for granted that they have every right to run the country and, in doing so, to manipulate information, to conceal embarrassing truth, to try to fool all of the people all of the time.

A lot of writers say that they can’t do their job – they can’t produce the book or the film or the newspaper article – unless they can reach a point of such clarity about their project that they can reduce it to a single sentence. Waiting for a bus one day while I was drafting this book, I finally got there. This is a story about power and truth.

To be more precise, it is about the abuse of power and about the secrets and lies that protect it. In a tyranny, the ruling elite can abuse its power all day long, and anybody who complains about it will get a visit from the secret police. In an established democracy, abuse of power cannot afford to be visible. It needs concealment like a vampire needs the dark. As soon as a corporation or a trade union or a government or any arm of the state is seen to be breaking the rules, it can be attacked, potentially embarrassed, conceivably stopped. The secrets and lies are not an optional extra, they are central to the strategy.

In this case, the concealment had an extra layer, because . . .

Continue reading in the Look Inside feature.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2014 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Books, Government, Media

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