(Planet Me)
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Dial M For Murdoch

I've never written “Unputdownable” before. But this book is unputdownable. Written by Tom Watson, Labour MP who is in the unique position of having sat on the inquiry, and also being victim of one of the odious acts of invasion recounted within, it offers a sympathetic narrative that breathlessly and without pause unpeels the onion of immorality that was News International. Whilst lacking in the kind of dramatic, Watson, with co-writer Martin Hickman, use the position to cast a story that has, until now, been revealed step by step and piece by piece. Here, aside from the unknown results of ongoing investigations, the tale is told, largely narratively and linearly.

And to be frank, it is the stuff of headlines, and the stuff that made headlines. Were this a work of fiction, it would be a classic BBC drama of the type the Beeb effortlessly blinked out in the mid-Eighties, reeking of corruption, arrogance, and corporate nepotism that became loose incompetence.

In it, the human misery cast by the immoral and frankly repugnant lack of respect for dignity is beyond almost all human imagination. Here, the callous interference with evidence that could have changed the course of a murder investigation is laid bare. The tortured family relations caused by the interference and invasion is made clear. Tom Watson, for example, finding out that the papers were investigating his private life, and that of his friends, his home improvements, his staff, and smearing his name all over the pages without fear of recourse. The fact that names you recognise from film credits fired their staff, or made them go to rehab for alleged infractions caused by some unethical, unthinking intruder. That lives were ruined. Careers destroyed. That someone you've seen on the front pages sat their entire family down and outright accused a family member of betraying family secrets and private financial and health affairs for money shows just one thing : this intrusion went into every part of anyone's life – be it a murdered schoolgirl, an innocent landlord, or a well known actor whose only crime was to get divorced. A crime in the eyes of an unappointed, unelected, unaccountable gazillionaire who had no concern for the trail of broken marriages and suicides and broken lives, only for shifting copy.

That Max Moseley's son descended into relapsed addiction not long after the vile 'sting' of entrapment. That it was Moseley's decision to use his dead son's inheritance to pursue the papers relentlessly. The full text of the explosive emails. All are here, laid out sequentially. With every page I had a gnawing sense in my stomach, that the low depths to which the immoral, bankrupt arbiter of hypocrisy would stoop to sell papers.

If you thought, in your mind, that they couldn't go any lower. They did. They hit the bottom and kept digging. This, the defining political scandal of a generation, and probably the biggest single example of Western political and business corruption and bankrupt morality since Nixon, if not more, is not just essential reading for anyone interested, even vaguely in the case, but for anyone who has the vaguest passing interest in the world around them and the dead tendrils of power, which in this case corrupted absolutely. The paper engineered scandal, invaded the bags of schoolchildren, doorstepped grieving parents, and effectively blackmailed thousands to be unwilling participants in the exposure of what should be private lives. If nothing else, it serves as a viciously cautionary tale of the abuse of power, a lesson that the Googles, Facebook's, and other major corporations would be wise to learn from.

If the authors have not already signed the movie deal, or at least been optioned – though probably not by 20th Century Fox – I would be staggered. This immense tale, the full scope of the intrusion, the breathtakingly vile arrogance and belief that money makes one beyond the reach of the law, is the most obvious and visible example I have encountered of the contempt that power has for others. It is epic, calmly revealing the utter odious bankruptcy of the organisation at its core, clearly exposing the profit from human misery that became News International's stock-in-trade. Behind every headline lies a human price : here Watson & Hickman ensure that that price is totalled, that every line and lie is accounted for, and paid in full. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and little is as cold as the printed word. Unputdownable.

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