It is not often that a breaking news story stops me getting into the car and going to see my Mum up north before heading on to Burnley tomorrow to carry on with the film I am making on the club’s promotion to the Premiership.
The News of the World phonetap story is one such. Maybe deep down I did not like breaking the pattern I have set since starting to blog of doing one every day. So here is today’s.
It sounds to me like a serious story, with a lot of serious issues attached to it.
The law is the law and we are all meant to obey it. If the early reports of The Guardian story are right, then this sounds like they are exposing a newspaper with at its heart a culture that has accepted, condoned and benefited from law breaking to further its own interests. If the number of phones tapped as claimed by The Guardian turns out to be right – well into four figures – then it has been doing so on a systematic basis.
It then becomes very hard to be anything other than sceptical about the claims made at the time of the jailing of the paper’s Royal reporter that senior executives did not know that lawbreaking in pursuit of stories had been going on. And the fact, again as reported by The Guardian, that News International have already shelled out a million pounds in out of court settlements, suggests they now know at a very senior level that something very wrong has gone on. If what they had been doing was anything other than indefensible, they would have defended it.
The Guardian would appear to have a scoop. But this is now also a test for the rest of the media. I suspect the practise of phonetapping of newsworthy people, or at least the turning of a blind eye to how stories about them arrive, has not been confined to this paper or this group.
Also, how the other News International papers cover the story will be subject to closer examination than is usual. The Times in particular has its own reputation to think of here. It cannot and must not just be a corporate voice.
Given the role of David Cameron’s communications chief Andy Coulson, who was editor at the News of the World when the phonetap scandal first led to the jailing of Clive Goodman, this may be the point at which the press finally start to put on Cameron and Co the kind of media pressure Labour leaders have had to deal with for years.
It is not my place to advise Cameron, or Coulson. But if it were, I would be saying to Cameron to find out very quickly whether Coulson did act in any way improperly, and to act accordingly if he thinks he did. And if I were Coulson, I would be totally honest with Cameron to help him make that decision.
When the Damian McBride emails first surfaced, it was obvious where it was going to end. If Cameron thinks that this situation might also end in him having to lose his right-hand man, better to do it quickly.
As for the police, as John Prescott said this evening, if he as deputy Prime Minister was having his mobile phone tapped, and the police have known about that, it is pretty extraordinary that JP was not told.
I really have missed the rush hour traffic now, and I’m off. For once, I can stay tuned to Five Live without cursing the fact there’s no football on. Interesting story, interesting times.