In February 2008, two newspapermen debated on Today, the BBC radio program that starts the day and sometimes sets the political agenda. One was Nick Davies, a Guardian reporter of the good old-fashioned kind who diligently ferrets out stories, the latest of which was “phone hacking,” by journalists and others. There had been rumors of tabloid reporters clandestinely accessing voicemails on the mobile telephones of public figures well before something happened to the cell phones of the young princes William and Harry in late 2005. Numerous messages on their cell phones and those of several royal aides were mysteriously saved as if they had been listened to, before the owners of the phones had heard them. And stories about the princes that could only have been based on those messages had appeared in the Sunday News of the World, and also in the daily Sun, the two papers that Rupert Murdoch had acquired, in 1968 and 1969, at the start of his astonishing career as a British press magnate.
When the police were informed, they said the cell phones should continue to be used as normal while they traced the hacking callers, who proved to be Clive Goodman, a News of the World reporter, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator. In January 2007 they were given prison sentences, and Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World. He had edited the paper since 2003 when he took over from Rebekah Wade, who herself had been made editor in 2000 aged only thirty-two, and then went on to edit the Sun; in 2009 she would be raised higher still to become chief executive of News International, Murdoch’s company that controls his London papers. (Since her marriage that year she has called herself Rebekah Brooks.) But Coulson was not out of work for long: only months later, in July, he was appointed director of communications, or what we used to call a press officer, to David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party.
This hacking scandal was among the subjects Davies had discussed in his book Flat Earth News (2008), an indictment of the present-day media ranging from the tendency to treat publicity handouts as hard news to the shameful credulity of much of the press about the way we were taken into the Iraq war. He had come on the radio…
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