The death of a newspaper, even one of Rupert Murdoch’s tawdry rags, is always a sad occasion. What people often say at the funerals of ancients – “He had a good innings” -may be applied to the News of the World: it had been around for 168 years.
The decision to shut it down – the last edition rolls out on Sunday – was a shock, and not for me alone (as is so often the case). Fleet Street and Westminster gasped in unison.
Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, and the NoW’s editor at the time of the alleged hacking, survives the crisis – as I predicted she would in this space a couple of days ago. Her apparently charmed life as a member of the Murdoch inner circle is intriguing. One columnist today even came close to suggesting, admittedly tongue in cheek, that she and Rupert may be more than mere colleagues. (Wink, wink, nod, nod). I doubt that. Expediency is a more likely explanation. Whatever her role in the systematic hacking of celebrity phones, she must know a great deal; cutting her loose could be a more dangerous option than keeping her close.
The politicians are running for cover – always an entertaining spectacle. David Cameron’s judgement in hiring Andy Coulson, the former NoW executive freed on bail yesterday in connection with hacking charges, has been exposed as flawed. Cameron said he was giving Coulson a second chance in life, leading one commentator to observe that his lectern began to look more like a pulpit. Leader of the opposition Ed Milliband – running way ahead of the prime minister in the holier-than-thou stakes – has now also found the going rough, having hired Tom Baldwin, another former NoW executive said to be too close to the scandal for comfort.
Is this then now a fully-inflated crisis?
Not yet fully-inflated, I would guess, but surely less a crisis than a scandal. The two are distinguished, at least in my mind, by the perception that crises tend to have lasting consequences while scandals usually (though not always) blow over. We shall see. But my bet is that by the time the results of the various official enquiries have been published, we will all be bored by the whole subject, most of the revelations already having come to light, most of the miscreants having been nicked.
Cameron talked at his press conference yesterday of putting an end to the cozy relationship between politicians and the newspapers. Fat chance! What Cameron meant was that he will be avoiding public contact with Rupert Murdoch for a while. Murdoch will also be well advised to lie low. But sooner or later the affair, especially that between the head of the Murdoch Empire (not necessarily Rupert) and whoever occupies 10 Downing Street (not necessarily Cameron), will revive. How could it be otherwise when the two camps have such a range of interlocking interests?
The one lasting consequences of the NoW scandal may well turn out to be the blocking of Murdoch’s attempt to buy the shares of BSkyB he does not already own. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but this may be an opportunity too good for any government to pass up.
Murdoch will surely contrive to have the last word. Any guesses?
The News of the World is dead. Long live The Sun on Sunday.