The News of the World Scandal and the known unknowns.

Posted: July 18, 2011 in Current affairs, Media & Journalism

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.   Donald Rumsfeld

So the fall out from The News of the World (NotW) phone hacking scandal continues with resignations and recriminations breaking almost every hour on the hour. But these fast paced developments are only helping to distract us from a fundamental truth: that those involved don’t seem to know anything about who did what, when and to whom and have resigned rather than accept any responsibility. So let’s take stock here and think this through without the real names of the protagonists and the sensation surrounding their involvement to distract us. Let’s focus instead on roles and responsibilities.

In the past few weeks, the following actors have spoken about the scandal and here is what they had to say:

  • Mr Burns, Chairman and CEO of News Corp:  Knew nothing but terribly sorry about it all.

Mr Burns? Man on the verge of a total meltdown?

  • Mr Burns Jnr, Chairman and CEO of News Corp (Europe and Asia): Knew nothing but obviously concerned.
  • Mickey Mouse, ex-Chief Executive Dow Jones/Wall St Journal: Knew nothing during his time as Chief Executive, News International, newspaper division of News Corp. Worth pointing out here that this was for twelve years (1995-2007) – quite a long time to know nothing about what’s going on in the organization you head up.
  • Marge Simspon, ex-Chief Executive, News International: Knew nothing but upset and appalled at revelations; was editor of NotW when Millie Dowler’s phone was hacked but was on holiday at the time. (General Ratko Mladic might try that one out next time he appears before the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague).

"Srebrenica, your Honour? Umm I know nothing about it. I was on holiday at the time!"

  • Malcolm Tucker, ex-spin doctor-in-chief for PM David Cameron: Knew nothing of phone hacking under his watch as editor of the NotW (succeeding Marge Simpson from 2003).
  • George Dixon, ex-Chief Constable, London Met Police: Knew nothing but takes the rap for hiring right dodgy geeza (ex-executive, NotW) as PR adviser.

    Allo allo allo! What's all this then?

  • Other minor actors in the drama who worked as editors or executives for News International: Knew nothing about anything at anytime but fatally run over by oncoming, driverless train. Police verdict: inconclusive evidence to press charges.
  • Successive British Prime Ministers: Knew nothing and asked no questions as they fell over themselves to please Mr Burns and his gang for the past 30 years.
  • Successive police investigations: Knew some known knowns and even some unknown knowns but not enough evidence to press charges. But have suddenly developed a set and arrested Marge Simpson just as she’s about to face Commons Select Committee to answer serious questions about phone hacking during her tenure as editor of NotW. Probably means she can justifiably decline to answer on the basis of it being part of an ongoing police investigation.
  • Leading editors, journalists and media and journalism academics in the UK: They, too, knew more than they cared to admit; now having to seriously rethink all those nice things they’ve written and/or lectured about Mr Burns and his media empire.
  • Nick Davies, investigative journalist, The Guardian: Knew an awful lot because he worked hard to dig it out and wasn’t afraid to report it. Nice one.

So there you have it. All these lurid revelations yet most of the principal actors in the drama didn’t know anything about them. Astonishing.

And finally…Given that the Nuremberg Defence is where war criminals claim they were only following orders, what are we witnessing now amid this, one of the most serious political crises in recent British history?

How about “The Wapping Defence”? I don’t know and can’t recollect, your Honour.


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