Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Rusbridger's alert to Cameron - Guardian whispers 'truth' to power

As the Guardian proudly proclaims its investigative lead on the News of the World scandal, other 'industry' reporters have been busy commending its writers - most notably, Nick Davies - for drawing-out the micro-evidence of tabloid hacking, payments to corrupt policemen, and political connections to Murdoch's organisation.
It's a 'model case', some, like the Sunday Herald's Paul Hutcheon, say, of 'good practice' journalism serving to expose 'bad practice hacks', disproving, he asserts, spurious claims of a generalised malaise within a differentiated media:
"The truth is that there is no ethics crisis in the press, far less "the media". Any problem that exists relates to the News of the World (now deceased) and a small number of reporters on other papers who peddle the toxic brew of commercial prurience and mawkishness that poses as journalism." ('Not all journalists are hacks', Sunday Herald, 10 July 2011.)
Noting the actual "mundane and tedious" reality of his own working day, Hutcheon also urges caution over the political blackening of the press as a whole:
"...don't believe the spin from Westminster that the phone-hacking scandal is a black day for the press, when in fact the reverse is true. It was not politicians, civil servants or police officers who exposed the News of the World's criminality, but investigative journalists at the Guardian."
It's an informative and sincere statement of self-belief in 'the profession' of journalism. But one that, in its very adherence to that 'professional ethic', finds itself unable to countenance, or possibly even comprehend, the more systematic function of our media, particularly its liberal outlets, in maintaining the key structures of power.
'We are, in our daily efforts to expose the powerful', say such journalists, 'proving that we are a free and guardian media'.
Such is the power of this most cherished media message within the media itself. Indeed, beyond, or beside, their devious methods, many tabloid hacks will also proclaim, quite proudly, the same 'ethical' beliefs.
Yet, while non-hacking 'good guys' like Davies and Hutcheon may claim as their only daily duty the exposure of malpracticing elites and public-deceiving institutions, the real journalistic test is how-readily they would scrutinise their own host employers and editorial actions.
Here's a useful case in point.
On Newsnight, the Guardian's Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger told Kirsty Wark that he had helped warn David Cameron about employing Andy Coulson as his Head of Communications.
Rusbridger added that he had also informed Nick Clegg about Coulson.
"A national newspaper editor has disclosed how he warned David Cameron not to take former News of the World editor Andy Coulson with him into Downing Street.
The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that before last year's general election - when Mr Coulson was the Conservatives' director of communications - he passed a message to Mr Cameron through one of his aides urging him to 'beware'.
'We knew that there was this big murder trial coming which involved one of the investigators that Coulson had used, who had been in jail for seven years,' he told BBC2's Newsnight. 'It seemed reasonable to try and warn Cameron, before he took Coulson into 10 Downing Street, he should just ask some inquiries about this. I know I am not the only figure Fleet Street who got this warning through to Cameron to say 'beware'.'
His comments last night appeared to refer to the case of private detective Jonathan Rees, who earlier this year was cleared with two other men of murdering his business partner Daniel Morgan, who was found with an axe in his head. Scotland Yard admitted that the first inquiry into the 1987 killing in Sydenham, South London, had been hampered by police corruption." 
All very intriguing.  Yet, precisely why did it "[seem] reasonable to try and warn Cameron, before he took Coulson into 10 Downing Street"?
Is it the role of this country's 'leading liberal' newspaper to act as a 'vetting agent' for top politicians?

Shouldn't it have been a basic priority of the Guardian and its editor to publicly expose Cameron over his association with Coulson, rather than offer him private alerts?

So, while Wark was laying-into Ed Miliband for cosying-up to Murdoch, she had nothing to say to Rusbridger about his intimacy with Cameron.  Nor has any other BBC presenter.   Nor has Davies or anyone else at the Guardian.  Nor have 'straight' reporters like Hutcheon.  Nor has the Daily Mail, who seemingly wrote the above copy in order to question Cameron's judgement and castigate Coulson, but not, it seems, to challenge Rusbridger in offering cover to Cameron. 

The media may appear ever-ready to dish-the-dirt on errant politicians.  Yet, from the tabloids to the 'quality' press, mutual 'understandings' beween editors and leaders help contain the systematic impact of such exposures.   

While the Guardian may, to many in the media industry, be a heroic check on political malfeasance and tabloid excess, its own propaganda function as a 'sensible liberal guardian' is vital in maintaining the fiction that 'our leaders', while often 'mistaken', are, essentially, decent and true.

Rusbridger's view of Cameron is, thus, basically that of 'decent successor' to Blair, a continuation of the Guardian's war apologetics and the dutiful protection its editor always reserved for Blair and New Labour.

Thus, can the Guardian's latest editorial on the case (made by Human Rights Watch) for indicting Bush, Cheney and other US leaders for war crimes conveniently omit any call for similar action against 'our' war criminal politicians, past and present.

As Britain continues its sanctimonious warmongering in Libya, Rusbridger's open protection of David Cameron is actually more questionable than Cameron's awkward defence of Rebekah Brooks.

Among the ranks of dutiful Guardian columnists berating Murdoch, you'll read nothing on Rusbridger's own relationships to power - or any examination of the power liberal-establishment people like Rusbridger hold as 'moral watchdog' for the system.

For example, Guardian favourite George Monbiot's sweeping denunciation of an 'infected' media - from the grubby tabloids to the BBC's now-slavish devotion to big business (wasn't it always so?) - contains not a syllable criticising the Guardian or its editor's genuflection to corporate and political power.

Monbiot calls in his article for a 'Hippocratic oath' for journalists.  The word 'hypocritic' comes more immediately to mind.  What better place for him to include, at least, a mention of the Guardian's myriad culpabilities on war, carbon-promoting adverts and other corporate-driven priorities?

Monbiot might also have found a line to mention the paper's various efforts to smear Chomsky, or, in even braver form, his own apparent supplication to the Guardian editor in falsely castigating Media Lens.  Alas, nothing.   

Further 'high-ground' Guardian comment from Peter Preston laments the prospect of more press regulation, while Roy Greenslade records a tearless obituary on Murdoch's deceased tabloid.  But, again, like Monbiot, neither have any apparent space for discussion of their own in-house faults or hypocrisies.
As Jonathan Cook concludes (in emailed comments to the Media Lens message board):
"[These articles] really should blow the illusion that the Guardian represents any kind of interests separate from those of Murdoch and the Mail."  
There's a broadly-accepted belief amongst most mainstream journalists that, despite its flaws and corruptions, we still have a mostly-free-and-moral media striving to expose corporate rogues, make politicians accountable and uphold 'democratic order'.

The current 'exorcising' of the 'blatantly bad' media by the 'liberal good' gives enormous legitimacy to that system-sustaining myth.
It also means that friend-in-need editors like Alan Rusbridger can, with seeming impunity, send protective whispers to culpable politicians like David Cameron, a telling illustration of how liberal communications and accommodations to power escape the critical radar of all those 'investigative' journalists.  

*Update: more here from Media Lens on these issues. 


Mr. M said...

Watch the youtube video you link to. Rusbridger says that what he told Clegg and Cameron COULDN'T be reported at the time as it was unreportable.

Whilst you may choose to interpret this "couldn't" as conspiracy to protect Cameron I'd say it's probably just the Guardian (and the other newspapers which had this information) trying to avoid being done for contempt of court/libel with regards to an upcoming trial and trying to do what it could to get the info to the relevant parties.

I'd say it's most likely the guardian/other papers told a lot of other political/media figures as well, but these people were unable to publicly run with the information for the same reasons the guardian wasn't able to (contempt of court etc.).

Unless you can show that Cameron/Clegg were the only powerful politicians rusbridger told I'd say that's a far more likely story than your conspiracy one.

Anonymous said...

Don't the Guardian claim that the full details were unreportable due to contempt of court concerns?

John Hilley said...

Even if the information was unreportable at the time, what purpose was served in tipping-off Cameron and Clegg, other than to issue a friendly warning? Even when the story did become reportable, the Guardian would have been covered legally as all it had to do was cite the actual prohibition.

It seems that Rusbridger, Katz and others at the Guardian were more interested in getting this information to Cameron than getting it, somehow, into the public domain.

Indeed, would the Guardian's tip-off to Cameron ever have come to light if the big exposures over Murdoch/Coulson and Cameron hadn't happened?



John Hilley said...

Sorry about the delayed publication of/response to these comments.