It's hard to believe, but at 4pm BST today it will be exactly a year since Nick Davies and Amelia Hill published online a leak from Operation Weeting, the newly recreated (third) investigation into phone hacking, and revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a missing 13 year old schoolgirl, who was found dead six months later, murdered by Levi Bellfield.
That headline changed the political scene here in the UK. Within days the News of the World had closed, and New Corp were forced to withdraw their takeover bid for Britain's most lucrative broadcaster, BSkyB. Within two weeks James and Rupert Murdoch were summoned to appear before a Parliamentary select committee, and David Cameron was forced to set up the Leveson Inquiry.
The Net Closes In
Just as it seems some kind of legal injunction managed to stop the broadcast of last night's much anticipated BBC Panorama documentary on Murdoch's spying activities on other rivals, the police leap into action with the biggest number of arrests since the Hackgate scandal begun. Six people were arrested this morning in early morning raids on the very serious charge of perverting the course of justice, a common law offence which can carry a life imprisonment sentence.
For anyone following the #hackgate FOTHOM diaries, you'll know that that the slow motion crash of Murdoch's UK Empire is still developing. But it wasn't until Rush Limbaugh's recent implosion that I began to think this isn't just about News Corp, even though it is the world's 3rd biggest media group and run as a one-man-band. It was in Meteor Blade's Nopology diary early this week, that this thought came to me:
I know I'm not going to be popular burning this particular bridge, but as news comes out about Assange both claiming intellectual copyright on wikileaks, and enabling the persecution (or worse) of dissidents in one of the few remaining Stalinist states in Europe, let me say: Julian, J'Accuse.
This is nothing to do with potential rape charges, or the appeal he still has with the British Supreme court about his extradition. It has nothing to do with the wikileaks data dump of Pentagon and Embassy files, which doesn't seem to have the horrendous effect predicted. It also has nothing to do with the court martial of Bradley Manning, nor indeed the treatment (cruel to my mind) he seems to have received while held by the DOD. It has to do with his insouciance about the people exposed through his actions, and even more to do with whom he exposes them too.
Personal disclosure first. My judgement about Assange is highly coloured by a friend of mine, the sterling UK based American investigative journalist Heather Brooke, who exposed the MPs expenses scandal here, and is one of our great promoters of transparency and open government. She worked with Assange on the Guardian's (selected) wikileaks release. If she now thinks he has gone beyond the pale - I trust her, and he has.
Heather linked recently to a New Statesman article which exposed how wikileaks dealt directly with the autocratic Belarus Government in Minsk, one of Europe's few surviving dictatorships:
In December 2010, Israel Shamir, a WikiLeaks associate and an intimate friend of Julian Assange -- so close, in fact, that he outed the Swedish women who claim to be victims of rape and sexual assault by Assange -- allegedly travelled to Belarus with a cache of unredacted American diplomatic cables concerning the country. He reportedly met Lukashenko's chief of staff, Vladimir Makei, handed over the documents to the government, and stayed in the country to "observe" the presidential elections.
When Lukashenko pronounced himself the winner on 19 December 2010 with nearly 80 per cent of the vote, Belarusians reacted by staging a mass protest. Lukashenko dispatched the state militia. As their truncheons bloodied the squares and streets of the capital, Minsk, Shamir wrote a story in the American left-wing journal Counterpunch extolling Lukashenko ("The president of Belarus ... walks freely among his people"), deriding the dictator's opponents ("The pro-western 'Gucci' crowd", Shamir called them), and crediting WikiLeaks with exposing America's "agents" in Belarus ("WikiLeaks has now revealed how... undeclared cash flows from the U.S. coffers to the Belarus 'opposition' ").
The following month, Soviet Belarus, a state-run newspaper, began serializing what it claimed to be extracts from the cables gifted to Lukashenko by WikiLeaks. Among the figures "exposed" as recipients of foreign cash were Andrei Sannikov, a defeated opposition presidential candidate presently serving a five-year prison sentence; Oleg Bebenin, Sannikov's press secretary, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances months before the elections; and Vladimir Neklyayev, the writer and former president of Belarus PEN, who also ran against Lukashenko and is now under house arrest.
Did Assange at this point repudiate Shamir or speak up against Lukashenko? No. Instead he upbraided Ian Hislop for publishing an article in the Private Eye that exposed Shamir as a Holocaust denier and white supremacist. There was, he claimed, a "conspiracy" against him by "Jewish" journalists at the Guardian. Addicted to obedience from others and submerged in a swamp of conspiracy theories, Assange's reflexive reaction to the first hint of disagreement by his erstwhile friends was to hold malign Jews responsible.
His subsequent attempts to distance himself from Shamir were undermined when James Ball, a former WikiLeaks staffer, revealed that not only did Assange authorise Shamir's access to the cables -- how else could he have got hold of the documents from this impenetrably secretive organisation consecrated to transparency? -- he also stopped others from criticising Shamir even after news of his Belarusian expedition became public.
Another personal disclosure. I'm a regular visitor to Poland, and have connections to several dissident Belarus groups (through relatives) who have been persecuted, imprisoned and repressed by Lukashenko in the last 15 years. That more could be outed and endangered by Shamir and Assange puts the organisation of wikileaks beyond the pale.
I believe in transparency and openness. But I also know that knowledge is power. Perhaps Assange provides a service to well connected internet savvy people in some countries when they want to take on their autocrats, but naivete is no excuse for simultaneously revealing the secrets of persecuted minorities.
And if you're still in doubt about the character and motivations of Assange, perhaps read the Guardian book WIKILEAKS: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy. There you'll see he not only betrays Nick Davies, the wonderful investigative journalist who - against all the odds of police and political pressure and corporate coverup - exposed the Hackgate scandal and brought down Murdoch's News International - he also told David Leigh about Afghani informants being in danger:
Assange initially rejected pleas to redact documents to protect sources. At an early meeting with international reporters in a restaurant he told them: " 'Well, they're informants,' he said. 'So, if they get killed, they've got it coming to them. They deserve it.' There was, for a moment, silence around the table."
The bridge was smouldering then. It's burnt now
Originally posted on Daily Kos
It was a long time coming, but inevitable six months ago. James Murdoch has stepped down as chair of News International, signalling the Fall of the House of Murdoch as the dynastic succession to Rupert's News Corp empire is finished. The official statement - which is probably worth no more than a host of News Corp press statements which have either turned out to be highly misleading in the past (some outright lies indeed)
News Corporation today announced that, following his relocation to the company's headquarters in New York, James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer, has relinquished his position as executive chairman of News International, its UK publishing unit. Tom Mockridge, chief executive officer of News International, will continue in his post and will report to News Corporation president and COO Chase Carey. "We are all grateful for James' leadership at News International and across Europe and Asia, where he has made lasting contributions to the group's strategy in paid digital content and its efforts to improve and enhance governance programs," said Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer, News Corporation. "He has demonstrated leadership and continues to create great value at Star TV, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, and BSkyB. Now that he has moved to New York, James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations." "I deeply appreciate the dedication of my many talented colleagues at News International who work tirelessly to inform the public and am confident about the tremendous momentum we have achieved under the leadership of my father and Tom Mockridge," said James Murdoch. "With the successful launch of the Sun on Sunday and new business practices in place across all titles, News International is now in a strong position to build on its successes in the future. As deputy chief operating Officer, I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation's international television businesses and other key initiatives across the company."
More as I get it. OK, this is all on the hoof. Yes James resigned from other subsidiary boards several months ago as I detailed in another diary. But this is the biggie: NI was bidding for BSkyB which he also chairs - expect a resignation there too. More news in - still involved in BSkyB - but again this is slow withdrawal. Expect more retreats soon http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/feb/29/james-murdoch-resigns-news-international-chairman
Wednesday's move sees him give up responsibility for News Corp's crisis-hit British newspaper operation as he completes his relocation to New York. The man once seen as his father Rupert Murdoch's automatic heir at the top of News Corp retains existing responsibility for "global television", overseeing busineses including the company's 39% stake in BSkyB, Sky-branded pay-TV companies in Europe and Star in Asia – and only gains the opportunity to become involved with the company's US Fox television operation as he settles in across the Atlantic. James Murdoch's managerial move away from News International explains why he was not in London to help oversee the launch of the Sun's Sunday edition, which has been personally supervised by his father. Friends say he has been eager to leave the UK and drop responsibility for the Wapping newspapers for several months as the phone hacking scandal enveloped the London outpost of the organisation.
And there are rumours of a major arrest in the pipeline.. just sayin' IMPORTANT ASIDE: I've been in touch with Alastair Morgan, whose brother Daniel was brutally murdered in South London in 1988, by suspects with close connection to the NoW hacking team. These same individuals were sponsored by NoW to harass and survey the police detectives re-examining the case in 2002. Ceebs had a diary yesterday about it, Murdoch and Murder. Tom Watson is going to make an important statement at 4pm BST (11 am EST) about Daniel Morgan's murder. I expect, under Parliamentary privilege, he might make some explosive revelations.
I've often written about the bad side of journalism, and especially that of the Murdoch owned press, but just breaking is some shocking news of the noble sacrifices many journalists make in their attempts to report reality. A civil war which is rapidly becoming one of the bloodiest conflicts has claimed the life of the great Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin. She was killed along with a photographer Remi Ochlik when the building she was staying in was shelled by Syrian government forces. The people who tried to escape were then targeted by rockets. Two other journalist were severely injured in the attack. American born Colvin was the only journalist from a British paper in Syria, and has been described as the Martha Gellhorn of her generation. Witty, acerbic and fearless, only yesterday she filed reports for the BBC and CNN on the carnage in Homs.
“I watched a little baby die today,” she said. “Absolutely horrific. “There is just shells, rockets and tank fire pouring into civilian areas of this city and it is just unrelenting.” In a report published in the Sunday Times over the weekend, Colvin spoke of the citizens of Homs "waiting for a massacre". "The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one," she wrote.
Last year, at a special ceremony in London at St Bride's Church for the 49 British journalists and media workers killed in war reporting over the last decade, Marie, who lost an eye due to shrap covering the Sri Lankan conflict, explained why she took the risks she did.
"Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death... and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you. Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes... the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children. Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?"
Of course, the death of one journalist is nothing compared to the thousands of innocent civilians who have been slaughtered by the Syrian regime. Think of a citizen journalist like 26 year old Rami Ahmad Alsayed, killed in the streets of BabrAmr with three of his friends. He maintained a live video stream to provide graphic details of the kind of indiscriminate military terror Assad's forces had unleashed on Homs. Below is moving tribute by his brother of over Rami's body, detailing his wounds. WARNING: upsetting images.
Marie Colvin, who described the situation in Homs as one of the bloodiest and most dangerous she'd ever seen, lost her life reporting how others were losing theirs. Her death brings home to us how lethal the situation is for most Syrians.
"Someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference."
Let's hope that her death, like her life, keeps on making a difference, and this shocking news will shake the international community out of its indifference to the sufferings of Syria.
It's ironic, given that US corporate interests (including one R Murdoch) are complaining about SOPA and how tomorrow/today's internet blackout is an abuse of power, that it's just emerged through the ongoing Leveson Enquiry, that the world's third largest media conglomerate, News Corp, through one of its prestigious titles, The Times of London, hacked the identity of a prize winning blogger and - apparently without revealing this to the courts - fought a privacy case against him to out his real identity and silence his blog.
The blogger in question was Nightjack, a police officer who blogged so brilliantly about the realities of police work that he won the prestigious Orwell Prize in 2009. A few months later, the anonymous blogger was outed by the Times as Richard Horton. As a result he was reprimanded by his police employers, and his blog was deleted. (The mirror site linked above has been retrieved by someone else).
The case caused an outcry in 2009, not only because a valuable voice was lost, but it also resulted in a landmark ruling in the British High Court that a blogger had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”.
During that period the Times had argued it had deduced Horton's identity from the material on his blog. But in his written statement today at the Leveson inquiry, the Times Editor James Harding admitted.
"There was an incident where the newsroom was concerned that a reporter had gained unauthorised access to an email account. When it was brought to my attention, the journalist faced disciplinary action. The reporter believed he was seeking to gain information in the public interest but we took the view he had fallen short of what was expected of a Times journalist. He was issued with a formal written warning for professional misconduct."
However, he failed to mention that the article - written by media correspondent Patrick Foster - was still published, and Horton's privacy case fought successfully by the Times through the courts.
Not only does this connect the hacking scandal beyond the now closed News of the World and The Sun to Murdoch's broadsheet titles, it is also yet another example of egregious corporate double standards. While in the witness box today Harding had the temerity to complain that any kind or regulation would chill 'free speech'.
"We don't want a country in which the government, the state, regulates the papers … we don't want to be in a position where the prime minister decides what goes in newspapers," he said.
He added that if the outcome of the inquiry was a "Leveson act", even one just offering a statutory backstop to an independent press regulator, it would be unworkable.
"The concern is that a Leveson act would give a mechanism to politicians to loom over future coverage," of politics, Harding said, and start introducing amendments to this legislation "and that would have a chilling effect on the press".
This from an editor who was responsible outing a celebrated blogger through hacking and then hounding him to the point of silence
This is timely reminder that the threats to free speech don't just come from governments but from corporations too. This is something I've begun to explore in the first chapter of my book (illustrated by fellow Kossack Eric Lewis) Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch (warning - long quote below the squiggle but I'm only abusing my own copyright)
Today in the High Court, News Group Newpapers, the News Corp subsidiary responsible for the defunct News of the World and The Sun, is settling dozens of hacking and surveillance claimsin an attempt to avoid a high court case on Feb 13th which could result in punitive damages.
There are over 60 hacking victims with ongoing cases, and at least another 800 confirmed and subject to litigation. Financially, this could be very costly for News International. But in terms of the hacking saga, it could be devastating for the Murdochs
Two Smoking Guns
1. In terms of the legal statements now being made in court, perhaps the most important is the admission of corporate cover-up. David Leigh at the stellar Guardian has the most incisive analysis
The most significant new element of Thursday's hacking settlement announcements is the accusation by the hacking victims' lawyers that Murdoch company directors tried to destroy evidence.
Although the lawyers' statement does not name names, it specifically accuses directors of News Group Newspapers Ltd, the Murdoch subsidiary which controlled the News of the World, of seeking to conceal the wrongdoing by "deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence".
The directors of NGN were headed, from April 2008, by James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son. James has already been at the centre of public allegations that he first authorised a cover-up in June 2008, by agreeing to buy the silence of Gordon Taylor, one of the hacking victims, with a lavish £700,000 secret pay-off.
The following year, former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks joined the NGN board. This was on 23 July 2009, a few days after the Guardian revealed the existence of the cover-up at the News of the World. Brooks, who by now had been promoted by Rupert Murdoch to head his entire UK newspaper operation, responded by claiming: "The Guardian coverage, we believe, has substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public."
This takes the whole phone hacking scandal right to the top of the tree. Who knows what will unfold, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more resignations.
2. But for US readers - and for News Corp which is incorporated in the US - perhaps the most significant revelation in the welter of admissions today is with the Jude Law Case, where NGN's lawyers have admitted that - in line with news reports months ago - they hacked his phone while he was on US soil at JFK. From the Telegraph in June
The News of the World allegedly hacked into the mobile phones of Jude Law and his personal assistant while they were in New York, opening the way for News International to be prosecuted in the United States.
In the first specific example of a case of hacking on US soil, it has emerged that the actor and his assistant, Ben Jackson, were allegedly targeted shortly after arriving at New York's JFK airport.
Their mobile telephones were operating on American networks, meaning that regardless of where the alleged hacker was based, American law would apply.
It would leave News International open to claims that it broke US federal laws and also pave the way for costly lawsuits.
The allegation comes after it was announced that the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Rupert Murdoch's company tried to hack into the phones of victims of the September 11 attacks.
So where does this leave the FBI investigation? The DOJ is still looking at violations Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and potential RICO violations. But this is a clear cut admission of intercepting wireless telephony on US soil.
I'm looking to fellow Kossacks for legal clarification on this and - if possible - to push the DOJ into action.
UPDATE: looks like this is getting some traction stateside. From Vanity Fair contributor and Murdoch Biographer, Michael Wolff:
Be part of the FOTHOM book: Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch
The death of Christopher Hitchens is a loss to the world of letters for, as the many eulogies over the last week have proven, he was clearly a stylish writer, a fantastic orator, and from the accounts of those who knew him, a voluble, generous and compassionate friend. But as the last line of Some Like It Hot makes clear: "No-one is perfect." Given that Hitchens never stood on ceremony, and was a great slayer of sacred cows, it wouldn't be fitting to note his passing without decrying one of his more otiose and unfortunate legacies: as the inventor and populariser of the term Islamofascism.
As my colonial cousins recover from an overdose of turkey and tryptophan, let me prod you into consciousness with the Frank Miller problem - which also allows me to post some awesome pics.
No, the Frank Miller problem isn't as simple as you think. From his slapdash rant about the OWS movement on his website, it seems to quite clear where Frank's political sympathies lie:
"Occupy" is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the "movement" - HAH! Some "movement", except if the word "bowel" is attached - is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.
This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they're spewing their garbage - both politically and physically - every which way they can find.
Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy.
Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you've been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you've heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.
And this enemy of mine - not of yours, apparently - must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh - out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle.
In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas' basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft (sic).
I said it seems to be quite clear where Miller's political thinking lies: except nothing is clear in this inchoate melange of addled testosterone, islamophobia, and shock jock cliche.
Surprise, surprise. Frank Miller writes dark, paranoid cartoon books. His political thinking is dark, paranoid and cartoonish.
This is not the real Frank Miller problem - except for him - and anyone who expected anything else.Peter Jukes :: Cryptofascist? The Problem with Frank Miller: Open Thread
Hopefully, Miller's political rantings will make some of the Occupy supporters in London think again when they sport V-for-Vendetta masks, and therefore assume this is some left revolutionary uprising of the masses. Though Alan Moore is a much more sophisticated story teller, aware of the violent illiberal tendencies of his heroes, there's nothing in the Guido Fawkes character that couldn't be equally conscripted by a right wing populist.
And this brings me to the nub of the issue: can you read off fiction against politics, or vice versa. Rick Moody puts the case in his essay Frank Miller and the rise of cryptofascist Hollywood.
Miller's hard-right, pro-military point of view is not only accounted for in his own work, but in the larger project of mainstream Hollywood cinema. American movies, in the main, often agree with Frank Miller, that endless war against a ruthless enemy is good, and military service is good, that killing makes you a man, that capitalism must prevail, that if you would just get a job (preferably a corporate job, for all honest work is corporate) you would quit complaining. American movies say these things, but they are more polite about it, lest they should offend. The kind of comic-book-oriented cinema that has afflicted Hollywood for 10 years now, since Spider-Man, has degraded the cinematic art, and has varnished over what was once a humanist form, so Hollywood can do little but repeat the platitudes of the 1%. And yet Hollywood tries still not to offend.
I kind of go along with this thesis: especially the domination of the DC and Marvel franchises which have so saturated Hollywood. Compared with the 70s - where realistic story telling and improvisatory acting were at a premium - the movies of the early 21st Century aspire in their acting and subtlety and realism to the state of a cartoon. (Fortunately great actors and writers have a refuge in USTV).
But then I stop short. Rick Moody puts Gladiator into this genre.
which I still contend is an allegory about George W Bush's candidacy for president, despite the fact that director and principal actor were not US citizens. Is it possible to think of a film such as Gladiator outside of its political subtext? Are Ridley Scott's falling petals, which he seems to like so much that he puts them in his films over and over again, anything more than a way to gussy up the triumph of oligarchy, corporate capital and globalisation?
And here we have it - the whole problem of reading fiction as politics. Gladiator as an allegory for George Bush? How bonkers can you get?
Hopefully, more bonkers still. Moody's reading of the Ridley Scott classic is as revealing about himself as it is about the movie. And that is the joy of fiction: taste and interpretation is entirely subjective. Meanings are not enclosed and enforced as in polemic or propaganda. The drama of the story is dialogic - it lets you take two sides at the same time. (As Shakespeare says in King Lear "That's true too")l. Art is open ended, descriptive rather than prescriptive, and let's you frame your own metaphors. And rarely are stories allegories like Orwell's Animal Farm or Miller's The Crucible , and even when they are, they take on a complex life of their own.
Most stories play with political and real life events, but with no definitive read off. I remember as a politicised 19 year old, having loved reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy in my early teens, worrying whether Sauron was Hitler or Stalin, Saruman Mussolini or Hitler. Though the story of the Ring of Power is definitely Tolkien's response to Germanic myths of power and domination (the inscription even echoes the Hitlerian "Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer") it is ridiculous to go beyond some deep metaphoric echoes. Had Tolkien wished to make a simple political or historical statement he would have made it. Fiction creates its own internal dynamics, and from fairy tales to classical tragedy to morally complex anti heroes like Tony Soprano or Harry Lime in The Third Man, allows us to experience the clash of ideas and characters, without taking sides, or taking all sides.
So the meaning of a writers work often escapes its maker. There are dozens of artists whose politics I abhor, but whose writings I still love. Take the case of some great 20th Century poets - Yeat's fascist nationalism, Eliot's anti-semitism, Philip Larkin's racist conservatism, Bertolt Brecht's collaboration with Stalinism. Where their political beliefs obtrude into their work or - as in the case of Ezra Pound - they become pure propagandists, their statements can be rebutted and excoriated for what they are.
But these writers weren't full time politicians. We only know of their politics because of their lyric talents. In the more epic world of fiction - whether it's a mirror to reality or a fantasy alternative world - meanings are fluid, metaphors are mysterious, characters and events memory precisely because they are intractable and irreducible to a simple message. By definition, works of art contain emotional and unconscious force which the artist cannot control or describe. Therefore we're presented in a great comic book, novel, poem, movie or painting with densely complex statement, something which rewrites its meaning every time a new viewer watches it.
In short - Frank Miller's politics are stupid, paranoid and frankly laughable.
But still the Dark Knight will survive the idiocy of his maker.
Crossposted at Daily Kos