I wonder why no one has coined the name “Hackgate” for the group of scandals currently convulsing the United Kingdom. You will probably be aware that News International’s first UK newspaper, the News of the World, is now defunct, closed by the company because various reporters had enlisted the services of private investigators and computer experts to hack into the voicemail messages of various people, from the Duke of Cambridge down to a schoolgirl who was missing and later found murdered. In the latter case, the hackers deleted some voicemails from the schoolgirl’s mobile phone so that more messages could be left. This gave her parents hope that she was still alive—a hope which was sadly mistaken. The Metropolitan Police arrested a reporter and an investigator a few years ago for hacking into the Royals’ mobiles, jailed them and took their notes, which they promptly filed in the police equivalent of the bin.

After other people determined that they had been hacked, sued the News of the World about it, and had large monetary settlements from the Murdochs, pressure grew on the police to reinvestigate what they had characterised as a small-scale crime, stopping at the two people who were convicted. Lo and behold, the police revealed that they’d retrieved 11,000 pages of notes from their bin, and were busily contacted everyone mentioned there to warn them that their phones may have been hacked.

The editor of the NoTW when the original hacking case was prosecuted had quit. It wasn’t his fault, mind you; these were rogue reporters. But the editor was ultimately responsible for the actions of his reporters, and resigned. Later on the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, one David Cameron, took the editor, one Andy Coulson, on as his Director of Communications. Then Mr. Cameron kind-of won the election in May 2010, and Andy Coulson became the government’s Communications Director. When this second group of hackings came out, Coulson resigned again.

Various personnel of the NoTW and News International have resigned, including Mrs. Rebekah Brooks, once editor of the NoTW and until last week the CEO of News International, and several other long-serving minions of the Murdoch family business. Father Rupert, son James, and Mrs. Brooks are all going to testify in front of a Parliamentary Committee.

Various personnel of the Metropolitan Police, including John Yates, the Assistant Commissioner who originally said that there was nothing further to investigate but who hired a former News International minion as a PR flack and then discovered these 11,000 pages of notes (Surprise!), resigned today. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Met, resigned yesterday. And these are not the last resignations, I’m certain.

A judicial investigation has been set up and that will get down towards the bottom of the cesspit.

The Grauniad has been keeping the fire stoked under these people for the past couple of years, off and on. If you want more detail, the Guardian is the place to go.

Hack is the UK slang term for a newspaper reporter, and hacker is a term that you should all be familiar with. Thus, Hackgate. I suppose that few people now remember those heady days of 1973 and 1974 when the break-in at the Watergate Apartments office of the Democratic National Committee, and the Congressional investigation into it, were at the top of the TV charts. We used to watch every afternoon, hanging on every word that dripped, honeylike, from Sam Ervin’s mouth, and cheering on Barbara Jordan. Since then nearly every political scandal has gained a name “{Something}gate”, except for this one. Well, I’m going to refer to it as Hackgate and that’s final.

Of course, the scandal still has months, maybe years to run. More scalps will be collected, more resignations tendered, more revelations will titillate us. But what will come out of all this?

First, the tendency of the UK tabloid press to do anything (legal or otherwise) to get a story, no matter how trivial, titillating, or privacy-invading, will be curbed in one way or another. The Press Complaints Commission, a toothless body that is financed by pennies from every newspaper in the country except for Richard Desmond’s stable, will probably be retained but given teeth (ie, the power to fine newspapers). You’ll be less likely to discover who’s shagging your favourite football player in the Sunday press, but any newspaper that transgresses and is found out will have the book thrown at it.

Second, politicians and other public figures who court the press (not including people who are interviewed for publication, but people who suck up to press proprietors in return for favourable coverage—they hope!) will be doing much less of it. Politicians and civil servants will be forced to record when they meet media moguls, whether it’s for a glass of champagne at a dinner party or a business meeting. These records will be public and toadying to the press barons will be discoverable. There will also be less cross-pollination between the press and politicians. You won’t see former newspaper editors being trusted to run the publicity arms of the political parties again anytime soon.

Third, the cozy relationship between the press and some police officers will be broken. Some of the officers are accused of taking bribes to pass information along to the newspapers.

The steady drip-drip-drip of revelations is at once both exciting and annoying. I think that most Brits just want it over, the miscreants punished, and life to go on. Until the truth is known, Hackgate will run and run.

Oh, and the absence of the News of the World, formerly the nation’s biggest circulation newspaper, has hurt more than just the 200 journalists who worked for it and are now on the dole (until the Sun on Sunday is started, perhaps in August.) This first Sunday in 168 years that the NoTW has not been on the nation’s newsstands saw a fall in the total number of Sunday newspapers sold. People who read the NoTW, it seems, don’t in general want to read other newspapers.

2 Responses to “Hackgate”

  1. ajaxstamos says:

    Hackergate, perhaps. 🙂

  2. chrishansenhome says:

    I have, since I posted this, seen “Hackgate” in a couple of places, so I guess either someone took up my suggestion or had the idea independently. My 15 minutes of fame are gone… 🙁