For one journalist to have their character called out by the unwashed masses in a fortnight is noteworthy. For two? It’s about as close as we cosseted Brits ever get to bloody revolution.
The great tabloid phone hacking scandal has kept the country’s journalists, politicians and celebrities enthralled since it first emerged in 2005. To say that the nation’s public collectively raced to their local newsagent of a morning to find out the latest would be an embarrassing exaggeration. There’s no salacious gossip being leaked about who said what to whom in private voicemail messages, so for most of us it remained an abstract, if rather tedious, media generated bunfight.
When news broke last night that the police were in possession of evidence that thirteen year old murder victim Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages had been hacked by a private investigator in the pay of the News Of The World, the story was hurled into sharp focus.
Despite her murder taking place in 2002, Dowler’s case had been in the media recently, and therefore in the minds of the public. During his trial, her killer’s defence had questioned Milly’s mother and father about notes she had written implying she may have been unhappy at home as a result of discovering pornographic material belonging to her father. Levi Bellfield was eventually convicted of Milly’s murder, but not until the sexual proclivities of her dad had been examined by the press and her mother had collapsed in the witness box.
Their treatment caused an outcry. The fact that it now transpires her parents may have been given false hope that their daughter might be alive by the deletion of the messages will probably require a head or two.
Enter Rebekah Brooks (formerly Wade), who was the editor of the News Of The World at the time the alleged hacks were carried out, but has categorically denied knowledge, following the party line of her employer and publisher of the paper, News International. She has also stated, in an email to News International employees, that she will not be resigning over the matter.
Like the phone hacking scandal, we were vaguely aware of Brooks. She doesn’t seek the spotlight, but used to appear occasionally in the showbiz columns due to her now dissolved marriage to Eastender’s hard man Ross Kemp. She also briefly broke cover in 2000 when, during her tenure at the NOTW, she sanctioned the publication of the names and addresses of seven convicted paedophiles living in towns and cities across the UK. Many cried foul.
Brooks stood by her decision, even when the response from some of her readership was to seek out and attack the aforementioned ‘paedos’ in their homes. This may have not raised too much of a rumble with the public at large, except that the vigilantes’ interpretation of the word ‘paedophile’ appeared to only run as far as the first four letters; one of their victims was a paediatrician. Critics jumped upon this as the exact reason why sensitive information should not be freely available to the general public, but since the original motivation behind the idea was the implementation of Sarah’s Law (Sarah Payne had been kidnapped and murdered in 2000 and her mother continues to campaign for better legislation) Brooks was able to skate away from censure and continue her meteoric rise to Rupert Murdoch’s right hand.
It’s unlikely she will be as fortunate this time.
Most people won’t revolt. We’re too polite for that here. But many will be sufficiently disgusted by the newspaper’s actions to stop buying the paper. Some may even cancel their Sky subscriptions.
Will that force her hand? It’s doubtful. But her inevitable public trial in the very media court room she helped to create might. It’s an incredibly brutal place. She will be front page news. Every day. Non-News International hacks will go through her bins and perfectly normal events in her life will be stretched and pulled in different directions until their structure bears no resemblance to the truth. She will become a hate figure who fears for her own safety, whose face is familiar and inevitably symbolic of a hateful crime against Milly Dowler. Whether she sanctioned it or not.
Do I, as an average person shocked by the breaking news, feel glad that Rebekah Brooks will pay dearly for her proximity to this act? No. I don’t enjoy anyone’s distress and the fact that Brooks has essentially been the architect of her own downfall doesn’t mitigate that emotion any.
My sorrow is rather more with the Dowlers. Whose only crime in this whole mess was to love their daughter.
Image via Zimbio