Coulson and Brooks shine at Leveson

I want to have and give some explanation for why I was pleased when Coulson/Brooks did well at the Leveson inquiry and why – this is even trickier – I was not sorry to see Robert Jay bested….

I am not fond of the idea of bright young people signing up to become the aparatchiks of the Murdoch enterprise of pandering to the worst tastes of the illiterate, thoughtless, judgemental, prurient, leery working class. I think it is slightly ridiculous to hear Rupert Murdoch’s anti-elitism, coming as it does from a scion of whatever one might call Australia’s Establishment. Andy Coulson has always seemed to present a sort of resentful suriliness, and I can readily accept that Rebekah Wade/Brooks has been a manipulative figure, to say the least. But both he and she seemed to me to do very well at Leveson, though.

Partly, I am programmed to empathise with the accused. It follows, perhaps, that I  find it hard to find prosecutors attractive. But Robert Jay does seem to be bringing something particular to this party. At the least, he seems like the grammar school, scholarship boy swat who at last has a chance to get back at the upper class and working class bullies who in the different ways sneered at him in the playground. At worst, he sometimes seems to smirk at his own rather tawdry successes and to seek Leveson’s approval and connivance at them.

Robert Jay is bound I suppose to seem to be doing the Guardian’s work for it: he is in accusation mode and the accusations are mostly Guardianish. All the same, the upshot is that I happy when the accused come up with good arguments for the News Corps operation.

There is a lofty side to all this. The media can only get so far by being right, and right-on. It ought to be mildly riotous, awkward, smutty and scandalous: that is a feature of its only sure way of doing good, and this is to be counter-intuitive. (On these grounds, I have to accept that the scabrous cartoons of the Guardian are as justified as the topless birds of the Sun.) I suspect Lord Leveson sees this, and that he is probably only too aware that he may not only be coming to the scene of the accident way too late, but also that accidents will always happen and regulations to forestall them may do more harm than good.

That is why Coulson/Brooks seemed to do well as they suggested that the power of the press wasn’t used to corrupt commercial advantage. More generally, they were right to stress that the power of the commercial media does indeed derive from the readership not the proprietors. So far and so far as we can see, the press were not too powerful but the political class was too weak.

Most peculiarly, it is impossible to know whether the push of editorial prejudice is more powerful than the pull of the desire to sell papers. So far as we can see, Rupert Murdoch has lost money when he has pursued his prejudices (say, by banging on about EU arcana). But we can roughtly guess that his opinions have not damaged the nation much if at all, not least becuase they have bored rather than energised the masses.

I imagine Lord Leveson is way ahead of me on all this. He has to balance Max Mosley, the Watson family, Hugh Grant, Ian Hislop, Brian Cathcart, and, yes, Coulson/Brooks. I am mildly confident he will get the answer about right.


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Publication date

13 May 2012