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I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, and here are some things that might be worth bearing in mind.

A couple of years ago we started seeing the edges of the what happens when politicians, the media, and the police collude together. That was the real scandal. That close relationship led to laws not being enforced, criminal activities going uninvestigated and on their being no will to create good laws to govern politicians, the police, or the media.

Many people will remember David Cameron telling Leveson that they wouldn’t find a smoking gun. That there were no emails detailing a deal done between the Conservative leader and the Murdoch papers. And we all howled at the screen “That’s exactly the point!”

The deep corruption of our public life didn’t need accompanying paperwork. The rules were implicit and understood by all. Pursuing the agendas of media conglomerates while in power came with substantial rewards. Looking the other way when the media broke the law also came with substantial rewards. Politicans deliberately made bad laws, the police didn’t enforce those, and everyone retired with a highly-paid column on law and order at the end of it.

Then the cracks started to show. We saw policemen in charge of the investigation into phone hacking taking champagne suppers with News International. Secretaries of State chummily texting those whose mergers they were meant to be overseeing. Prime Ministers going riding newspaper editors’ horses. Which came to them from the police. Every stone that was turned let loose a new waft of corruption.

And to root out the deep corruption at the heart of three of our fundamental institutions, what did we do? We split it up.

Leveson looked at press intrusion, and the failures of the PCC. Operation Elveden is looking at the police’s failure to investigate press criminality sooner. The MPs are pretending that because they put IPSA in place a few years ago they’ve already mead enough culpas

We heard how the mighty press dwarfed poor old politicans, who only had every arm of the state at their disposal. All that they could do was weep into their cornflakes, and wait to retire so that they could cash in.

The activities of the press weren’t the fundamental problem, though. The collusion of politicans with the media (not wanting to refer the Sky bid to the Competition Commission, say), of media with politicians (bumping a story about the Chancellor’s youthful cocaine use to page 5), of police with the media (taking them for champagne dinners), and of the media with police (reporting disinformation whenever necessary), and the manifest failure of any of those institutions to have any sense of duty to the public were the problem.

I’m not one who is going to shout about ‘a free press’. We already don’t have a free press. D-notices, some of the planet’s most-backward libel laws, and all sorts of laws about speech and communication make any idea that we have a free press laughable. (Also, it’s telling that here we harp on about ‘a free press’. Not ‘free speech’, something quantifiable that applies to all of us and is a fundamental right, but ‘a free press’, which is ‘freedom to speak as long as you own a newspaper’.)

However, the problem isn’t the newspapers. The problem was never the newspapers. The despicable actions of some newspapers were a symptom of the deep sickness that plagues this country’s institutions.

When the problem is bad laws made by bad politicans, and ones unenforced by the police, the solution isn’t more bad laws from more bad politicians, which we shall depend on the police to enforce.

So, the DCMS Select Committee report on phone hacking came out today.

Of particular interest is paragraph 228, which reads:

228. Rupert Murdoch told this Committee that his alleged lack of oversight of News International and the News of the World was due to it being “less than 1% of our company”.306 This self-portrayal, however, as a hands-off proprietor is entirely at odds with numerous other accounts, including those of previous editors and from Rebekah Brooks, who told us she spoke to Rupert Murdoch regularly and ‘on average, every other day’. It was, indeed, we consider, a misleading account of his involvement and influence with his newspapers.

Which seems pretty clear. Rupert Murdoch gave “a misleading account of his involvement and influence with his newspapers.” Now, I’m no lawyer, but it seems that if you ‘give a misleading account’ to a Select Committee of Parliament then you are, in effect, ‘misleading’ that Committee.

In the conclusions, however, this isn’t taken up again. Paragraph 275, says that Les Hinton misled the Committee, Tom Crone misled the Committee, Tom Crone & Colin Myler misled the Committee, and that the News Of The World and News International as a whole misled the Committee, wilfully blinding themselves to internal evidence for which the companies’ directors—including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch—should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility”. So Rupert and James Murdoch wilfully blinded themselves to instances in which their company misled the Committee.

On the accusation that James Murdoch had misled the Committee over the ‘for Neville’ email, or whether Tom Crone and Colin Myler did (as their stories were incompatible), the Committee “simply cannot adjudicate with confidence either way.” (para. 161) So, either James Murdoch misled the Committee or Tom Crone and Colin Myler did (again), but the Committee has no way of determining which is true.

All of which seems pretty clear. Rupert ‘gave a misleading account’, Rupert and James presided over an organisation that misled the Committee, James may have misled the Committee, but they cannot be sure either way.

Got that? Good.

Because, apparently Louise Mensch didn’t.

Or, rather, she did at first, but then she forgot. During the press conference presenting the report she said :

Every one of us [Conservative members of the Committee] while we share different views about the culpability of News Corporation, and the degree of culpability of James Murdoch in particular… [emphasis mine]

Again, pretty clear. At least some of the Conservative members of the Committee felt that James Murdoch was at least partially culpable.

However, within seconds, she appears to have forgotten that entirely, appearing on Sky News saying, when asked about whether James or Rupert Murdoch had misled the Committee:

As far as that is concerned, they are in the clear.

Well, they are in the clear in as far as it looks unlikely that the Committee will call for any Parliamentary sanction. The report, however, goes nowhere near absolving them of having misled Parliament.

It says one definitely gave ‘a misleading account’, they are both responsible for an organisation that persistently misled the Committee, and that they had no way of discerning whether the other misled the Committee in his evidence, but that they found his story ‘astonishing’ and ‘surprising’. This is not the clean bill of health Louise Mensch would have you believe.

Later, on Twitter, she was at it again. When asked why she hadn’t supported the report, she said:

we hadn’t heard one iota of evidence re fitness or otherwise; he didn’t lie to us; is outside SC remit. 3 good reasons.

You’ll see that she recasts ‘misleading’ as the slightly stronger ‘lying’ as she did in the press conference when she demanded that Parliament clarify its procedures for ‘people who lie to Parliament’.

“He didn’t lie to us.” Perhaps, but he did give you a misleading account, and oversee and organisation that misled you an a wide scale. And you all find the story of the Murdochs’ ignorance ‘astonishing’.

Louise Mensch may well just not understand paragraph 228 of the report. She may be angling for a ministerial post. She may just be shilling for the rich and powerful. Or she may be doing all three.

What she is not doing is being open and honest about the findings of the report. Indeed, she seems to be trying to distract from its content, by saying it’s ‘fatally flawed’ because she disagrees with one sentence.

If her line is “No one is accusing Rupert Murdoch of misleading Parliament”, then that’s simply not true. Her Committee is. In its report. In paragraph 228.

The only thing that’s fatally flawed here is Mensch’s integrity.

a coconut custard pie

Image via Wikipedia

(With apologies to Michael Legge, from whom I have stolen – sort of – the title of this post)

Let’s get one thing straight from the off. You can’t be attacked with a custard pie. You can be splatted with a custard pie. You can be splurged with a custard pie. You can be spooged with a custard pie. You can be humiliated with a custard pie, but it’s not an offensive weapon. It didn’t even have any pastry.

Twitter was outraged yesterday. We heard how News International paid the legal fees of someone who had been convicted of criminal offences. We heard that Rupert Murdoch sometimes ‘wishes Prime Ministers would leave him alone’.  We heard that a senior police officer did not think that there was any conflict of interest in appointing someone to investigate one of their friends. We heard Rebekah Brooks give evidence that suggested that previous evidence she had given to parliament was not the truth. We learned that Number Ten had declined invitations to be briefed about phone hacking. Yes, all of Twitter was in a high and righteous dudgeon.

With the pie-throwing guy.

It may not have been all of Twitter, but the middle-aged comedy writer-performers whom I tend to follow were almost universally outraged by the pie-throwing guy. Really furious. Most of them frothing over the fact that this would ‘obscure’ the real news, and knock the substantive issues off the front pages, because otherwise all News International papers would have been forced to just run “We Are Evil!” as headlines tomorrow morning.

A couple of lone voices stuck up for its being funny, but they were quickly silenced with accusations of ‘defending the assault of an 80 year old man’. I didn’t find the pie stunt funny, but challenge any thinking human to read the BBC’s description of the object that was thrust at Rupert Murdoch: “what appeared to be a paper plate with shaving foam on it, in the form of a custard pie” and not find that a little funny.

I think what Johnnie Marbles did was silly. It was a distraction. It was naive and stupid to think that it wouldn’t be spun by the Murdoch press. I would have assumed that it was self-promotional if the only two videos he’s got online weren’t so poor. People trying to promote themselves usually have something to promote.

But, had he hit him, that might have been funny. People getting hit in the face with custard pies is funny. Watch the end of The Great Race  if you don’t believe me:

See? Funny. It’s an accepted funny thing, hitting someone in the face with a custard pie. Yes, it’s childish, and in this case, ill-conceived and inappropriate, but, depending on the way the foam had fallen off the face of the world’s most evil man, it could certainly have been funny. Instead of weird and awkward and looking like you were trying to duff up an octogenarian. Which is what happens when you miss.

So, I think the contempt of the great and good was utterly misplaced. It didn’t take long for some of the great writers of political comedy in the country to start referring to pie-guy as a ‘comedian’. With quotation marks. Which is pretty dismissive, because whether you think he’s funny or not, he’s certainly a comedian. Not necessarily a good comedian or one I will be hunting down tickets to go and see, but he is a comedian.

You can tell, because he’s here, doing comedy:

Not ‘comedy’. but comedy. Standing up and telling his jokes. His own jokes that people aren’t laughing at very much, but he’s standing up and telling them because he thinks they are important or funny and that’s what comedians do. And sometimes they are wrong, but that doesn’t make them not comedians, it just makes them not-good comedians. (Full disclosure: many people consider me to be a not-good comedian)

Shortly, these comedy stalwarts were retweeting untrue stories about how Johnnie Marbles’ girlfriend was dumping him on Twitter. They were so busy making jokes about the ‘childish’ Johnnie Marbles that the rest of the day seemed to pass them by.

I think that their howl of frustration was misplaced. I think it was the frustration we were all feeling at seeing the committee paw at the Murdochs like an old, toothless dog, so conditioned by years of rolling over that they could do no real damage. After a forensic start by Tom Watson, very few of the rest of the committee seemed to have a point to what they were asking, they didn’t seem to be trying to establish anything specific, but wanted to be heard fulminating against hacking on the news.

I was particularly incensed because my comment that about the chairman of the other committee was completely overlooked by Twitter. No retweets at all. I had said that he was being so respectful to the police that he was coming of as a complete penis: a Vaz Deferens. I *know*.

We had all started off having such fun with ‘hacking cough’ gags and saying how much an old man looked like a goblin, or Dobby, or Mr Burns, or Golem, or a diseased scrotum in glasses, and commenting on the fact that his wife was much younger than him, but it seemed to be doing no good. No matter how much we tweeted, they were getting away! And so, when the pie was thrown, there was a huge backlog of frustration that spilled over onto Mr Marbles.

If you want to be angry with someone, be angry with committee chairman John Whittingdale. John is one of Rebekah Brooks’ Facebook friends – he says that they aren’t friends friends, but without the greater granularity of Google+ circles I suppose we’ll never know. When, at the end of the session, Tom Watson was pressing James Murdoch on releasing those with whom settlements had been reached from the confidentiality clauses in their settlements – fairly important if we want to find out what actually happened – the line of questioning was shut down by Mr Whittingdale. He claimed that the committee had been through that issue at length. Actually, they were still waiting for a first answer from James Murdoch.

Be furious with the MP who spent the entirety of their questions trying to ascertain which door in Downing Street Rupert Murdoch used when he went to visit the Prime Minister.

Fulminate against Louise Mensch’s absurd grandstanding, in which she made populist speeches that, in trying to broaden the issue, managed to leave the witnesses with nothing substantive to answer. When you have the Murdochs in front of you, try not to spend most of your time talking about newspapers they do not own and cannot really comment on. It was obviously designed to play well on television and appear forceful, but elicited nothing from those in front of her.

Rage against the committee who let Rebekah Brooks claim that there had been a seachange in the way Fleet Street did business after the publication of What Price Privacy without reminding her that this was exactly what she said had already happened when giving evidence eight years ago.  It’s Section 4.8 of a pretty short report, not that you would have thought any of the Committee had read it. Back then she claimed that the formation of the PCC had led Fleet Street to fundamentally change the way it did business. Some might suspect that Fleet Street has not fundamentally changed the way it does business.

The truth was obscured yesterday. Our best chance of getting something serious on the Murdochs did slip away. We were let down yesterday. But not by Johnnie Marbles. By the people sitting in a horseshoe opposite him.

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