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Thursday, November 30, 2006 

Screwed by Inspector Knacker.


Guess who?

2006 is shaping up to be the News of the Screws' annus horribilis. It would be churlish and egotistical to claim that this is down to the curse of Obsolete - after Mazher Mahmood failed miserably in his attempt to stop George Galloway and various blogs from publishing his old photographs - but I'm going to anyway. Ever since Mahmood and Farrer & Co's pathetic legal attempt to silence bloggers, everything has gone tits up. Mahmood's reputation was further tainted when the "red mercury" trial ended with all the accused being acquitted; Tommy Sheridan emerged victorious from his libel trial, only for the Screws to very conveniently get a tape from a former friend of Sheridan's which they claim proves Sheridan committed perjury; then Clive Goodman, the utterly piss-poor Screws' royal editor was arrested, and yesterday pleaded guilty to tapping into Prince William's voicemail.

As well as exposing the shadier, hidden side of tabloid journalism, Goodman's arrest is significant in that the information he obtained was so underwhelming, the kind of banal crap that fills tedious tabloid diaries every day of the week. One of Goodman's exclusives was that Prince William had pulled a tendon - hold the front page! More humourously, the Screws wasn't paying just once for such groundbreaking stories; they were also funding Goodman's accomplice, former footballer Glenn Mulcaire, who did the dirty work, i.e. utilising the well-known voice mail hack which lets anyone phoning in the line have a go at guessing the owner's pin. Most don't change it from the default, leaving their messages easy pickings for snooping hacks and private dicks.

Hilariously, Obsolete's favourite national newspaper editor, Rebekah "Filth" Wade was apparently one of those who was targeted, one must assume by a rival newspaper, although the relationship between Andy Coulson, Screws editor and Wade is allegedly strained. It's often been suggested that Wade is not the sharpest tool in the shed, being ignorant of much outside her favourite topics - stringing up paedophiles and naming and shaming anyone who annoys her newspaper's sensibilities. Even by her standards though, this seems a schoolgirl error - Piers "Morgan" Moron mentions the voicemail trick in his diaries.

Not that anyone should feel any sympathy for Wade - for it seems to have been the voicemail trick which led to this year's earlier outting by force of Simon Hughes, which was accompanied by typically homophobic headlines and reports. Other victims are meant to have included Max Clifford, well known for his likeliness to the little packages left on the streets by dogs.

One can only hope that Goodman is handed a harsh sentence. There only seems to have been one case that could be argued was in the public interest - that of David Blunkett being exposed as having an affair with the Spectator publisher Kimberley Quinn, and even then only if it was affecting his ability to be Home Secretary, which is debatable, as it was after the break-up of the relationship that he in his words became clinically depressed. As the Guardian argues in its leader, what we have learned so far is likely only the tip of the iceberg. The tabloids especially are engaging in illegal methods in order to get background to their stories, whether it's from paying police, getting private detectives to do their dirty work, or blagging information from those with access to databases. Some of the smear jobs conducted on those arrested under terrorism laws seem incredibly likely to have been helped along by these factors. A custodial sentence might send a message that there are real consequences for those breaking privacy laws for less than noble causes. With the government's love for central sharing of information increasing, the situation can only get worse with time, especially as circulations continue to slump.


P.S. Would you believe that there is no mention of Goodman's guilty plea in today's Sun? The only mention of him found via the Sun's search engine is an online report that was put up yesterday, which presumably wasn't spiked as Wade doesn't have full editorial authority over the website.

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