‘The Fourth Estate’

July 10, 2011

Last night, I started reading Jeffrey Archer’s ‘The Fourth Estate,’ a big-fat novel about a couple of apparent Rupert-Murdoch-kind of assholes trying to control the world, and in the words off the back cover, an “awesome tale of wealth and corruption, desire and destruction.”

Well, we’ll just see how ‘awesome‘ this ‘tale‘ be — I’m less than a 100 pages in, and the book’s already getting a little-bit-too meticulous  — and since I’ve never read Jeffrey before, we’ll keep going for at least another couple of days, and if the pace doesn’t pick up, I’ll deep-six The Fourth Estate, and drop it onto a growing pile of boring, dumb or just-too-long-winded books littering my bedroom floor.

(Illustration found here).

As it turns out, the quick, pure-whim selection of The Fourth Estate off the shelf in a used-bookstore here in town carried a back-story of sorts to it, a tie-in with a way-high point of modern journalism taking place today — the last edition of Murdoch’s News of the World, a 168-year-old publication devoted currently to nothing but trash talk, and near-immoral activities.
Jeffrey, is seems, has a sordid history with the now-deceased sordid News.
You see, not only is the 71-year-old a novelist and playwright, but might also be considered the UK’s version of a sex-nut, graft-convicted, prison-termed US Republican.
Yet consider this over-glowing analysis from an interview in UK’s The Telegraph this past May:

Jeffrey Archer is one of the most successful writers in the world with sales of between 250 million and 400 million depending on which paper you read (he says that nobody knows but puts the figure at 330 million).
He is “probably the greatest storyteller of our age” according to the Mail on Sunday.
He is also, for that matter, one of the greatest stories of our age whether as an MP, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, close friend of two prime ministers, a mayoral candidate for London, a tireless worker for charity or, more painfully, as a perjurer, a prisoner and a complete fantasist, if Private Eye is to be believed.

Jeffrey, however, was not an innocent — in 2001 in one of those media showcase trials (i.e., Casey Anthony nowadays) in the UK’s obsessive news coverage prior to Sept. 11 that year (i.e., shark attacks in the US) he was found guilty of lying and cheating in his 1987 libel case against UK’s Daily Star.
The real shit, though, came out in the fabled News of the World in 1986 that Jeffrey employed a whore, describing her, though, in a screaming front cover splash: “Tory Boss Archer Pays Off Vice Girl.”
From the BBC covering the 2001 perjury trial:

Lord Archer acknowledged he had given Miss Coghlan money — but denied he had ever met her.
He said the money was intended to help her leave the country because she had told him she was being hounded by journalists.
Lord Archer admitted it was “an error of judgement.”
The Daily Star reported that Lord Archer and Miss Coghlan had spent the night together.
Lord Archer sued for libel.
At the outset of the Daily Star’s allegations it was not clear which night the paper thought Lord Archer had spent with Miss Coghlan.

And you would know, Jeffrey had alibis for the nights in question, substantiated by Jeffrey’s friend, Ted Francis, a TV producer, and co-defendant in the 2001 trial, who in 1999 admitted the whole 1986 thing was a fabrication.
Oddly, Francis walked and Jeffrey went to jail.

And the BBC notes this about the 1987 case:

During the 1987 libel trial Mary Archer famously took the stand to support her husband.
The judge was so impressed by her demeanour that he mused why any husband would seek the company of a prostitute when he had Mrs Archer at home.
Summing up, Mr Justice Caulfield described Mrs Archer as a vision of “elegance, fragrance and radiance”.
Lord Archer won his libel action and was awarded £500,000 damages.

Mary, however, apparently didn’t carry that needed smell as it was later proved Jeffrey went way out of his way to become a lying asshole of a perv.

Read a kind of nasty dateline/low-down of  Jeffrey’s story at CourtNewsUK.

And interestingly enough, the final stab of News of the World was via a scandal-ridden knife in its own back which vibrates way beyond the soft appeal of today’s final cover and headline, “Thank You & Goodbye” (shown at left), with it another downward slap at any kind of modern journalism.
But can Murdoch’s many media ventures, including America’s own way-dumber, Fox News, and  its once-great, now stupid company mate, The Wall Street Journal, be considered any in form whatsoever with journalism?

The news media in the modern world pretty-much sucks.

(Illustration found here).

Major news organizations in these futuristic times are way powerful, without peer, and way-deep in bed with the most-prominent political forces of the day.
Example is in a couple of bits off a piece this morning in The Guardian about this very thing:

Ostensibly, the reason we are here is phone hacking; the truth is that for too long the Murdoch organisation and its key lieutenants, headed by Rebekah Brooks, have acted like a state within a state. It’s an operation focused on Oxfordshire dinner parties and closed-door relationships with Britain’s political elite.
At the top of News Corp all that ultimately matters is one’s personal relationship with Rupert Murdoch and family, with accountability to outside forces secondary.
Brooks gives no interviews; she has no need to if she can schmooze prime ministers discreetly — David Cameron’s constituency home is close to her husband’s farm.
The result is that News Corp pleases itself, acknowledging very little external constraint.
Clearly NoW journalists thought they could get away with ordering phone hacking: they had the money, nobody to stop them, and a newspaper that was happy to print the results.
After all, when criticised, the parent company’s first reaction was to issue threats; not least when this newspaper was told by Brooks it had “misled the British public” after it had the temerity to suggest hacking might have gone on on a wider scale.
Now, it may be possible to argue that the era of “industrial” phone hacking is behind the NoW.
Yet it is not possible to argue that the era in which executives insisted the problem was not widespread is past.
Most of those bosses, from Brooks down, are still with the organisation, which has failed to explain credibly why it took five years to acknowledge the seriousness of what happened.
And why has nobody taken responsibility for that?

The News of the World scandal is apparently bad enough to get the great man himself, Rupert Murdoch, to jet to London from wherever to try and calm the fires — tales have leaked of family squabbles amid Murdoch’s attempt to gain control of yet another piece of media hardware, British Sky Broadcasting.
The inner circle stays above it all, however, even cloaking the above mentioned Miss Rebekah.
This little sentence from what appears to be an analysis of the Murdoch situation from today’s The Financial Times: Several people familiar with the company predicted that her predecessor, Les Hinton, would take the blame, as he had been chief executive of News International during the inquiry, which he told a parliamentary committee had been a thorough one.
Cloak-and-dagger with emphasis on the dagger.

And Carl Bernstein, who should know scandal, writes in Newsweek this phone-hacking fiasco could be Murdoch’s Watergate, an unraveling of an end, and a timely moment in our crazed, tabloid-style life.
He starts with a summation:

The facts of the case are astonishing in their scope.
Thousands of private phone messages hacked, presumably by people affiliated with the Murdoch-owned News of the World newspaper, with the violated parties ranging from Prince William and actor Hugh Grant to murder victims and families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The arrest of Andy Coulson, former press chief to Prime Minister David Cameron, for his role in the scandal during his tenure as the paper’s editor.
The arrest (for the second time) of Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royals editor.
The shocking July 7 announcement that the paper would cease publication three days later, putting hundreds of employees out of work.
Murdoch’s bid to acquire full control of cable-news company BSkyB placed in jeopardy.
Allegations of bribery, wiretapping, and other forms of lawbreaking—not to mention the charge that emails were deleted by the millions in order to thwart Scotland Yard’s investigation.

Then the shredding of invincibility:

But now the empire is shaking, and there’s no telling when it will stop.
My conversations with British journalists and politicians—all of them insistent on speaking anonymously to protect themselves from retribution by the still-enormously powerful mogul—make evident that the shuttering of News of the World, and the official inquiries announced by the British government, are the beginning, not the end, of the seismic event.
News International, the British arm of Murdoch’s media empire, “has always worked on the principle of omertà: ‘Do not say anything to anybody outside the family, and we will look after you,’ ” notes a former Murdoch editor who knows the system well.
“Now they are hanging people out to dry. The moment you do that, the omertà is gone, and people are going to talk. It looks like a circular firing squad.”

As one of his former top executives — once a close aide — told me, “This scandal and all its implications could not have happened anywhere else. Only in Murdoch’s orbit. The hacking at News of the World was done on an industrial scale.
More than anyone, Murdoch invented and established this culture in the newsroom, where you do whatever it takes to get the story, take no prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will justify the means.”
“In the end, what you sow is what you reap,” said this same executive.
“Now Murdoch is a victim of the culture that he created.
It is a logical conclusion, and it is his people at the top who encouraged lawbreaking and hacking phones and condoned it.”

Even Media Matters posted a Nixon/Murdoch analogy: Like Nixon during his Watergate demise, the hacking story appears to have thrown Murdoch into a free fall with no safe landing spot in sight. There doesn’t seem to be any maneuver or strategy available to him at this crucial juncture that will make the blockbuster story go away, even for a price. And like Nixon, whose aides couldn’t stop the Watergate bleeding, Murdoch is being hounded by a dogged newspaper determined (and perhaps able) to take him down, as well as by aggressive prosecutors.

Journalism was never the same after Watergate (even scandal was given a seemingly never-old tag: the “-gate” suffix), which in itself led to the rise of corporate journalism and its fame and money.
And for years and years, technology advancement in the newsroom was near-non existent, but now it’s really on the cutting edge — as witnessed by these technologies hacking into voice mails.
The old newsroom just ain’t the old newsroom anymore.

As for Jeffrey Archer’s ‘The Fourth Estate,’ we’ll just wait and see.
The book was a quick-selection, choice by chance because I had only eight minutes left on my dryer at a laundromat near the book store, in a hurry and dithering, I weighed another Clive Cussler, maybe Frederick Forsyth, or one of them from the Robert Ludlum franchise (for leisure reading at night before sleep, I want nothing but absolute-pure escapist adventure/action fiction) and I didn’t know Jeffrey — although I’d seen his book titles before, I wasn’t familiar at all with the guy.
Only after I later Googled Jeffrey did I realize his imprint with the ongoing News of the World saga.

Calling the press ‘the fourth estate,’ by the way, supposedly comes from British politician Edmund Burke in the 1700s via Thomas Carlyle: “Burke said that there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
Or so they think.

 

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