In Praise of Nick Davies, the British Bernstein & Woodward to Murdoch’s Nixon

by Stephen Tall on July 9, 2011

One man, above all, deserves to be singled-out for his single-minded pursuit of the lies, deceit and criminality that have stained British journalism: The Guardian’s special correspondent, Nick Davies.

His has been a lonely crusade. Despite the mounting evidence of corrupt practices, the tentacles of which have extended right into the very centre of the Establishment in this country — Parliament, media barons, senior police officers, Downing Street — Nick Davies has doggedly pursued a campaign which has resulted in the closure of this country’s most-read newspaper. That is some accolade.

But, as he would be the first to point out, it should never have got this far.

The closure of the News of the World would have been avoided if those who knew the truth, or at least had the power to uncover the truth, had done their jobs properly, had fulfilled their duty to the public. And that’s as true of Rebekah Brooks as it is of ‘Yates of the Yard’.

It all started with his 2008 book, Flat Earth News, with its self-explanatory sub-title: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media.

He documented there the systematic journalistic practice of ‘dark arts’, from ‘Benji the Binman’ to the arrest and conviction of former NotW royal editor Clive Goodman and the notorious private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, whose illegal hacking first surfaced the scandal. As Nick Davies noted of our media:

The hypocrisy is wonderful to behold. These organisations exist to tell the truth and yet routinely they lie about themselves. Many of these organisations have been the loudest voices in the law-and-order lobby, calling for tougher penalties against villains, tougher action against anti-social behaviour, even while they themselves indulge in bribery, corruption and the theft of confidential information.

And he could not have been clearer, three years ago, that these practices remained rife and ongoing:

… it’s back to business as usual… they [the hackers] are busy, once again, taking calls from Fleet Street newspapers who want them to break the law for them. The dark arts are free to flourish.

Nick Davies is no one-trick pony. He has also doggedly pursued the serial inadequacies of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) including, for example, their inability to shed light on Ian Tomlinson’s death, as well as the failures of the British justice system.

It’s also right, too, to add praise for The Guardian. There have been many occasions in the past few years when its pro-Labour-in-spite-of-everything line has raised my hackles. Yet it has not been afraid to give Nick Davies’s journalism the space to breathe. For sure, there were commercial advantages to be gained by attacking rival outfits. But with almost the whole of the rest of the media shunning the story in the hope it would go away, The Guardian has played a blinder, and played it consistently and bravely. Kudos.

The allusion in the headline to the Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning investigators Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward may seem exaggerated. Famously, of course, what brought President Nixon down was not the initial burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, but the subsequent cover-up. With the police now investigating whether senior News International executives have engaged in mass deletion of potentially incriminating emails to obstruct inquiries, it’s to be seen whether this week is merely the start of ‘Murdoch-gate’.

The past few days have exposed British journalism at its very worst. Not simply engaging in a daily criminal free-for-all, but also colluding (well beyond the Murdoch empire) both actively and passively in the suppression of the truth.

Let us therefore also give due prominence to a journalist who has done so much to expose his peers’ ‘dark arts’, tirelessly and fearlessly taking on Rupert Murdoch and News International. His digging has rocked the ‘Dirty Digger’s very foundations. And that’s a formidable achievement.

* Here’s where you can read more about Nick Davies, and his work:
www.nickdavies.net; his Guardian archive; the Flat Earth News website; his books on Amazon; and his Twitter account, @Bynickdavies.