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Thursday, July 14, 2011 

A very Murdochian volte-face and the Wolfman.

It obviously hasn't quite sunk into the Murdochs yet just how far they've fallen, nor has it seemingly occurred to them that they could still go even lower. Their original letters to the culture committee, stating how they were sadly unavailable to give evidence next Tuesday were perfect examples of the excuses given by those who formerly felt or rather knew they were above such inconveniences as appearing before a group of jumped-up MPs to be asked daft, impertinent questions.

Their volte-face a few hours later, after being informed that they could be imprisoned (in the tower?) should they continue to have better things to do, an empty, clearly illegal threat if there ever was one, was as grudging as they come. Yes, we have found some space in our diaries, but don't think about asking us any actual questions (PDF), as then we may be forced to incriminate ourselves. As has been pointed out, no one has yet been charged with any actual offence as a result of Operation Weeting, so there's no possibility whatsoever of any eventual prosecutions being prejudiced or any issues being sub judice. Tuesday then threatens to be something of a let down, as reticence already seems to be the strategy the unholy trifecta of Murdoch, Murdoch junior and Brooks will pursue. It will at least make a difference to the previous one decided upon by NI executives and Screws hacks: what we now know to be lies and deliberate obfuscation.

Speaking of which, Murdoch's insistence to the Wall Street Journal that News Corp has only made "minor mistakes" in its handling of the debacle is just ever so slightly rose-tinted. Even assuming that he's not referring to News International's disastrous combination of procrastination and bullshitting when it came to phone hacking, if he'd bothered to take something approaching an interest back in 2009 then he still could have prevented having to abandon the bid for BSkyB by forcing NI to come clean, instead of it having to be forced out of them by a combination of the Guardian and the police.

NI is clearly grasping at any small mercies which come its way: tomorrow's Sun has on its front page the news that the Graun has apologised over claiming Brown's medical records were accessed by the paper directly. Instead it's accepted that a source provided the detail that Fraser had cystic fibrosis, although where he got the information from it's still not clear, nor does it even begin to make it acceptable that the Sun published the news in the first place, having threatened the Browns if they spoiled the "exclusive".

Not that the Metropolitan police are having a much better time of it. The news that the latest former NotW executive to be arrested, Neil "Wolfman" Wallis had been providing "strategic communications" (no, seriously) advice to the commissioner on a part-time basis may have come as a shock to Boris "codswallop" Johnson and Downing Street, yet his relationship with others within the Met has been known for some time. Private Eye reported in No. 1288 at the end of May that John Yates had been forced into admitting he had lunch with Wallis back in February, a meal Yates felt didn't need to be recorded in the Met's hospitality register as it was a "private engagement". The Eye speculated at the time that Wallis might be "quietly assisting" Inspector Knacker with their inquiries; if he was, then it was obviously decided that his help needed to be put on a more official footing. Still, as a "senior Met insider" told the Graun:

"The commissioner thought if the prime minister is happy employing Andy Coulson, and Neil Wallis has bid the lowest price, what reason would we have not to employ him?"

Yes, what possible reason? I don't know about you, but I'm coming up blank.

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