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Wednesday, February 29, 2012 

Oh, Icarus.

In my never-ending campaign to stuff ever increasing amounts of useless information into my brain, I've been spending the last few nights watching Adam Curtis's earlier films on Youtube. His documentary on the collapse of Barings Bank, masterminded by Nick Leeson through the concealment of massive losses on the derivatives market in Singapore has since been rather overshadowed by the crash of 07/08, but it remains the ultimate example of one man with rat-like cunning being able to deceive a whole layer of those who believed they were superior, even when all that separated them was that they were greedier. Leeson repeatedly describes those above him as stupid, which only goes so far as an explanation; they also didn't understand the derivatives market, something not very surprising when it turned out 12 years later that no one did. Anyone who had digged even slightly below the surface of Barings's accounts would have discovered that the profits Leeson was reporting were implausible, yet they kept on sending him ever greater sums of capital, right up until the bank itself went overdrawn.

The problem with imagining that you're smarter than everyone else is that eventually someone will found your answers wanting. Never has this been more proven than in the sad case of James Murdoch, who today had to resign as News International chairman to spend more time with his ego. Like Leeson, his solution to the problems he faced was to plunge himself ever deeper into the mire. Just over a month after the Guardian had splashed on the payout News International had made to Gordon Taylor, a settlement authorised by a certain J Murdoch, he delivered his now notorious MacTaggart lecture in which he described the scope of the BBC's activities and ambitions as "chilling". He should have been rather more disturbed by the continued digging of Nick Davies, as all the BBC (and indeed his very own Sky) did was piggy-back on the investigations by the Graun and New York Times, those loss-makers unable to turn a profit, the very thing which in his opinion made independence unreliable.

As Michael Woolf writes, all he had to do was to maintain plausible deniability. His performance alongside Daddy was well measured, apart from the moment when Tom Watson asked him about willful blindness. It was only when the media committee kept on digging into how the settlement with Taylor came about that his defence fell apart: just about credible was that those reporting to him (Colin Myler and Tom Crone) may not have informed him of the full picture, fearing for their own jobs. Unbelievable was that he failed to read the crucial part of an email sent to him which he swiftly replied to, or that he was subsequently told about it in the meeting he arranged to discuss what they were going to do. Woolf claims he was playing internal politics, rather than participating in a cover-up, something I don't quite buy, but regardless of what he was doing it sowed his downfall.

From being in a position where he seemed destined to ascend to the throne of the company once Keith either retires or pops his clogs, he's now only slightly better off than Rebekah Brooks, disastrously promoted to CEO of News International by Rupe, apparently with James's blessing. It was her strategy of continuing to deny everything, accusing the Graun of "substantially and deliberately misleading the British public" that encouraged the paper to keep on pushing. If they had owned up then, it's still likely that the News of the World could have been saved. This though would have dropped dear Andy Coulson into it and in turn David Cameron, fast becoming Brooks' new best political mate. Woolf claims that poor James has effectively been sent to Coventry by the rest of the Murdoch clan, loathed by sister Liz for "fucking" Dad's company up, and barely on speaking terms with the old man himself. It would almost be sad if he hadn't set himself up for it.

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Rather good, Scepticisle. I hope that Sunny picks it up for Lib Con.

I am sure that, on reflection, I would have a go at your arguments. But there is something less tangible under the surface. Something about knowing that misdeeds were happening and inability to communicate that knowledge.

Civil rights and basic politeness/honesty were abused by journalists. They knew that they were doing wrong and people who knew them understood that.

How to fix? I don't believe that privacy laws are the answer. The solution is in individual conscience and collective conscience.

And there's the rub. What is the difference between collective conscience and group think?

Very little, in practice. My solution would be, despite my initial misgivings, if not what Leveson ends up actually proposing then at least the process of the inquiry: it's shining a light on what was happening both within News International and the police, something that I think will be far more beneficial in the long term than the necessary reforms to press regulation/oversight of the police's relationship with the media.

I also have to say that I think this will end up being very much of its time: the media is changing so drastically and so quickly that by 2020 I honestly think you might only be able to pick up perhaps the Sun (or a successor to it, who knows), Mail and Telegraph in a shop as you do currently. I fear that privacy in the social networking age is only for those of us who hate the bloody places. There's no need to hack someone who already shares every aspect of their life on Facebook/Twitter.

"resigned to spend more time with his ego".....

classic line, brightened up my day.

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