In 2008, the BBC held an enlightening quick-fire five minute interview with former Conservative MP Michael Portillo. "I do think the right-wing press is evil", answered Portillo to one question, after a ponderous pause. I remember sitting up bolt upright and cocking an ear in surprise at that. Unlike a lot of people, the word "evil" is not something I like to hear bandied about. It's used with alarming regularity about people and organisations. Often the word "evil" can be safely substiituted with a word that has less value-laden connotations. "Crass", "sadistic", "maladaptive", "misunderstood", "vengeful" and "ignorant" are a few words that are often a better description for many of the things that people in life are quick to label "evil". However, after this piece of news broke today on Milly Dowler's mobile phone being hacked (in the ongoing investigation into the News International Hackgate scandal), Portillo's words on the right-wing press now seem weirdly measured.
The Hackgate story has only really been covered with any detail in a small pocket of publications. Leaving aside the BBC, who appear to only reluctantly cover the story, the main organisations that appear to be devoting any coverage to the investigation are The Guardian, the New Statesman and Private Eye. A frequent criticism from other sections of the Wapping press is that it's only of interest to media wonks. The same critics also point that it's celebrities or public figures that are being hacked and that they gave up their right to privacy. This is obfuscation, as Peter Oborne's "Dispatches" documentary from 2010 was quick to point out, since many ordinary members of the public have had their phones hacked too (normally as collateral damage in another "public figure" story). The Milly Dowler phone hack is the nadir of the phone hacking investigation, if true. Did no-one in the News Of The World offices (from the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who initiated the hacking, right up to the editors who ordered the hacking) pause to think "This might be wrong?". It's alleged that the distressed parents' messages were listened to and that there was also a deletion of messages, so that the voicemail service didn't run out of space. If this is true, then David Allen Green is right to point out that this is a straightforward perversion of justice, since evidence in an ongoing murder investigation was effectively being removed.
I guess it's an aggregate of those behaviours that makes me stop to think. It's the complete absence of morality. It's the premeditated nature of deleting the messages. It's the two-faced complicit nature of NoTW journalists talking to the Dowler family. It's the obvious belief that they are above the law. It's all those factors that make me think the NoTW organisation, out of all news outlets, could be rightly labelled "evil". If the Milly Dowler allegations are true, Michael Portillo's hyperbole was shockingly correct.