Wednesday, 13 April 2011

What did Rebekah know and when did she know it?

The tangled web that was the Watergate scandal, which brought down Richard Nixon, had lost most people in its twists and turns by the time the Senate started investigating in 1973, but like many complex issues it was boiled down to a single ominous question by Senator Howard Baker, “what did the President know and when did he know it?”

It would appear that the News of the World (NOTW) phone hacking scandal is now reaching a similar point when there is only one crucial question left to answer – namely what did the most senior people in News International know and when did they know it?

The collapse of the rogue reporter defence, the arrests of two senior reporters and last weekend’s mea culpa on a page 3 suggest that senior people in News International know a lot more than they have been willing to admit so far and probably far earlier. How long will its latest line in the sand, namely that only 7 or 8 people were hacked and that £20 million has been set aside in a compensation fund, remain uncrossed? My guess is not very long.

Nixon was ultimately brought down by the Smoking Gun Tape (famously illustrated by Washington Post cartoonist Herblock) on which he was heard to instruct his Chief of Staff, HR Haldeman, to tell the CIA to block the FBI investigation into the Watergate break-in. This was a clear obstruction of justice.

Bizarrely, it might be the actor Hugh Grant who has uncovered the smoking gun in this story. In a New Statesman article Grant has admitted turning the tables on a former NOTW employee by secretly taping him talking about the hacking and letting slip that Rebekah Brooks, formerly editor of the NOTW and now News International’s senior executive in the UK, knew all about it. The extraordinary transcript of the conversation can be read HERE.

The question now is whether the House of Commons Committee investigating the hacking will be able to get Brooks to appear in front of them to ask the same ominous question that Senator Baker posed nearly four decades ago.

Nixon hated the press and would have loved the way Grant has turned the tables on News International. Somewhere, he and the late HR Haldeman are smiling.


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