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

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:; his Guardian archive; the Flat Earth News website; his books on Amazon; and his Twitter account, @Bynickdavies.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Steve Wilson 9th Jul '11 - 12:26pm

    Wasn’t this all known about well before 2008? I’m amazed at how so many in the mainstream political class appear to be astounded by it all, never mind their wearing out of the word ‘appalled’. It goes back years and involves many more organisations than just Murdoch’s. The real question is how they got away with it for so long and by ‘they’ I mean the media, the police and the politicians – all of whom knew what has been going on for years – that’s where the real story is, and Cameron could be in trouble too.

    Private Eye was leading. As usual.

  • Stephen – I think you may mean Clive rather than “Roger” Goodman, who as it happens was arrested once again yesterday, this time over police bribery allegations.
    Nick Davies has almost singlehandedly navigated us to this watershed. I’m not sure I’d call it Watergate: the Woodstein analogy is apt though, albeit that Richard Nixon had to deal with a hostile congress rather than cowardly courtiers during his six years in office.
    How long has the UK had to put up with Mr. Murdoch, by the way?

  • Let’s hear it for the Guardian – The paper that supported the Lib Dem’s in the election and the natural home of Lib Dems voters.

    Except that never happens does it – no, all we seem to hear from Lib Dem members these days is how awful the Guardian and their readers are and how they are the natural enemy seeking to undermine the party.

    I’ve never come across a political party where so many of its members think that its voters are the enemy.

  • @Steve: I’ve never come across a political party where so many of its members think that its voters are the enemy.

    A large number of LibDems have been dizzy with the shock of being in government and so eager to make the Coalition work that they have temporarily lost their moral compass and are prepared to do anything to appease the Tories. This included designating any disaffected left-of-centre LibDem voters (such as myself) as “Labour Trolls”. Any mention of the harsh results of cutting so quickly on the poor, sick/disabled, elderly, etc. was not welcome; indeed it was just a “tough decision” to be made while the bankers and klepto-class continued to laugh as they blackmailed us all. It wasn’t a “betrayal of the platform you ran on”, it was “the reality of being in government.” And any mention of the Tories’ untrustworthiness was met with “howls of ‘B-B-But Labour..’ completely ignoring the fact that the person complaining was often a fellow LibDem (or LD voter).

    And here we are, over a year later. The Tories have been in power for 14 months and they are already facing allegations of sleaze. They’ve been shown to have been very economical with the truth during the election: we’re getting an unwanted wholesale top-down reform of the NHS. Most universities are charging £9,000. Sick and disabled people, as well as the unemployed, are being persecuted and blamed for the failures of casino capitalism. We’re involved in another foreign war which we cannot afford. Energy prices are going through the roof (yet profits are up); even some formerly comfortable middle-class people will soon have to choose between keeping the kids fed or keeping the kids warm. Add to this all the fact that the economy is starting to flatline and it is no wonder consumer confidence has died..

    But, hey, CEO pay is up again, oil and power companies are making bumper profits, the bankers’ blackmail worked and the teachers wanting a decent pension are, as usual the scum responsible for every ill known to man. This is a Tory government in all but name. The current allegations of sleaze regarding Cameron’s decision to hire Coulson (which was nothing but incompetent) is going to tarnish you be association. You have good reason to leave the Coalition: why would you want to be involved with or associated with Tory sleaze & corruption? As it is, you already are perceived in the North of England, Scotland and much of Wales as the same as Tories.

    This coalition is not in the interests of the people, and it is also no longer in the interests of the LibDems.

  • Whats the difference between UK and Italy? In Italy the politicians own the media. In the UK, the media still own the politicians. How else can you explain the decision to “delay” the decision on the BSkyB takeover, rather than making that decision in the negative?

  • I can’t believe it – our MPs have between them grown a pair. The ridiculous sight of Yates being asked whether he had taken money was too much though – from a man who has been censured on multiple occasions for taking undeclared payments. You couldn’t make it up.

  • Yeah, but the Lib Dems would have polished Murdoch’s helmet if they thought there was even a slight chance that he’d back them…

  • Terry Gilbert 21st Jul '11 - 12:20am

    If Lib Dems wanted Murdoch’s backing, we’d have joined Tory or Labour.

    The reason I’ve spent almost 3 decades putting stuff on paper and putting it through people’s doors is to build up a party that didn’t have to rely on arrogant and ruthless people like him. It’s no coincidence that he’s in trouble while neither of his favourite political parties have a majority.

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