Hack Attack by Nick Davies, book review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

Hack Attack captures a picture of bullying and nepotism that should be absent from a democratic society

In his first-hand, panoramic account of the hacking scandal from 2008 to the present day, Nick Davies artfully draws the connections between Murdoch’s newspaper group and the officially powerful, and their corrosive impact on the public’s interests.

After investigating a £1m hush payment by Murdoch’s News International to a hacking victim in 2009, the investigative journalist came up against a wall of official obfuscation and deceit. Hack Attack is especially good in tracking the sustained and intractable obstruction of the Metropolitan Police.

He sets out too the threats of retaliation against himself, his editor Alan Rusbridger and The Guardian (absent is the parallel campaign of unsuccessful intimidation against The Independent).

Mulcaire was just one of dozens of ghosts in the machine. An appendix lists 41 private detectives who worked – some legally – for Fleet Street newspapers, and their specialisms. Many of these characters were previously unknown. Davies captures the use some of this information was put to: not just for stories, but threats against politicians and other policy-makers.

His set-pieces – a close-up of Andy Coulson’s dirt-digging, back-stabbing newsroom and Rebekah Brooks’s wedding in 2009, attended by anyone who was anyone in Britain (240 people) – are breathtaking. In captivating imagery, he muses that, while it took a small band of lawyers, politicians and journalists years to smash down the company’s fortifications, once the outrage of summer 2011 had dimmed, the public’s advance was washed away by the incoming tide “like sandcastles”.

Murdoch’s power was sometimes deployed subtly, often brutishly. In essence, Davies writes, the scandal is about the “everyday occurrence of a natural exchange of assistance between those who occupy positions in society from which they can look down upon and mightily affect the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women…”.

We have “the casual arrogance of a group of people who take it for granted that they have every right to run the country and, in doing so, to manipulate information, to conceal embarrassing truth, to try to fool all of the people all of the time”. Hack Attack captures a picture of bullying and nepotism that should be absent from a democratic society.

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