Hack Attack by Nick Davies - book review


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The Independent Culture

That two more former News of the World journalists were charged this week with phone-hacking is a sobering reminder that the story told in Hack Attack is not yet over. As the reporter who first sought to expose the full extent of criminal activity at News International’s then flagship title, Nick Davies has a unique view on the events that unfolded after he began his investigations for The Guardian in 2008. He also knows how to weave a compelling tale.

Interestingly, the book doesn’t dwell on two of the primary outcomes of the hacking saga: the Leveson inquiry and the recently concluded trial of Andy Coulson (guilty), Rebekah Brooks (not guilty) et al. That is a relief, given the wall-to-wall coverage both have generated in the past three years. Instead, Davies takes a longer view, explaining how immorality and criminality became simply a way for some red-top reporters to get the job done. He is not interested only in phone-hacking but in the development of a wider culture, created by invidious bullying, in which drugs, sex, and alcohol apparently fuelled journalistic misbehaviour. 

News International is presented as a company where everything was (and, in its new guise as News UK, still is)  about power, the tone set by Rupert Murdoch. Davies’s account of how Murdoch and his dysfunctional lieutenants ensnared, enslaved, and frightened generations of politicians is blistering. His unpicking of Scotland Yard’s early failure properly to investigate phone-hacking is terrific – and depressing. (It should be noted he is critical too of my former employer, the Press Complaints Commission.)

Yet just as his enemies at News International were creating power networks, so, to a degree, was Davies: seeking out friendly cops, sympathetic politicians and clever claimant lawyers. He recalls sending a text message to Tom Watson MP during a Commons select-committee hearing to prompt him into asking a particularly important question. He talks of “plotting” and “allies”.

Davies may be on the side of the just. But he is as ideologically driven as those he despises. In the end, his real target is  neo-liberalism, which “has reversed hundreds of years of struggle” and undermined the protection offered by democratic governments to ordinary working people. The consequence is that, while it is a great read, Hack Attack’s outlook sometimes feels a little too black and white: you are either with us or against us.

Will Gore is Deputy Managing Editor of the Independent titles and was formerly Director of External Affairs at the Press Complaints Commission.