Yet Coulson did not disappear. He became communications director for David Cameron and moved into 10 Downing Street. All was forgiven until it gradually emerged that other reporters and another editor were involved in the phone-tapping. The net was drawing closer. How could the editor Coulson not know where his stories on celebrity love lives, politicians’ indiscretions, and royal princes’ cavortings originated? If he did not know, he was at best careless not to ask. (I’ve never worked for an editor who did not demand to know the source for front-page stories. Some of the best, including a few television-news executive producers, would send you back to the source for reconfirmation and demand second sources before risking publication.) Whether culpable or negligent, Coulson had to go. As an experienced spin master, he chose to depart on the day Blair testified. If all went well, the newspapers would highlight Blair’s discomfiture and relegate Coulson to the back pages.
Even as a spin master, Coulson got it wrong. He knocked Tony Blair off the front pages. Having scored Coulson’s head, the non-Murdoch press is demanding to know why the police officer who should have investigated the case became a Murdoch newspaper columnist. They also want to know who else at News of the World was involved and whether the phone-hacking originated on Coulson’s watch or that of his predecessor and now Murdoch’s vicar on British earth, Rebekah Wade. As the sharks circle closer to Wade, Murdoch must wonder if his own staff has been telling him the truth.
Meanwhile, the government is considering Murdoch’s latest bid to increase his near-monopoly of media control. He’s seeking to jump from a minority stake in the country’s sole satellite broadcaster, BSkyB, to full ownership. Then he can bundle his newspaper, television, and Internet paywall packages to put his rivals out of business. But if his local CEO caused a phone-tapping scandal that is still costing his British company millions of pounds to settle lawsuits, one can argue that such a company should not be allowed to increase its British media presence. Murdoch has flown to Britain to settle matters and has offered concessions to the government in exchange for them not referring his attempted BSkyB purchase to the Competition Commission. It can’t be easy for a man accustomed to obsequious politicians such as Tony Blair. Still, he must count himself fortunate not to be Alan Johnson.
Johnson was a minister in the Labour government, a working-class lad made good and by all accounts a decent man. The new Labour leader, baby Ed Milliband, named him his shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer—basically, Treasury Secretary-in-Waiting. The fact that Johnson knew nothing about the economy quickly became apparent when he failed to answer simple questions about sales-tax rates and other items that all consumers who do their own shopping know. There were calls for Johnson’s head, but Milliband stood by him. Then, on the day Blair faced further disgrace and Coulson scurried out of Downing Street, Johnson resigned. The reason was not his financial illiteracy so much as the fact that his wife had been having an affair with the policeman assigned to protect her while Johnson was in office. Poor Alan.
After reading about them, I don’t mind turning sixty. I only hope I survive the big lunch with about forty family members and friends that my sons are giving to mark (not celebrate) the day. In Britain, someone else will undoubtedly disgrace himself to keep my old age off the front page.
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