Rupert Murdoch was “humbled” by the News of the World
phone-hacking scandal. Today it was British Prime Minister David
Cameron’s turn to eat humble pie for employing a former editor of the
paper, Andy Coulson, who resigned as his communications chief last
January as the scandal grew.
The main players are all saying variations of “Not me, guv,” talking about the benefits of hindsight and "If I knew then what I know now.”
But Cameron’s position is looking increasingly shaky. He has repeated that he is accountable for employing Coulson, who told his boss that he had nothing to do with the illegal phone-hacking while he was editor from 2003 to 2007. "If it turns out I have been lied to, that would be a moment for a profound apology, and in that event I can tell you I will not fall short," Cameron told MPs.
But this is no longer just a matter of the prime minister’s judgment. Today he faced questions over whether he talked to News International executives about the Murdoch bid for complete ownership of the BSkyB pay-TV channel — a bid that was dropped last week after Murdoch shuttered the News of the World.
When pressed by MPs, Cameron was evasive about his contacts with News International about the BSkyB bid while prime minister. He had had “no inappropriate conversations” with the company. Given the prime minister’s close ties to the former head of News International (former News of the World editor) Rebekah Brooks, this is an area where Cameron’s position is looking increasingly vulnerable.
Cameron went on the offensive as he defended the conduct of Coulson while in office, comparing him favorably with Gordon Brown’s disgraced communications chief Damian McBride and Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell. He also mentioned Tom Baldwin, a former journalist from the Times, part of the Murdoch stable, who is Labour leader Ed Miliband’s current communications chief and who has himself been accused of handling illegally acquired material.
Cameron’s attacks on the Labour opposition highlighted the extent of Britain’s disastrous culture of spin. As one MP pointed out in today’s parliamentary session, there is an urgent need to restore confidence in politics, the press and the police in Britain, whose reputations have all been sullied by the fallout from the phone-hacking scandal.
But Cameron has serious questions to answer about BSkyB. He will not be able to get away much longer by answering “uurgh.”