Hackgate: Deluded MSM loves a story about itself

The self-obsession of the mainstream media has been revealed yet again by the Coulson and Brooks affair. By far the biggest lesson is that Hackgate was both symptom and cause of the end of the old media

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Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson
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the commentator
On 25 June 2014 06:48

So Andy Coulson is guilty and Rebekah Brooks isn't. Speaking of the latter, the Telegraph's Peter Oborne on Sky News's Sunrise show on Wednesday described the saga as one of the greatest stories of our time. The trouble is that most people in Britain would be hard pressed to identify either Coulson or Brooks if they walked through their front door. The delusions of the Westminster bubble strike again.

But let's be clear, in one sense this is an important matter. Criminality in the press affects the life of the nation. You don't have to be an angel to be a journalist, but if your job is to hold people in public life to account, it helps if you're not actually a crook.

It's just that the mainstream media -- which always loves a story about itself -- has failed to grasp what is really at stake or why the hacking scandal happened in the first place.

Teaser: who agrees that the really big story about the media this year was the MSM's failure to close down UKIP at the European elections? We'll come back to that in a moment.

First, let us cut to the chase on Hackgate. The real issue at the core of the hacking scandal was that it represented both symptom and cause of an old-style media in its death throes.

So desperate was the old media to hold on to its declining position in the face of the digital tsunami that a culture grew up in which literally anything was viewed as permissible so long as it held out the prospect of halting the seemingly inexorable fall in sales. It is quite believable that Rebekah Brooks didn't know what was going on. She didn't have to. Neither did her counterparts in other newspapers.

It was enough that journalists, operating in an industry where mass job losses were becoming commonplace, knew that they just had to get that story, by whatever means necessary. To be sure, there has always been an element of this on what is still somewhat ludicrously called Fleet Street. But by the mid to late 2000s, never in living memory had the atmosphere been so fraught.

And savour the irony of it all: the new technology that made this scandal possible was the very technology that was driving the old media into the ground and thus contributing to the atmosphere of desperation that helped cause Hackgate in the first place.

That is the truth about this affair that dare not speak its name, at least not among most inside the MSM. The old print media is dead man walking. Its power, along with its sales, is disappearing, and it's not coming back. Which brings us back to UKIP.

That was the big story of the year for the media, not Coulson or Brooks, or Hackgate. From the Telegraph to the Guardian, they tried to close UKIP down, and they failed. A decade ago they might have succeeded. But the rise of the digital media in all its forms means that the old media has lost control of the public space.

To say that the MSM remains in denial about this reality would be an understatement. In a sense, the obsessive over-coverage today of the hacking saga -- splashed all over the front pages to the exclusion even of Iraq -- may be seen as a plea by the MSM still to be taken seriously. "Look at us, look at us. We're still important. We matter," they seem to say.

One really doubts whether most people care any more. Yes, we repeat, there is an issue to discuss here. But the deference towards the MSM and its luminaries has largely gone. For most people, it's not such a big deal. All those front pages seem destined quickly to be turned over as those readers who still bother with the print versions look for something more interesting.

And that, perhaps, is the takeaway point from this matter. The old media won't go out with a bang. There won't be fireworks. There won't be a fight. It'll just gradually and quietly fade away. Not because we're outraged by their behaviour, but because we're bored by it.

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