Very Investigative Journalism

J. Edgar Hoover became head of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924. That organisation became the FBI in 1935 with Hoover still in charge, and he continued in post for a staggering 48 years until his death in 1972. Although Hoover built up the Bureau into a large and powerful investigative body, his tenure was controversial. Presidents F. D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon all considered dismissing him, but somehow no-one ever quite got round to it.

For decades, Hoover denied that there was any large-scale organized crime syndicate in the United States, and preferred to investigate “subversives”, ranging from Soviet agents and real would-be revolutionaries to political liberals and human rights activists. It was rumoured that the Mafia held blackmail material on Hoover which protected it from too assiduous investigation, which would be ironic if true, given Hoover’s own methods.

There is a persistent story that Hoover was gay and/or transvestite, although there is no real evidence. When retired KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin “defected” after the fall of the Soviet Union, his extensive archive of copied documents revealed that a Soviet plot to discredit the United States included a campaign of allegations of homosexuality against J. Edgar Hoover. (And also the creation of conspiracy theories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, some of which still circulate today).

The reason for Hoover’s unlikely long time is office is supposed to be his extensive files of embarrassing information on politicians and officials. In the light of his known behaviour, this seems plausible, and a certain amount of confirming information did emerge after his death. (Such as his offer to a Senator to suppress the information about his daughter’s hard drug use.)

I was reminded of this theory about Hoover’s illicit power when I read about the surprising lack of interest by police and politicians in thoroughly investigating the phone message hacking at the News of the World. Yes, there was a court case, and two men went to jail, but that seems too narrow and specific for what we already know about the scale of the scam. For example, it seems that there was access to the private messages of John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister at the time. When the police discovered that, they, er, forgot to tell Prescott. Well, he was only a senior government minister. It could hardly be important.

Presumably, it’s not an accident that the list of names on hacked message mailboxes includes the most senior police official involved in the investigation, as well as many of the ministers and politicians with an interest in it.

The editor at the time of the hacking was Andy Coulson, who “took responsibility” by resigning, although he has always denied knowledge of illegal behaviour at his newspaper. Of course, there are only two options: either he genuinely did not know what was going on, and is therefore incompetent; or he is a lying, scheming bastard who should be in jail. In fact, he is in 10 Downing Street as the Prime Minister’s press secretary.

The newspaper, the News of the World, is part of the huge media empire of News Corporation. Quite by coincidence, Coulson’s new boss, David Cameron, was flown by private jet in 2008 to meet his then-current boss, Rupert Murdoch, on his yacht in the Aegean. (Cameron dutifully registered the free flights for himself and family as a gift worth £30,000.) Murdoch is always keen to meet important people, but the subject of discussions is never revealed. In the UK, NewsCorp’s ambitions include having the BBC broken up or emasculated, and the powers of Ofcom reduced (such as they are). Quite by coincidence, the latter organisation was referred to by Cameron in a speech in 2009. He said, “With a Conservative Government, Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist.” We await details, and any news on “reform” of the BBC.

There has been little reference by the BBC News to recent allegations that Coulson took an active part in the phone message crimes. (First made by the New York Times, a competitor to NewsCorp’s US publications.) Of the UK television stations, only Channel 4 made much of an issue of the affair, including raising the very same question that occurred to me: can NewsCorp control politicians and officials (and BBC executives?) with the unspoken threat of releasing damaging or embarrassing information? Hoover-style blackmail, in other words.

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