Book review: Nick Davies’ Hack attack

No, this book is not about computer hacking. If you’re interested in that, skip reading and head for other blogs and sites. Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack” is about the phone hacking scandal, British media, the victims, the culprits.

Yes, this scandal happened a few years ago. The book covers the story from about 2008 till 2011, though unethical media behaviour was already taking place during the ’90s. The last page of the book refers the reader to  a website. But this website is no longer updated as most trials have ended – years later.

Book cover hack attackYou may therefore conclude this scandal and book are old news. Perhaps, but this does not mean the book should not be read. It reads like a detective story, or as a book giving you an insight in how some media operated – and likely are still operating today, and not only in the UK.

In some books I read, interesting or shocking sentences or paragraphs are marked with pencil in the margins. It only happens that many pages and mostly not at all. None of the nearly 450 pages of this book lack pencil marks, exclamation marks, double or triple lines in the margin next to whole paragraphs or even pages, as well as plenty underscored words and sentences. Things were that shocking to me.

What victims had to go through to get some justice done, is simply unbelievable. In many cases, they gave up. For it was not just lawyers they had to face time and again – and find the money to pay their own. Victims who dared to take legal action, ran the risk of getting flamed in the papers and on the papers’ websites, again and again

It is bad enough to have your private life invaded and then published – including any fabrications and lies journalists and the media deem suitable to increase sales, readers, viewers, hits. Imagine having to go through the whole process several times, the moment you seek justice. Moreover, legal cases were not “over and done with” in days. Some took years. Small wonder many victims did not fancy lengthy legal battles and stopped procedures or settled out of court.

What is especially galling: so many who were probably aware of what went on and far more involved than they ever admitted to the public, lawyers, judges, Parliament – got off lightly. Some private investigators, a few journalists, some editor were convicted. News of the World was shut down by its owners, as an act of damage-control.

David Cameron promised the Press Complaints Commission would be replaced. The Leveson Inquiry which resulted, was a kind of farce compared to what had happened. Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police rid themselves of a few corrupt officers. Ethics hit the headlines – for a very short while.

The book will certainly help you understand the scandal, if you did not follow it too closely or not at all. It gives you some insight in how politics and press operate these days. A few reviewers rightly remarked that this is the best account of what took place.

In case you think this scandal was a typically English one, rethink. It was not limited to the UK. Certain media the world over undoubtedly used similar tactics and means to get scoops. It is likely certain media the world over still do. Cynical? This book will leave you with a dim view of certain journalists and media.

If you are interested in journalism and media, this and Nick Davies’ “Flat Earth News” are obligatory reads. Where his “Flat Earth News” gives an insight in how papers work these days, “Hack Attack” is an excellent example of investigating journalism concentrating on one particular story.

Written by an expert, the book reads like any absorbing thriller. There simply are not enough hours in a day as you race through its over 400 pages. The book starts with a list of names of the “main players” which takes up three of its pages and is no luxury. This book’s three parts, sixteen chapters and author’s note will keep you spell-bound. Its epilogue was criticised by a few reviewers and the appendix only lists private detectives who worked for certain papers, but by then you have finished the story this book covers.

As for some of the main characters in the book … January 2016: Rupert Murdoch is preparing for yet another marriage and James Murdoch has been reappointed chairman at Sky TV.

The victims of the scandal? One can only hope they managed to piece together some kind of life after what they went through.

“Hack Attack, how the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch”, Nick Davies,Vintage Books London, paperback ed, 444 pp, edition used published in 2015.

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