No Wonder They Hired Andy Coulson

Amid news that News Corp is playing games with its BSkyB bid (and even that Murdoch might sell News International entirely), the Guardian reports that Gordon Brown, like everyone else in England it seems, was hacked by “journalists across News International.”

Journalists from across News International repeatedly targeted the former prime minister Gordon Brown, attempting to access his voicemail and obtaining information from his bank account, his legal file as well as his family’s medical records.


Separately, Brown’s tax paperwork was taken from his accountant’s office apparently by hacking into the firm’s computer. This was passed to another newspaper.

Brown was targeted during a period of more than 10 years, both as chancellor of the exchequer and as prime minister. Some of the activity clearly was illegal. Other incidents breached his privacy but not the law.

So here’s a question I’m mystified that no one is asking.

A couple of Liberal Democrats are now reporting that, after having received non-public briefings on Andy Coulson’s role in the hacking scandal, they warned David Cameron not to hire Coulson as his spokesperson. But Cameron ignored those warnings.

The crisis engulfing David Cameron over phone hacking deepened on Saturday as Paddy Ashdown revealed that he had warned No 10 only days after the general election of “terrible damage” to the coalition if he employed Andy Coulson in Downing Street.

The former Liberal Democrat leader, who had been extensively briefed on details that had not been made public for legal reasons, was so convinced that the truth would eventually emerge that he contacted the prime minister’s office.

Ashdown, a key player as the Liberal Democrats agonised over whether to join in a coalition with the Tories, told the Observer that, based on what he had been told, it was obvious Coulson’s appointment as Cameron’s director of communications would be a disaster.

“I warned No 10 within days of the election that they would suffer terrible damage if they did not get rid of Coulson, when these things came out, as it was inevitable they would,” he said.

Isn’t it possible that Cameron insisted on hiring Coulson because of his role in the scandal? That is, is it possible that, either before or after the election, Coulson shared some of this intelligence–which we know included personal information about Gordon Brown–with the Tories for political advantage?

46 replies
  1. merkwurdiglieber says:

    There is no other reason for the hack or the hire. That is the tradecraft of Murdoch and his politics here as well.

  2. Fractal says:

    Isn’t it possible that Cameron insisted on hiring Coulson because of his role in the scandal?


    It’s not only possible, it’s probable. Cameron and the Tories suborned felonies by Murdoch Inc. and Scotland Yard in order to gain power, just like they did under Thatcher. The Tories have deliberately, repeatedly used a criminal syndicate to expand their political empire.

    The only real question is why Blair did nothing about it. Did Blair use the same criminal syndicate to force the UK into a criminal war? Is Phone-Hacking-Gate really just a sideshow to a military coup which drove the UK into an illegal war in Iraq?

  3. SaltinWound says:

    Sorry about that. When I look at my account today, it gives me an identity other than SaltinWound, along with the activity of another user, but then it posted okay.

  4. Brian Silver says:

    Uh-oh, SaitinWound, could it be that NoW has hacked FDL?

    Marcy, I think a safer assumption is simply that Cameron knew his only route to the PM role was to curry favor with Murdoch personally. And he may well have hired Coulson for that general reason, without thinking in the concrete terms that you suggest.

    That said, the more I read about this scandal (and The Guardian is the best source, I think), the more it seems that this government is on the brink of falling and they are now bailing water (with both Cameron and Clegg speaking critically of the BSkyB deal, etc.).

      • WilliamOckham says:

        I am not sure why Cameron hired Coulson, but I’m sure the answer to that question will be a key to the rest to this story. Maybe he was just trying to buy some protection from Murdoch. Maybe he wanted somebody as “connected” as Coulson. Any way you slice, it looks to cost Cameron severely. I think he, along with everyone else assumed Murdoch and his cronies were untouchable.

        On a side note, I’m wondering what sparked this whole mess off now. The really explosive details have been known to some folks in the UK for years.

        • ANOther says:

          What is new is the revelation that hacking was not confined to politicians and sports stars but to a missing little girl (who had been murdered so it turned out) and the families of those killed in the 7/7 bombings. This is by the reporter who broke the story.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          I am not sure why Cameron hired Coulson, but I’m sure the answer to that question will be a key to the rest to this story.

          And the got its final scoops last week it seems.

          And the BSkyB deal was in its final phase.
          So something about the BSkyB must have triggered other things behind the scenes, I suspect.

      • Brian Silver says:

        That’s what I surmise, too.

        The things that are most interesting for U.S. politics in this involve the risk to Murdoch’s man in charge of the Dow Jones Co (Hinton) and the nominal person in charge in UK, Murdoch’s son. If both of those people were taken out in an investigation (possibly in both cases for perjuring themselves or for knowing things that they failed to act on), then who’s left to run the store — on both sides of the Atlantic — for the old man? I’m waiting to see if there are implications for FoxNews.

        This Guardian column is suggestive of possible chips to fall:

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          The things that are most interesting for U.S. politics in this involve the risk to Murdoch’s man in charge of the Dow Jones Co (Hinton) and the nominal person in charge in UK, Murdoch’s son.

          I actually think that it is *potentially* much — and I mean MUCH – bigger than that.

          I ‘second’ Wm Ockham’s question about ‘why now’…?
          I missed the bit about how the news of Milly Dowling’s phone hacking happened to become public this week; I assume that it the work of Nick Davies and the Guardian. (I think that was the final breach in the wall.)

          But I think this is potentially far larger than we can get our heads around.

          Consider – Nicholas Shaxson’s superb recent book on tax haven abuses (“Treasure Islands“) points out that News Corp has hundreds of tax subsidiaries, about half of them in the Anglo part of ‘the spider web’ — offshore banking, shadow banking system.

          A commenter at Yves’ Smith’s NakedCapitalism over the weekend left a comment to the effect that it was/is ‘rumored’ that a lot of Russian and Arab money goes to News Corp — however, that person left no attribution or links to support that statement. I mention it here in case anyone around here has links… If that is true, then what I find striking is that if I were a Russian oiligarch, or an Arab relying on petroleum and legacy energy systems, News Corp support would be a good way to fund my bullshit, pseudo-science guyz and galz telling the US public that global warming is a ‘hoax’. In other words, via tax havens, I’d easily be able to hide my underwriting of all the global warming denier media bullshit. And Murdock would have made it easy for me.

          So I think that this has huge implications for governments on both sides of the pond, for the role of media and the way it will (or won’t) be constrained, for personal (vast) fortunes, for information flows, and for climate and environmental policies on both sides of the pond.

          Murdock owning and gelding the WSJ is the least of it.
          (And just to add a digression, this has to be good for Pearson, which owns the Financial Times. They’ve been doing some interesting coverage to back up the’s superb reporting.)

          I think this has huge implications for the legitimacy of Cameron’s government, and it would not surprise me if Cameron takes a wobble because of not only hiring Coulson, but his good relationship with Brooks and Murdock.
          This appears to be a key moment for Clegg, who seems to be the only guy not chummy with the Murdocks and their little circle.

          Observe also that it was Clegg’s said-to-be-mentor, Paddy Ashdown, who came right out and stated that he’d warned Cameron off Coulson. The Lib Dems seem to have somehow evaded Murdock’s control and frankly that appears to be a key advantage.
          (FWIW, another juicy bit: Ashdown is known as ‘Paddy Pantsdown’ for past indiscretions, but one now wonders just how did the tabs get the inside info about the dropped pants, eh…?)

          But I think this News Corp criminality has potentially a lot of leakage.
          Basically, we’ve got:

          — The spectre of the cops as a racketeering outfit (as Fractal points out).
          — Then add onto that the racketeers are stealing from the national Police Database — so anyone whinging on about Wikileaks has some serious credibility issues after this revelation about the cops using the national database to spy on their own Sec of Exchequer.
          — Add on to that the confirmation that Blair was Murdock’s poodle.
          — Then add to it all that Cameron appears to be Murdock’s Poodle Of the Moment.
          — Add in that Murdock has been a key player in all the global warming denialism that has been spewed on Fox in US, so this is a new glimmer of hope for breaking up the poisonous, lying bastards who are holding us all hostage to Big Oil.
          — Add in that if anyone has the cajones to start asking why this bastard Murdock doesn’t pay taxes to support schools, the cops he pays off, the local governments of all the millions who buy his tabloids — the very same Murdock-owned tabs that are bleating what Murdock’s Poodle Cameron was dishing out, “Austerity! Austerity!”…

          Climate scientists across the globe should hope like hell that Nick Clegg and Milliband, with a verrrry reluctant Cameron, nail Murdock’s hide politically, legally, and financially.

          And the biggest winner here might be… Hugh Grant ;-))
          Oh, and the
          And if Clegg plays his cards correctly, the Lib Dems.
          And the rest of us, who need the global warming deniers put back in their box and ignored as loons.

          • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

            Add on to that the confirmation that Blair was Murdock’s poodle.

            Sorry, should have added that Murdock helped Blair screw Brown, it begins to appear. Quite interesting to see this all spilling out.

            Also, as someone noted, there’s been a lawsuit now put in Delaware (that little tax haven island in US) against Murdock for nepotism and no end of bad management at News Corp. Nice to see the markets and the attorneys start to wade in.

          • thatvisionthing says:


            And the biggest winner here might be… Hugh Grant ;-))

            and George Michael:

            Oh and check out ‘Hugh Grant on Question Time’……my new hero! not my type, you understand, but still my hero ……
            11 hours ago

            lead me to The Guardian and Kevin McKenna:

            Hugh Grant, the actor who plays English people in Hollywood, was appearing on Question Time to discuss the News of the World phone-hacking imbroglio with assorted politicians and commentators. Now he was fixing Douglas Alexander, our shadow minister for international development, with the kind of stare which has been known to cow Colin Firth and Simon Callow. “Douglas,” said Grant, “you made the point that the whole thing was obscene and you sounded terrific… but was it not the fact that you were at Rupert Murdoch’s party three weeks ago?”

            Alexander had been at his unctuous worst while baiting some Tory ministerial oaf a few moments earlier. Now he looked like he was wishing he had gone to see Bridget Jones’s Diary instead of attending that night class on Labour’s post-war agricultural policy.

            which leads me to youtube:

            Question Time – Hugh Grant – Were You Not At Murdoch’s Party Three Weeks Ago? [07.07.2011] – 1,527 views

            and others posted by NOTWPhoneHacking (176 videos posted), like:

            Question Time – Hugh Grant – ‘I Smell A Rat’ [07.07.2011] – 1,764 views
            Question Time – Hugh Grant & Jon Gaunt Row – ‘Keep It In Your Trousers’ [07.07.2011] – 8,340 views

            but the one with the most views is:

            Question Time – Hugh Grant – NoW Closure ‘Cynical Manoeuvre’ [07.07.2011] – 30,841 views
            HOST: And our first question, from David Johnson, please.
            DAVID JOHNSON: Is the closure of the News of the World a cynical attempt to insulate the rest of News Corporation from the fallout over phone hacking?
            HOST: Is it a cynical attempt to insulate the rest of the business, Hugh Grant?
            HUGH GRANT: Yes.

            (I don’t have TV, so this is news to me)

      • Fractal says:

        The most blatant quid for Murdoch’s quo of helping the Tories win the elections would be the payoff to Murdoch Inc. of approving his takeover of British Sky Broadcasting (“BSkyB”). Murdoch needed Coulson on the inside to ensure no obstacles were put in the way of News Corp. buying the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own. If (IF) the BSkyB takeover is in fact killed by the Tories & Lib Dems, Murdoch would have no further incentive to support the coalition govt. What then?

        It seems consistent with Murdoch’s criminal business model that he would demand that one of his criminal agents be hired into the top of the new UK govt he helped elect. NoW hired several convicted felons after they were released from multi-year prison sentences and promptly employed them to bribe Scotland Yard and spy on at least one Scotland Yard detective who was investigating one of them [the ex-felons] for murder. Rebekah was notified by Scotland Yard in a face-to-face meeting with that detective and his boss that the Yard knew her NoW spies were surveilling that detective. Another Murdoch paper The Times hired the former Scotland Yard police asshole who covered up the phone hacking in 2006 or 2009 (or both times), who then promptly wrote columns for The Times discounting the scale and criminality of the phone hacking.

        It is not subtle or vague: UK public are now convinced Murdoch Inc. and Murdoch and his son James and their precious Rebekah are criminals & thugs. Soon they will realize that the Tories are equally criminal for aiding & abetting Murdoch, hiring his criminal agent as the communications director for the entire Conservative Party in 2007 as it prepared to run against the Labour Party, then hiring his criminal agent to be the PM’s personal communications director at No. 10 Downing Street.

        • emptywheel says:

          Yeah, but when Fox needed Bush to raise ownership levels here to 39%, he didn’t (AFAIK) do something similar–he just trusted his bought politician (though at that point the GOP did balk for a period).

          Maybe that’s why Coulson had to be there–to make his bought politicos behave even better than they otherwise would.

          • Fractal says:

            Coulson had to be there–to make his bought politicos behave

            Yes. That’s what I meant.

            Could you fill us in on the Fox ownership levels? I don’t remember that.

  5. SaltinWound says:

    Maybe I am wrong, but I feel like we have more secrecy here than in England. If things like this are happening over there, what are the chances they are happening here but we do not know? Is there reason to believe the New York Post is clean? The Wall Street Journal. I feel like I did when Iceland failed. Like we are next.

    • rosalind says:

      if Public –

      * Officers of the Metropolitan Police
      * Employees of Scotland Yard
      * Officials in the Royal Protection Unit

      can be so easily bought off, what hope does our private information have in the hands of private security state contractors?

      • Fractal says:

        All three of those are the same people: Scotland Yard is just the popular name (geographic location) for “the Met” which is the Metropolitan Police. The royal protection squad is a squad of the Met.

        But however it is named, it is now revealed to be completely corrupt. This is evil of a much more dangerous strain. Corrupt cops with guns & search warrants & wiretaps & Internet sniffers. Selling out the safety of members of the royal family (and their friends & associates!). Failing to investigate egregious invasions of privacy by Murdoch Inc. and probably all the other tabloids not owned by Murdoch Inc. What does a country do when its premier police force is discovered to be a racketeering enterprise?

        • rosalind says:

          thx for the correction. i’ll amend my comment to: with the consolidation of the security state under one umbrella, how much more vulnerable we are to bad actors working inside this system.

        • Brian Silver says:

          How about a classic British response: a white paper — to wash everything clean in the end?

          First, of course, all the investigating and prosecuting has to go on, and this will take many months.

          Second, the white wash. But who will survive the first step? So many people have been compromised for such a long time.

          Third, and this may be in reach: the end of the Murdoch criminal empire.

          • thatvisionthing says:

            Can this be the end of Little Rico?

            George Michael twitter:

            Good evening everyone……still basking in the fire thats been lit under News International….very tempted to go out and buy the NOTW so..
            10 Jul

            I could put it to good use, but I’m pretty sure it would leave ink on my backside! BOOBOOM!
            10 Jul

            (h/t Rosalind @11 :-)

  6. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    If he didn’t need info Coulson already had, maybe he wanted someone like Coulson who who do this sort of thing for him.

    Having someone willing and able to violate other privacy for your cause might come in handy.

  7. scribe says:

    Compare, e.g., Dick Cheney’s running the 2000 VP selection process: “Here, Mr. Hopeful. Fill out this long form detailing all the crap in your life so we can be ready for oppo research. Please include all supporting documentation, names, dates and places.”

    We’ve still never seen those notebooks, have we?

    That’s the utility of having a Coulson on the payroll – you get the information but not the baggage of the objects of the surveillance knowing you have it.

  8. rosalind says:

    the singer George Michael has some interesting insights on his tweeter feed from his personal experiences with the Murdoch Inc. spy machine (start at 18 hours ago)

    (and woo-hoo, numbered comments are back! thx backstage busy bees!)

  9. Fractal says:

    In addition to following the UK Guardian liveblog, I highly recommend tuning in to the streaming video for “ParliamentLive” (MS Silverlight required). David Miliband the Labour leader hammered the coalition govt’s culture secretary over the BSkyB deal, other Labour members ridiculed the (absent) PM David Cameron. Also would be good practice for following the huge debate & vote scheduled for Wednesday to stop News Corp. entirely from taking over the remainder of BSkyB (and perhaps force it to divest the 39% it owns now).

    • thatvisionthing says:

      Hey everyone, back from the studio. Listened to talk radio on the way home. My God , David Cameron was too scared to go to the commons today
      5 hours ago

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I’d say you’re right, the odds are good that Cameron hired Coulson because he was Karl Rove in spats, because he wasn’t a “prude” about adhering to legal or ethical standards, and because he would fall on his sword for the big guy – if and only if he was taken care of – a kind of end of Godfather Part II deal.

    Cameron is defending Coulson despite revelations about the NoW’s illegal behavior during his tenure, in part because that would be the deal, in part because admitting error has been removed from the smart politician’s playbook, except about the least consequential things or only when admitting surprise and stupidity.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Regarding the current press attacks on Gordon Brown, I suspect it is more than the narcissistic Tony Blair getting even with a competitor. After all, Blair overshadowed Brown since university and was his leader for decades in Parliament and government. Brown supplanted Blair as PM only served briefly and has largely left the political stage. Brown is, of course, a complainer in the Murdoch hacking scandal.

    More likely, the media campaign involving Blair and is a stalking horse, an example of what could follow for Cameron and others should they become too vigorous in their pursuit of truth, justice and the English way when investigating Rupert the Bold.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Oh, and I suggest that the hacking at NoW was not at all limited to increasing its circulation. That would have been a happy consequence, useful to business analysts and journalists, and to the bonus pool for a handful of NoW managers. Its principal purpose was more likely to have been as marketing research.

    That’s not to say that illegal blackmail needed to be their primary goal. Coulson, at least his sponsors, would have been more subtle. As with more obvious lobbying, gaining political approvals for business deals is more lucrative and carries less risk. The BSkyB deal is only one of many; it could make billions directly and amplify an already global media presence. The ability to bend national and multi-national regulatory structures is also significant. That affects many deals and avoids policies that could haunt Murdoch and his businesses. Unlike Obama, Murdoch really does play eleventy-dimensional chess.

    • lysias says:

      Murdoch has also been interested in getting the BBC’s funding cut. And the Cameron/Clegg coalition has indeed cut it quite a bit.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      l regulatory structures is also significant. That affects many deals and avoids policies that could haunt Murdoch and his businesses.


      As for the referring BSkyB to the regulatory commission, there’s another view that claims that was taken to put this on the shelf while public passions cool down, then grab it off the shelf and approve it at a later, quieter time.

      But if that happens, then shame on Labour, Lib Dems, and anyone who wants to avoid a world in which media barons like Murdock pull far too many strings, while being tax avoiders into the bargain.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This description of the NoW’s serial attacks on Gordon Brown is probably typical of a Murdoch assault:

    The sheer scale of the data assault on Brown is unusual, with evidence of attempts to obtain his legal, financial, tax, medical and police records as well as to listen to his voicemail. All of these incidents are linked to media organisations. In many cases, there is evidence of a link to News International


    The BSkyB deal has been referred to regulators, which is quite a blow.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      It’s from April!

      The bugger, bugged
      Hugh Grant
      Published 12 April 2011

      Him…Historically, the way it went was, in the early days of mobiles, we all had analogue mobiles and that was an absolute joy. You know, you just . . . sat outside Buckingham Palace with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and get Prince Charles and everything he said.
      Me Is that how the Squidgy tapes [of Diana’s phone conversations] came out? Which was put down to radio hams, but was in fact . . .
      Him Paps in the back of a van, yes . . . I mean, politicians were dropping like flies in the Nineties because it was so easy to get stuff on them. And, obviously, less easy to justify is celebrities. But yes.
      Me And . . . it wasn’t just the News of the World. It was, you know – the Mail?
      Him Oh absolutely, yeah.

      • thatvisionthing says:

        Me So everyone knew? I mean, would Rebekah Wade have known all this stuff was going on?
        Him Good question. You’re not taping, are you?
        Me [slightly shrill voice] No.
        Him Well, yeah. Clearly she . . . took over the job of [a journalist] who had a scanner who was trying to sell it to members of his own department. But it wasn’t a big crime. [NB: Rebekah Brooks has always denied any knowledge of phone-hacking. The current police investigation is into events that took place after her editorship of the News of the World.]

        (Me: When was that note added? Was there a police investigation in April?)

        The Hugh Grant tapes – New Statesman, 14 April 2011
        After the transcript, the recordings

  14. thatvisionthing says:

    This part’s for ew:

    Me So they all knew? Wade probably knew all about it all?
    Him […] Cameron must have known – that’s the bigger scandal. He had to jump into bed with Murdoch as everyone had, starting with Thatcher in the Seventies . . . Tony Blair . . . [tape is hard to hear here] Maggie openly courted Murdoch, saying, you know, “Please support me.” So when Cameron, when it came his turn to go to Murdoch via Rebekah Wade . . . Cameron went horse riding regularly with Rebekah. I know, because as well as doorstepping celebrities, I’ve also doorstepped my ex-boss by hiding in the bushes, waiting for her to come past with Cameron on a horse . . . before the election to show that – you know – Murdoch was backing Cameron.
    Me What happened to that story?
    Him The Guardian paid for me to do it and I stepped in it and missed them, basically. They’d gone past – not as good as having a picture.

    (me: The Guardian paid?)

    Him …So basically, Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election . . . So that was my submission to parliament – that Cameron’s either a liar or an idiot.
    Me But don’t you think that all these prime ministers deliberately try to get the police to drag their feet about investigating the whole [phone-hacking] thing because they don’t want to upset Murdoch?
    Him Yeah. There’s that . . . You also work a lot with policemen as well . . .

    • thatvisionthing says:

      (me: is this the death of sovereignty/governance thing again?)

      Him I mean – 20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms? . . . And what’s wrong with that, anyway? It doesn’t hurt anyone particularly. I mean, it could hurt someone’s career – but isn’t that the dance with the devil you have to play?
      Me Well, I suppose the fact that they’re dragging their feet while investigating a mass of phone-hacking – which is a crime – some people would think is a bit depressing about the police.
      Him But then – should it be a crime? I mean, scanning never used to be a crime. Why should it be? You’re transmitting your thoughts and your voice over the airwaves. How can you not expect someone to just stick up an aerial and listen in?
      Me So if someone was on a landline and you had a way of tapping in . . .
      Him Much harder to do.
      Me But if you could, would you think that was illegal? Do you think that should be illegal?
      Him I’d have to say quite possibly, yeah. I’d say that should be illegal.
      Me But a mobile phone – a digital phone . . . you’d say it’d be all right to tap that?
      Him I’m not sure about that. So we went from a point where anyone could listen in to anything. Like you, me, journalists could listen in to corrupt politicians, and this is why we have a reasonably fair society and a not particularly corrupt or criminal prime minister, whereas other countries have Gaddafi. Do you think it’s right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government? Whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen in to you now are – is it MI5 or MI6?

      • thatvisionthing says:

        Me Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
        Him Yeah. Yeah. It’s more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah – friends and family is something that’s not as easy to justify as the other things.

        • thatvisionthing says:

          Me So, have you been leant on by the NoW, News International, since you blew the whistle?
          Him No, they’ve kept their distance. I mean, there’s people who have much better records – my records are non-existent. There are people who actually have tapes and transcripts they did for Andy Coulson.
          Me And where are these tapes and transcripts? Do you think they’ve been destroyed?
          Him No, I’m sure they’re saving them till they retire.

          I love a transcript.

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