1. It’s a PR World

It used to be that the newspaper report would say “The police were tipped off about the whereabouts of the gold bullion”. And in Evelyn Waugh’s, Scoop, that sort-of journalist William Boot, who hoped to go to Ishmaelia as a spy but ended up being sent as a journalist, finds that “Now he had something under his hat; a tip-off straight from headquarters, news of high international importance” (Waugh, 2003: 101), Boot might have found a red under the bed.

Tip-offs make the world go round; they are a flow of secret knowledge. Imagine this as a tip-off story: the police tip-off a bunch of journalists about the coming arrest of an ex-journalist for possibly having hacked a phone to get a tip-off to write a scoop. The police employ an ex-journalist who hacked a phone for a tip-off in order to better manage their public presence and this ex-journalist is mates with another ex-journalist who has the ear of the PM. The police know the journalists who know the politicians who know the police. They’re tipping-off to their hearts content, from behind the smokescreens of public relations who keep on saying no-one knows about this tip-off circle.

2. Strategic Ignorance

Murdoch, R., Murdoch J. and Brooks, R. appear before a Select Committee of elected MPs to explain phone hacking. The Chairman and CEO of NewsCorp, the Chief Executive of Newscorp and the Chief Executive of News International and former newspaper editor know nothing now and knew less then. They’re shocked and horrified, but they deny. They employing “strategic ignorance”, Linsey McGoey’s compelling phrase to describe the

“feigning of ignorance – whether deliberately or unconsciously, collectively or individually [which] answers the twin demands of appearing transparent while wielding control over the very information one has an interest in concealing.” (McGoey, 2007: 216-7)

There’s no unequivocal bliss to be had in ignorance though: responses on twitter either mock or are horrified by the vacuum of control implied by the NewsCorp/NewsInternational ignorance position.

3. The Art of Asking Questions

We’re used to interviews now. We’ve all been interviewed: by our future bosses, by our GPs, some of us by the police, and some of us by social scientists (see Mike Savage (2010) for a discussion of how respondents of early interview-based research projects seemed flattered to be asked to give their views). We’re used now to having our views and experience sought out, and there’s no doubt that Yates, Stephenson, Murdoch, Murdoch and Brooks interviewed in Select Committees yesterday have been questioned before.
Fewer of us have experience of asking questions, and not all question-askers are skilled – however many episodes of tv shows about sharp lawyers we might watch. Tom Watson MP and his short, sharp questions based on detailed preparation gave a masterclass in expert interviewing, of pushing the respondent towards revelation. Louise Mensch MP (for example) gave us words, lots of words, assertion and opinion: a grandstanding questioner doesn’t produce excitement .

References

  1. McGoey, Linsey(2007)’On the will to ignorance in bureaucracy’, Economy and Society,36:2,212 — 235.
  2. Mike Savage (2010) Identities and Social Change in Britain since 1940: the politics of method Oxford, Clarendon.
  3. Waugh, Evelyn (2003 [1938]) Scoop Penguin.