In February 2008, the Guardian journalist Nick Davies went on to the Today programme to talk about his book, Flat Earth News, an examination of the “scale and origins of falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the media.” Mischievously, the programme’s producers had put up as Davies’s interlocutor Stuart Kuttner, then managing editor of the News of World and a man whose reputation for ruthlessness went before him.
When Davies began to enumerate the “dark arts”, often criminal in nature, employed by certain tabloid newspapers, Kuttner moved quickly to head off any criticism of the paper he worked for. “If it happens,” he said, “it shouldn’t happen. It happened once at the News of the World. The reporter was fired; he went to prison. The editor resigned.”
The reporter in question was the News of the World’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, who was found guilty of intercepting phone messages left by members of the royal household. The editor was Andy Coulson, who, by the time Davies and Kuttner locked horns on Radio 4, was working as communications director for the then leader of the opposition, David Cameron.
When Davies left the studio, he received a phone call from a man who told him that phone hacking at the News of the World was widespread and not, as Kuttner and his employers had maintained, the work of “one rogue reporter.” Thus began the story that would eventually lead to the closure of the News of the World, Lord Leveson’s inquiry into the “culture, practice and ethics of the press” and, finally, the imprisonment of Andy Coulson himself.
I caught up with Davies in London recently to talk to him about his new book, Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up With Rupert Murdoch, in which he describes in riveting and kaleidoscopic detail just how the story unfolded.
JD: This book, like your previous one, Flat Earth News, is about the dysfunctions of journalism in this country. How do you see the connection between them?