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Simon Jenkins opens his Diary

6 August 2011

12:00 AM

6 August 2011

12:00 AM

Simon Jenkins opens his Diary


Would you come on the programme to put the other side on the phone hacking? There is no other side. We need someone to, well, sort of, answer critics of News International. Not me. But the producer
is desperate, what do you think about phone hacking? I think it is illegal.

I must have had this phone conversation every day for the past two weeks, usually with the BBC. These are eerie times to be a journalist. The whole profession seems tainted and I search for silver
linings. My paper, the Guardian, is rightly applauded for exposing what we all knew was going on but never quite said. The media as a whole deserves credit for calling itself to account,
ham-fistedly but devastatingly. In addition, everyone is better off when someone pokes the dunghill of the body politic and shows the muck seething inside.

Beyond that, the story went crazy. Famine in Africa, chaos in the eurozone, the collapse of the American budget, all vanished from sight. Major reforms to the planning system and public services
were ignored. By midweek, the BBC was up in arms over the latest ‘new low in the hacking scandal’. This turned out to be the unsurprising news that a News of the World investigator had
the number of a phone given by the paper to Sara Payne, to help its reprehensible campaign to hound reformed paedophiles. So what? The revelation of dubious goings-on between journalists, the
police and politicians is a good story, but not three weeks of story. Meanwhile under the carpet was swept a real ‘new low’, the paltry fine levied on the titles involved in the
ruination of an innocent schoolmaster during the Bristol architect murder case. That really harmed someone, but because all the tabloids were in it together, we saw hardly a mention.


To my publishers to check the index of a forthcoming book on English history. I was always told, do your own index, but in this case I had no time and learned my lesson. The indexer decided,
Wiki-style, to assume everyone with the same name is the same person. Hence a certain John Smith was credited with founding Jamestown, Virginia, and leading the Labour party. Better still was
the entry for ‘Ridley, Nick, member of Thatcher cabinet, page xxx, burned at the stake, page xxx’.


To the BBC, not for hacking but for Matthew Parris’s Great Lives, on that most engaging of architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens. Appearing too was another Ridley, his biographer, Jane Ridley,
discussing whether his unhappy marriage to Emily Lytton helped or hindered him in his work. The answer was helped, but not for the obvious reason. Emily’s infatuation with theosophy and
distaste for society left Lutyens free to dine out and graft for work. He would try to persuade every lady he found next to him that she had to have a new house. Before the meal was over he would
be sketching on the table napkin, adding terrible puns like, ‘What fun do monks have? Nun.’ Lutyens was the last of the great historicists, leavening classicism with humour. But he
embodied the iron law that no man is so rich that some architect cannot bankrupt him.


To Cambridge for Mary Beard’s grand debate on the future of Pompeii. The Italians took a terrible pasting for their neglect of the site, leading to the recent collapse of the House of the
Gladiators, though the collapse turned out to be of a concrete roof from a previous restoration. I argued for full-scale, aggressive restoration, in alliance with the admirable author, Caroline
Lawrence, who has brought Pompeii to life for children. She is a true radical, wanting a Pompeiian Disneyland for those not blessed with ‘a trained archaeological imagination’. Since
its uncovering in 1749, Pompeii has been half rebuilt over and again and takes a terrible punishment from tourists and the elements. What is the difference between an ancient site half rebuilt and
vulnerable to erosion and collapse, and one wholly rebuilt and secure? The answer is a fad, for ruins.


I conceded defeat and went to the BBC at White City for one final bout of phone-hackery. The soon-to-be-closed Television Centre is like the Vatican with Goths and Vandals at the gates. The
cardinals have fled and only a few acolytes remain, roaming the empty corridors and calling down damnation on Murdoch and Sky. The cafeterias are deserted and green rooms that once thronged with
cabinet ministers lie unused, with cans of beer warming in the cupboard. The west London air echoes only to voices crying, ‘Hacking, hacking, has anyone anything more on hacking?’ The
place has gone completely mad.

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