On the evening of July 2, just before the Hackgate scandal took a devastating new twist, the 'Chipping Norton set' were at their leisure in the home of Elizabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud.
The complete set includes a glittering array of PR and media executives, politicians, and people whom, in a less innocent age, we used to call capitalists. Peter Mandelson, Steve Hilton (Cameron's policy adviser), Robert Peston and Jeremy Clarkson of the BBC, Newscorp chief executive Rebekah Brooks, and Tory education minister Michael Gove were among those present. This gathering of the doomed has a glittering, gilded-age feel - but also a lurking tawdriness. They're like the rich in Diego Rivera's mural for the Rockefeller building, partying in obscene opulence, while the syphilis cell floats menacingly over their heads.
What exploded the next day was a lesson not only in tabloid morality, and the decline of the newspaper industry, but in ruling-class cohesion. Andy Coulson, now a former PR adviser to David Cameron, was editor of the News of the World while it engaged in systematic hacking of phones belonging to politicians, celebrities and members of the public. This much had been known since 2005, with detail accumulating since then to undermine the paper's "one rotten apple" story to explain the phone hacking. Cameron nonetheless employed Coulson, reasonably expecting that the scandal would not reach a critical mass if it hadn't already done so.
But on July 3, it emerged that the paper hacked into the voicemail messages of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler. Worse, the paper had deleted messages on the phone when it noticed the inbox filling up, in order to leave space for more newsworthy materials. The result was to give the parents false hope that Milly may be alive and deleting the messages herself. As if to bring the disgrace to a natural climax, the paper then sent reporters round for an exclusive interview with the family about their hopes. This was just a little bit less forgivable than snooping on celebrities.
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