“Early in 1982, ten months after he had taken over The Times and The Sunday TimesRupert Murdoch went to see the Prime  Minister, Mrs Thatcher. They shared a problem: it was me. I was editor of The Times and Murdoch’s difficulty was how to dispose of me.”

 ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, Harold Evans (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, 1983)

Fast forward 30 years…it might be Rupert’s turn.

Harold Evans was a brave and conscientious editor of The Sunday Times when it was a great, compelling and fearless Fleet Street newspaper. Among his achievements are the creation and dynamic development of their investigative team, Insight. Using energy and talent on behalf of children stricken by latent effects of the toxic Thalidomide drug – a sleeping pill that pregnant mothers had used before the children were born, resulting in limbless babies and many hundreds with chronic deformities – the Insight Team exposed and challenged the pitiful compensation that families involved had received. It also sought to inform readers of the objective, evidence based realities of how the pharmaceutical company that manufactured and distributed the Thalidomide drug reacted to the terrible and delayed reaction of their monstrous and widely used pill. Within the scope of their investigation was intense examination and analysis of the legal machinations on this intergenerational disaster – the position of the Courts and the paucity of the advocacy on behalf of the prescribed poison’s victims. Evans and his staff were driven by the magnitude of their sense of professionalism and responsibility to society. They were acting solely in the public good and in the unadulterated pursuit of justice and recompense for suffering children and parents.

Fast forward 30 years and we’re at another turning point. The demise of The News of The World and the circumstances of its destruction are a continuation of the process that Murdoch set in motion back in ’81 with his acquisition of the Times broadsheets and subsequent dismissal of Harold Evans. That such towering newspapers succumbed to substantially diminished credibility, authenticity and authority was an incremental, and at times subtle, process. Murdoch had an agenda of intense engagement and promotion of both Thatcher in the UK and ‘showbiz Ron’ in the US, and Evans did not fit this mould, this new realpolitik. Would Evans have allowed the Insight Team to become cheerleaders for Milton Friedman and run away, unchecked corporate power? I think not.

Would Harold Evans have allowed The Sunday Times to obfuscate and mislead over Iran Contra and ignore the systematic destruction of the Roosevelt and Beveridge initiated social reforms in public health and education – defining elements of the social contract of the post WW2 era? Well, ask the victims of Thalidomide.

At one end of the chronology is analysis, context and enquiry; at the other…propaganda, churnalism and the stench of sleaze.

Hope versus fear. We deserve the former.

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