Essays: Deborah Orr and Timothy Garton Ash |
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Deborah Orr and Timothy Garton Ash


Murdoch in the Rue Morgue

Over recent years I have had, every day, an ample urge to throw the Guardian into the trash-can five minutes after I started reading it. George Monbiot alone would be enough to make me want to start a fire with the damned thing. But amongst the commercials for ga-ga left political suicide and climatological flim-flam there has always been some writing too brilliant to neglect. Much of it has been provided by Deborah Orr. Always worth reading on any subject, she was never more so than on the single magic day, July 14 2011, when she and Timothy Garton Ash, in the same paper, said what needed saying about the overnight collapse of the Murdoch empire.

Her summary of the moral issues involved at the basement level of Newscorp journalism could not be just the culminatory study of an ethics course, it should be the beginning of it. Don’t start from Aristotle, start from the case of a clever woman like Rebekah Brooks finding reasons to ruin the life of a little boy with cystic fibrosis. I like to think that I myself, so luckily free from ever having to take my piratical compatriot’s poisoned shilling, spoke the truth about Murdoch when I dared, but this, from Deborah Orr, was a truth that I would not have known how to state. It takes a special kind of talent, in which style and sensitivity find a blend.

From Timothy Garton Ash, veteran producer of some of the lastingly essential books on Europe’s velvet revolutions – he not only wrote the scenario for some of them, he was part of the cast –we expect political wisdom as a matter of course. But perhaps his finest attribute is that after such early triumphs he has not grown tired of providing it. He has gone on without faltering to give us a civilized and necessary commentary about world events. Even his most casual piece is about twice as wise as the average editorial in the paper he writes for, and nobody sensible has ever quarrelled with him except when all of those of us in love with Ayaan Hirsi Ali shouted at him for slighting her. He apologised with disconcerting speed. In all other respects he has remained impeccable, but once again, like Deborah Orr, he never wrote better than he did on the magic day of Murdoch’s irreversible undoing.

Garton Ash says that for all the years of Murdoch’s unchallenged influence, everyone was afraid. Even when, like me, they didn’t work for him and thus should have had nothing to fear, they tended not to speak up when abused because they didn’t want to spend the rest of their lives in court. As even that lumbering thug Robert Maxwell knew, he who controls the court’s time controls the battle. But when Garton Ash analyses how fear works even on those paid to be fearless he is doing a lot better than pointing out the obvious, and he is being really creative and original -- two things it is possible to be only when you have a highly developed sense of history – when he suggests what amounts to an equivalent, I think, of the Allied Control Commission after the collapse of Nazi Germany: a complete reconstruction of the relevant laws in order to take account of the crisis and ensure that it is not repeated.

Between them we see, in these two articles on this crucial issue – and both articles were turned out on the spot, in less time than it takes an academic to sharpen his pencil – the vital work of a free critical press in two of its main complementary layers, each of them likely to be weak if not buttressed by the other. Deborah Orr brings the story home to its first essentials, in the soul of a stricken boy. And Timothy Garton Ash raises it to its universal significance, in the history of our time and times to come. My congratulations to both of them. And to young journalists who visit this site from every country in the world including those still suffering under real tyranny: this is what you have to do if you can. Start here.

Click here for Article by Deborah Orr

Click here for Article by Timothy Garton Ash

TV Column by Clive James