Just as it would be hard to explain why some fires start slow and some blaze immediately, predicting which stories will catch on and be replayed and expanded and which don’t is not an exact science. Some stories spread, well, like wildfire and others splutter and crackle without really catching and then, suddenly, woomph…they’re fully alight.
So it has been with the allegations of widespread phone-tapping at the News of the World. A story has entered the nation’s saloon bar and water cooler conversation when it provides the joke for a Matt’s daily cartoon.
Because Andy Coulson, the NoW’s editor at the relevant time, is now the Prime Minister’s spokesman, much of the coverage has been fitted to one of the iron templates of political reporting: will he stay or will he be forced to resign?
This isn’t exactly a distraction, but it isn’t quite the big long-term issue either. For all the diligence of the reporters of The Guardian and New York Times who have been driving this story, the single widest revelation of phone interception (and “blagging” confidential information) commissioned by journalists came the Information Commissioner in 2006 and derived from discoveries made during a police investigation into a private detective, Operation Motorman (see para 27 here). The staff of the News of the World may yet be revealed to have done more phone “screwing” than any other paper; but they were hardly alone.