By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.
There’s an old saying, which Scots still exchange with each other, usually humorously: “Aweel, ye ken noo” – well, you know now. It harks back to when Scots life was dominated by the stern Presbyterianism engrained into it by Calvin’s disciple, John Knox: when direct, personal accountability to God was at the center of the faith, and the Church of Scotland, the “Kirk,” policed the morals of society with enthusiastic rigor. “Well ye ken noo” was the generic cry of the godly to the un-godly, faced with the prospect of the fires of hell, having ignored the warnings of the faithful in a life of dissipation.
Well, we ken noo.
We are everyone, but above all we of the British journalistic persuasion. We learn every day a little more about the practices carried on in the name of journalism by some of our colleagues in News International — a trail of abuse that started with hacking the mobile phones of the royal princes, spread to celebrities, to politicians and their aides — and in the last two weeks to murder and terrorist victims and their families and to the sick child of a former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown — whose bank and tax records were, also invaded (News International has disputed Brown’s charges). We learn all this — and today will bring more — but we learn a large lesson as we do.
We learn that there is a difference between knowing, and “knowing.”
For example, we “knew” — or those of us interested in these things “knew” — that Saudi Arabia hated and feared Iran. We knew they did when a Wikileaks-leaked cable of April 2008 described a meeting between General David Petraeus, then the senior military commander in the Middle East, with King Abdullah — at which the King urged U.S. military action against Iran, while the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, spelled it out – “he told you to cut off the head of the snake.”
A friend told me recently that, as a young woman in the seventies, she “knew” she faced some hidden, some overt and even some illegal discrimination against her because of her sex. But the full extent of the sexism only became clear to her when radicals in the feminist movement and the trade unions, made an account of these discriminations and began to campaign against them — and in doing so, changed much of the world for her and later generations of women (and men: we had to get it, too).
Similarly, we in journalism here “knew” that policemen were bribed — I saw it happen in a minor way, once, and though shocked, I said nothing, did nothing — and we “knew” that the tabloids played it rough and got information in devious ways and had few if any inhibitions about invasions of private life. But now we know — we see the full extent. Some — the Guardian carries much of the credit — made a full account. We’ve been forced to really know and contend with what thought we already “knew” about the nature of tabloid journalism.