Two months ago the branch of the Murdoch empire that publishes the Sun paid substantial damages to Sienna Miller after she sued the newspaper for hacking her phone and other forms of illegal intrusion.
Miller insisted she had wanted the case to go to trial so that she could, as she put it, ‘expose the criminality that runs through the heart of this corporation’, but – as the court system permits – the company offered her so much money she was obliged to settle.*
This week Prince Andrew also avoided trial in the United States by the same means. Like the Sun, the prince closed down the case against him by paying a lot of money, without any admission of guilt.
In the case of Prince Andrew, the Sun was disgusted, outraged and in no doubt at all about what really happened. ‘Fallen Prince’ was the headline on its editorial:
‘So much for Prince Andrew’s claims of his total innocence over 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre’, the editorial reads.
‘So much for his adamant and repeated denials to the nation, including in his disastrous 2019 TV interview.
‘Now he has bought off a sex abuse victim . . . using a seven-figure fortune the Royals will claim is theirs – though the public won’t see it that way and neither do we.’
Andrew, it continued, had ‘paid hush money to keep one of the vile pair’s [that’s Jeffrey Epstein’s and Ghislaine Maxwell’s] most wronged victims from detailing in court her claims that he had sex with her three times, she in her teens and him over 40.
‘A man truly determined to clear his name of such heinous allegations would have fought tooth and nail . . . and then, if he won, tried to rebuild his life. That is all over.’
There can be no doubt from this that the Sun believes that, by settling out of court with a woman who made accusations against him, and by paying her a lot of money, Andrew has proved his own guilt. The money was ‘hush money’, Giuffre was ‘bought off’, and the objective was to hide ugly facts from public scrutiny. That’s the way the public saw it, and that’s the way the Sun saw it.
How different from the Sun’s treatment of the Sienna Miller case.
For a start, the paper did not report that settlement at all, let alone let rip about it in its ‘The Sun Says’ column – thus preventing its readers from seeing the story and denying them the chance to form a view of whether the payment was proof of guilt.
Nowhere did the Sun declare that a newspaper ‘truly determined to clear its name of such heinous allegations would have fought tooth and nail’.
Nor did the paper – so quick to put two and two together where Andrew was concerned – draw what must appear the equally obvious conclusion from its own payment of ‘hush money’ to Sienna Miller (and to others, for that matter).
Yet the record shows that the Murdoch corporation preferred to ‘buy off’ Sienna Miller and still does not admit phone hacking by the Sun.
Once upon a time it insisted that hacking was just the work of ‘one rogue reporter’ – until it was forced to admit wholesale criminality at the News of the World and close the paper down in shame. At that point, a new line was drawn and ever since the Murdoch case has been that it was just one rogue paper and the Sun was clean.
But what the Prince Andrew case makes plain beyond all possible doubt is that the argument that the Sun did not hack phones is one that the Sun itself would now dismiss out of hand. With a lofty sweep of the hand, it would declare: ‘That is all over’.
* Why did she have to settle? If a complainant refuses a big offer and insists on a trial the courts may then make the complainant pay the defendant’s trial costs. Miller might have faced bills in the millions.
Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London and the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)
This post originally appeared in the Byline Times and is reproduced with permission and thanks