Category Archives: Baseball

The Passage of Sporting Time – The Last We See of Derek Jeter?

I used to feel that the retirement of one’s sporting heroes was a sign of ageing.

I remember when Borg quit, for the first time, almost as if, having finally lost to McEnroe at Wimbledon, the game was over. I pass over his quixotic and unsuccessful comeback.

Geoffrey Boycott retired having accumulated over 100 first class hundreds, and having broken the Test career scoring record. He succeeded, I think, in aggravating more people in cricket than anyone since Douglas Jardine, but his single-mindedness and determination allowed him to reach heights that more talented batsmen failed to approach. He was once dropped from the England team for scoring a double hundred too slowly! There followed many years after his retirement when England would have given anything for a player to score 200.

Kenny Dalglish finally moved from the playing field where he could never stop being successful to the dugout, where he initially continued that success, both at Liverpool and Blackburn.

With golfers it is different – they never seem to retire, instead they fade away to uncompetitiveness, but still get their massive cheers as they go down the 18th fairway at the Open. But Seve Ballesteros, wonderful Seve, did not survive to head into his later years to that acclaim. He remains alive in the minds of Europe’s golfers, as seen by his undoubted presence at the Ryder Cup. And anyone who was privileged enough to have been at St Andrew’s on the final day of the 1984 Open to see Seve hole his put on the last to win, and go into his fist pumping celebration, before they became commonplace, and to see the broadest smile ever to light up a sporting stage, will never forget the moment or the man. Continue reading

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Filed under Baseball, New York Yankees

The Rangers in Historic Collapse!

Fantastic stuff tonight on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra as the Oakland Athletics finished a fantastic comeback to overhaul the Texas Rangers and win the American League West, and to be in first place in the Division for the first time at the very end of game number 162.

Texas was five games up with nine to go, and no MLB team has lost such a lead before.

I’ve always had a liking for the Athletics, even before Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” book, which made a popular hero of Billy Beane, who was later portrayed in the film version of Moneyball by Brad Pitt. Continue reading

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Filed under Baseball, Texas Rangers

Can Blogs Like Rangers Tax Case Take Over from Mainstream Media?

Today on the Rangers Tax Case Blog, there has been some detailed and interesting discussion about the nature of journalism and how blogs such as that might take over from the mainstream media as far as coverage of news is concerned.

It seems to be a law that any blogger, after blogging for a while, has to write a Meta piece about blogging, so her I go fulfilling my statutory obligation!

I have taken the liberty of copying the comments from RTC which inspired me to write this, and they are at the end of this piece.

I recently attended a Scottish Press Club meeting at which James Doleman spoke. James was responsible for the excellent Sheridan Trial Blog.

During the trial of Tommy Sheridan for perjury James attended court every day and wrote detailed and balanced reports of the day’s proceedings, at all times making sure he did not fall foul of the rules of contempt. Even the most assiduous newspaper could only produce a fraction of his output, and the comments on James’ blog, like the comments on RTC, provoked much thought and analysis.

James’ blog was, quite rightly, highly acclaimed and as I understand it is used generally as a source by writers now in connection with the events of the trial, rather than any mainstream media accounts. Therefore one would expect him to be an ardent advocate of new media.

He was not, and this is the fear for blogs like RTC and the future of reporting. He mentioned that at his peak he was getting 25,000 to 35,000 hits per day on the blog (James, if I have underestimated that, then feel free to correct me!) He pointed out that the main newspapers, even at the lower end of the scale had a far wider readership, and as for TV coverage, this reached hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Therefore whilst those who read his blog were almost as well informed as the judge and jury, the vast majority of the public and professionals relying on MSM were dependent on what the media fed to them. James posited that the press had a common view, formed unconsciously, and that it was very difficult for any one reporter to go “off message”. In addition, the reporters were working within the possibly blinkered view of their employers, and there is more than one anecdote about press men watching an incident being told by their editor far away that the event is not happening!

Therefore those “in the loop” were well informed – and those outside, including in fact some reporters who popped in to court when a “juicy” witness was in the box, were not.

“Old media” no longer have the will or resources to have a reporter sit all day, every day, in court or the Parliament. As was mentioned earlier, “reporting” has been dropped in favour of “news gathering” and “churnalism” as Guardian journalist Nick Davies says, is rife. PR companies can get their puff pieces into newspapers almost verbatim as this fills a space and keeps some celebrity or special interest group onside. The ultimate fear is having access cut off, as happened to the Herald and BBC with Rangers and also as between Sir Alex Ferguson and the BBC.

James Doleman said that, if there was money in it, he would have been delighted to sit in the High Court for every high profile case and provide the same service. However, there is not, and not just would the press refuse to send a reporter of their own to sit in for the whole duration of a case, but, as I understand matters from sources I have, they would not be prepared to pay to host an equivalent of James’ blog for any upcoming cases.

I think that RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain have done wonders bringing the Rangers Tax case, and related stories, into the public domain. However (and I do not have access to either party’s web stats) I am sure that any article by the “usual suspects” in the press would have an enormously bigger readership.

None of the above is to say that bloggers, like RTC, or journalists, like Phil, should stop. In fact, the reverse. There is a danger however in thinking that the coverage is reaching far wider than it actually is. Take a full Ibrox or Parkhead. How many fans (by definition people with more than an average interest in these matters) will be aware of RTC or Phil, and how many will understand what the tax case means for Rangers? That is before we get on to the even more esoteric topics of UEFA licences, when is a tax bill overdue, how late can it be left to appeal a tax assessment and whether a reference to “disqualified within the last five years” refers to the expiry of the sentence or the date of “conviction”.

Some years ago we entered a time of great peril for newspapers and traditional media. Even the smartest, like Rupert Murdoch, have struggled to cope. His brilliant success with Sky TV has overshadowed a number of failures as he attempts to adjust to a 21st century business model. The Times newspaper going behind a paywall apparently cut its readership by 90%. Graham Spiers tweeted today that he is being made redundant by the Times. Redundancy implies that his role is gone, not to be replaced.

The Herald too seems to be heading behind a paywall too. One suspects that the hard working and dedicated journalists there will not benefit from this. Instead, in an effort to keep their jobs, they will find themselves forced to produce more and more copy, with the result, as mentioned in the posts below, that “investigative” reporting will become a thing of the past.

The journalist Charles Lavery wrote an excellent piece last week about the blind alley up which much of the media has travelled, due to its obsession with sport and “celebrity”. This contributed to the excesses now being pored over by Lord Justice Leveson.

We are in a state of flux. As the mainstream media loses its battle, there are literally thousands, if not millions, of “citizen journalists” contributing to the web. Most see very little interest, but an occasional few, like RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain find topics of interest to many, and write about them so well that they attract more and more interest. But a hugely successful blog post will probably be read by less people than see an article in the Hamilton Advertiser!

Someone somewhere will work out how to turn what bloggers, and journalists with blogs, do into a money making pursuit. However, the only “successful” model so far is to become so attractive to main stream media as a result of blogging that you actually get a job there! Craig Calcaterra is a former attorney in the US. He blogged for some years about baseball, until finally getting a job with NBC to blog about baseball. He gave up the law with nary a second glance.

For every Craig, there are thousands of people like me, who blog because we want to, and who might, in their wildest dreams, imagine the editor of a major paper of magazine snarling to his minions “Get me McConville (or insert the name of the blogger – not everyone thinks about me, I am sure) – and give him the biggest office in the building, with a huge salary, and an unlimited expense account!”

However, that ain’t gonna happen.

So we plug on – Phil, RTC, Charles Lavery and the like making their serious points to large (by internet standards) audiences; small time bloggers like me speaking to our regular reader (hi!); and “proper” journalists writing pieces of vastly varying quality in accord with the agenda of their respective employers.

Are old media methods of news dissemination on the way out? Yes they are. Are new media methods going to take over? Ultimately yes. However we are stuck between at least two stools just now, and where we end up, no one knows.

So, I will keep going. I hope RTC, and Phil, and Charles, and James and the rest keep doing so, and maybe that gig in the Auchtermuchty Bugle might not pass me by…

Acknowledgements – I would like to thank James Doleman, whose blog encouraged me to pick up my own keyboard, and RTC and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain for opening up and then shining a spotlight upon the biggest Scottish sports story since 1967. I also want to thank Craig Calcaterra – if one lawyer can do it, maybe, just maybe…

Finally I want to than RTC and his commenters, especially the ones quoted below, for the excellent, erudite and civilised debate which has ensured that none of us are on Mr Craig Whyte’s Christmas Card list!

StevieBC says:

04/12/2011 at 4:42 pm (Edit)

Any intelligent, Scottish football consumer will now treat the MSM with the contempt it deserves – and will choose to obtain their information from other sources, such as the RTC blog.

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Private Land says:

04/12/2011 at 5:41 pm

But that’s where they still have the upper hand Stevie. Exponentially fewer people have easy access to this type of media compared to the print and TV stuff.

That’s the Elastoplast I spoke about earlier. They may be a bunch of incompetents. Many of them may be complete tubes. Some of them are corpulent and lazy with no peripheral vision whatsoever. Trouble is that not nearly enough people are aware of that.

Over time perhaps, things will change – but I don’t think that the greater mass of people are ready to shift their media allegiances just yet.

On another pessimistic note, I can’t see unfettered Internet access going unchallenged governmentally if the threat to the traditional media is maintained.

Not that I’m paranoid mind you

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StevieBC says:

04/12/2011 at 6:04 pm
Fair points.

Absolutely, print/TV media is currently most readily accessible. In time that could/should change.
But you could also argue that the people/consumers who currently have the influence/motivation for change are also savvy with current technology. [Yes, I do like to be optimistic sometimes.]

And I do agree re: unfettered internet access. The ‘copyright/IP’ legislation introduced in the States recently is disturbing. This could very well be abused to restrict internet content – not dissimilar to the abuse of terrorism legislation in the ‘interests of public safety’.

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Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan says:

04/12/2011 at 8:46 pm

Good Evening all,

Can I just add a few comments to the various points made by John?

I was recently speaking to two journalist friends of mine who are man and wife. They work for two different organisations, with one being a fairly senior Editor at one national quality paper and the other being in a senior position for a chain with a number of local titles. Neither works for a Red Top, and both know journalism as their only career.

Both said to me that it was at this time of year when the publishers decide to close offices and make folk redundant in big numbers. It makes the run up to Christmas very stressful whether you are one of the ones that stay or whether you are one of the ones that go. You lose friends and find that your workload is simply increased.

Journalists are not alone in feeling this pressure, nor does it explain the really poor quality of some reporting, as some reporters seem to just go along with, and even excel at the dumbing down of proper news coverage.

There will always be some good journos and some who are rubbish. Worse still are those who write and say (on the radio) whatever it takes to get readers or listeners irrespective of the truth.

Like at least one other poster on here, I used to read papers from cover to cover- especially at the weekends. Now? – Well I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a paper!

As paper sales fall, advertising gets squeezed, and blogs like this one flourish and gain more and more followers, surely those who control newsprint can see that the public are no longer prepared to accept lazy and trivial reporting. Blogs such as this show that the new media, dedicated to specific areas of expertise and interest, bring out all sorts of different expertise and experience from some interesting commentators and contributors. To be honest, I am amazed that no one from mainstream media has, so far as I am aware, sought to contact anyone with input into this or other blogs, where information and views which are germane to the public interest is so readily and easily available.

Mainstream reporting and media is dying and in my view the only thing that will save it is “quality” reporting and reporters. Perhaps I am alone in that view, but if I were to make a pitch for funding for a new newspaper to Sir Alan Sugar or the Dragons in the Den then I would be pushing “quality reporting” as the market to go into.

In the interim the sports guys could do far more to enhance or restore their reputation, and meanwhile good folk like my friends who want to do a proper job wait to find out if this is their time for the chop. Neither thinks they will be in Journalism in 5 years time and both wonder where people in their 50′s with 30 years experience of print journalism experience will find a job outwith that profession.

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Filed under Baseball, Blogging, Contempt of Court, Football, Personal, Press

Sheridan, Coulson and James Murdoch – Lessons from Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?

What, allegedly, connects the former Director of Communications at 10 Downing Street, the former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, the all time home run leader in Major League Baseball, the man hailed as possibly the best pitcher ever to play baseball and one of the leaders of probably the world’s biggest media conglomerates? I hope to answer this conundrum below.

 

Problems with Perjury Cases

It is probably the case that perjury is the important crime most committed, but least prosecuted.

Perjury, to be clear, is, in the law of Scotland, the making of false statements under oath, the statements having to be competent evidence in the case in which they were made, and material to the subject of the case or investigation. There requires to be proof beyond reasonable doubt that the statement or statements are false and that they are made wilfully and there requires to be evidence from at least two sources.

As Alistair Bonnington, former solicitor for BBC Scotland put it in an article  after Tommy Sheridan succeeded in his damages claim against News International in 2006, “Traditionally, we have very few perjury persecutions in Scotland – despite the fact that an application of elementary logic tells you that perjury must be committed every day in almost every court in Scotland in criminal trials.”

Despite this, prosecutions for perjury are remarkably rare, not because it is an unimportant matter, indeed quite the reverse, but because (a) proof beyond reasonable doubt of the charge might be difficult and (b) if an accused person has already been convicted and sentenced, then there might be little or no “public interest” in a further prosecution for perjury. In Scotland the Lord Advocate and Procurator Fiscal prosecute “for the public interest”.

It is far more common to see witnesses, especially in the High Court, punished for contempt for prevarication when, miraculously, all memory of an incident disappears from their mind just as they take the oath in the witness box. Unfortunately, for them, they will often have given a signed statement to the police in the aftermath of the incident, thus rendering their loss of memory less “useful” than it might otherwise have been.

The courts make it clear to witnesses that a wilful failure to answer properly will be met with a couple of hours in the cells “to consider one’s position” and if the witness fails to “purge their contempt” then an appearance before the judge at the case’s conclusion for punishment awaits.

Perjury cases are far rarer, in part because they cannot be dealt with in the same summary way as prevarication.

If suspected perjured evidence results in an acquittal, then a prosecution might be brought, although this would need to be more than an attempt to re-try the original case by other means.

In a civil case, if perjured evidence is advanced to advance a claim, then, depending on the result, the course of justice requires that steps are taken to maintain the dignity of the courts.

It is clearly more serious to invent evidence than simply to answer “yes”, when the true reply is “no”.

 

HMA V Sheridan

 

Perjury is a hot topic in Scotland just now. Tommy Sheridan, the charismatic former Scottish Socialist Party leader and former Member of the Scottish Parliament, was successful in 2006 at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in suing News International, publishers of the News of the World (NotW) for defamation in connection with allegations about his private life. News International is part of the Rupert and James Murdoch empire. Sheridan was awarded £200,000 damages by the jury. This was hailed as a triumph for the working man over the evil press barons.

Four years later Mr Sheridan found himself in the dock at the High Court in Glasgow, charged along with his wife with committing perjury in the original trial. After a lengthy hearing, he was found guilty on certain of the charges and sentenced to three years in prison.

Recent publicity suggest that he has been refused leave to appeal against his conviction, but that he is seeking leave from a second panel of judges, as is normal procedure in the “sifting” process.

In July 2011, following upon the tide of allegations about Andy Coulson (Prime Minister Cameron’s former Director of Communications and former NotW editor) and the NotW “hacking” phones, the Crown Office announced that they had asked Strathclyde Police to look into various matters, including the evidence of certain of the witnesses at Tommy Sheridan’s criminal trial.

It is understood that these witnesses are Mr Coulson, Bob Bird, former Scottish Editor of the NotW and Douglas Wight, one of the NotW reporters involved in the reporting of the story. I have commented at length as linked above re each witness’ evidence. My source material is the excellent Sheridan Trial Blog prepared by the indefatigable James Doleman.

As matters stand, no-one has been charged in connection with this matter and all parties mentioned above maintain their innocence.

Mr Sheridan’s cases are exactly the rare proceedings where perjury proceedings are likely.

The jury at the High Court found that Mr Sheridan had lied about certain specific matters in his earlier evidence. It was not simply that he answered “no” when he should have said “yes” but instead that an alternate reality was created by him and put before the court, successfully as it turned out. I suspect that if he had lost his original claim for damages, no prosecution for perjury would have taken place.

As a comparison, Jeffrey Archer, former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and best-selling writer, succeeded in his libel claim against the Daily Star in 1987, but when it was suggested that he had asked one of his friends to go along with an “alibi” Archer was creating, he found himself in the dock at the Old Bailey in 2001, and after being convicted of perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice, he was gaoled for four years.

It is now being suggested that, in light of the scandals surrounding the NotW, phone hacking, payments to police officers and “missing” emails, there might be further perjury charges in connection with the criminal trial of Tommy Sheridan.

 

Before looking at the issues such a case might raise, I think it is helpful to look across the Atlantic, to the recent perjury trials of two of the most famous baseball players of all time, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Both of them have been tried on charges of perjury and associated offences with differing results.

I make no claim to knowledge of the US system of justice, so have based what I say upon the sterling work of Craig Calcaterra, a former practising attorney, who has escaped from the law courts to be a writer for NBC about baseball (yes, that is jealousy you can hear as you read that). He has written extensively about these cases, most recently at “Hardball Talk” but he wrote at length about them before. Following Bonds’ indictment he analysed the case here.

 

USA v Barry Bonds

 

 

Barry Bonds is the all time leader in home runs in baseball. He passed Babe Ruth and then Hank Aaron. The home run king is a long lauded role in the USA. However, outside San Francisco, where he played for many years, few hold Bonds in affection. He was always a great player but after the excitement of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa “saved baseball” by racing all summer to break the single season home run record, and thus achieving nationwide fame, respect and fortune, Bonds decided that being one of the best was not good enough. He needed to be the best.

Various books, including “Game of Shadows” by Jeff Pearlman, allege that Bonds took advantage of the absence of a drug testing programme in baseball to use steroids from the BALCO laboratory to give him even more strength and stamina. Bonds went on hitting home runs at a rate for his age never seen before, till finally he overtook Hank Aaron. In doing so however, he came across as charmless and egotistical, and was disliked, if not hated, by fans all round the US.

But the seeds of Bonds’ downfall had already been sown.

The US government, in attempting to stamp out illegal drug use in sports, had taken great interest in BALCO. The owner, Victor Conte, ended up in gaol, and several of his clients, including former Olympic gold medal athletes, ended up there too, whether for fraud or impeding the investigation. Bonds, as a suspected BALCO client, was called to testify before a grand jury investigating BALCO. His answers were felt to be misleading, vague, obstructive and prevaricating, and he was in due course charged with perjury.

The legal process ground on and on before finally Bonds went to trial this year. He was acquitted of all perjury charges but found guilty of obstruction of justice in connection with the answers he gave to one set of questions.

As Craig Calcaterra identifies, and this has a bearing, I think, in connection with any case against the NotW personnel here, the problem the prosecutors had was that the answers Bonds gave to the Grand Jury were often vague, off the point and rambling. The questioner failed, generally, to pin the witness down with specific questions. Open ended and rhetorical questions seemed to be the order of the day. Some of the questions did not really look like questions at all.

For example, part of the indictment refers to the following Grand Jury exchange.

Q And you weren’t getting this flax seed oil stuff during that period of time [January 2002]?

A: Not that I can recall. Like I say. I could be wrong. But I’m – – I’m – – going from my recollection it was. like. in the 2002 time and 2003 season.

As mentioned above, it is necessary to show that someone is wilfully telling lies to achieve a conviction for perjury. If the questioning is not specific and offers the witness the chance, for example, to ramble down memory lane, or to offer his opinion rather than facts, then pinning a perjury case can be very hard. The logic behind the jury’s verdict in Bonds’ case whereby he was acquitted of perjury but convicted of obstruction of justice seems hard to understand, and indeed his attorneys will try to persuade the judge that the verdict is perverse and to substitute an acquittal on all charges.

It appears, from reading the transcripts of Bonds’ Grand Jury testimony, that the lawyer for the government was perhaps overawed by the fame of the man he was questioning, or expected that he would confess his use of illegal drugs to order. Instead, Bonds told the Grand Jury he did not know what he had taken, and the only person who could do so, his trainer Greg Anderson, pointedly refused to testify despite repeatedly being sent to prison for contempt. Thus, due to the absence of a forensically focused questioning of Bonds, the chances of a perjury conviction were greatly reduced.

The vast majority of baseball fans in the US believe that Bonds used steroids, despite the absence of proof of failed drugs teats etc.

USA V Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is the pitcher I mentioned above. For over 20 years he was at the top of his game, at an age by the end where very few pitchers remain effective. Throughout his career in Boston, Toronto, Houston and New York Clemens was successful, earning the affection of his team’s fans, and the almost universal dislike of everyone else. Indeed his manner of leaving Boston and Toronto caused him to be alienated from much of his former fan base. However Clemens was hugely successful, driven by a desire to be the best. He won many honours and awards, and was paid a great deal of money.

The US legislature has taken an active interest in the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) in sport, especially baseball. At a previous Congressional hearing, Mark McGwire, who had, as we have seen, broken the single season home run record n 1998, destroyed his reputation by repeatedly stating he was not there to “talk about the past”. The fact that he was there for that purpose led most to believe that he had been a user of PED’s. Rafael Palmeiro, a very successful layer for Baltimore over many years, looked Congress straight in the eyes and stated, complete with pointing finger “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” Within five months he had been suspended for a failed drugs test. His reputation, like that of McGwire was in tatters. Sammy Sosa, the other participant in the home ruin race of 1998 also appeared. He had been born in the Dominican Republic but he had played in the major leagues in the US since 1989, but now, in 2005, he answered questions through his attorney, claiming his English was not good enough. Clearly he wished to make sure he fell in to no traps by answering questions in his second language. However, again, the court of public opinion found strongly against him.

So, having gained a lot of coverage in 2005, the Congressional Committee kept digging.

In 2008 Roger Clemens appeared at Congress on oath, along with his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee.  By this stage Clemens had been named by Senator George Mitchell in the report  he had compiled into PED use in baseball.  McNamee had accused him of steroid use. Clemens had sued McNamee and McNamee counter-sued Clemens.

Clemens, it appeared, insisted on attending Congress to get his message across. He sat before the Committee and denied any illegal use of drugs. McNamee was castigated as a liar and a cheat. Clemens appeared at first to have made his point.

However matters began to unravel soon after. The Committee realised that either Clemens, or McNamee, or indeed both, were lying to them. The committee insisted on an investigation and now, just over three years later, Clemens has appeared in a Washington court room for trial.

As in the Bonds case, the issue is not whether he used PED’s but whether he wilfully lied in saying he did not.

Whilst in Bonds’ case he did not get himself bogged down in detail or specifics, here Clemens was the opposite. He had some things he wanted to say, and therefore he said them. The problem was that lying to Congress is a serious offence. Further investigations took place and Clemens was indicted.

The case started a few weeks ago with jury selection. There appeared to be a greater chance of a conviction, as a result of Clemens having put forward his hypothesis of himself as a non user, than in the Bonds case where he was answering vague or open-ended questions with vague and open-ended answers.

However, on the second day of the trial, which was expected to last for a month, the case collapsed into a mistrial.

The prosecution were bringing in to evidence a video recording of one of the Congressmen at the hearing by playing the tape to the jury. However, he was talking about the evidence of the wife of one of Clemens’ former team-mates, evidence which the judge had already ruled as inadmissible. The tape should have been edited to remove this, and it had not been. The judge had no hesitation in declaring a mistrial and a hearing is due soon to determine if Clemens will again face trial on these charges.

As with Barry Bonds however, prevailing public opinion is that Clemens was a user, whether or not that is actually proved in court.

James Murdoch at the Select Committee

Next we had the pleasure of seeing Rupert Murdoch and his son James appear last week before the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons to answer questions about the phone hacking scandal. Here again the weakness of the questioning system may have allowed wilful errors, if there were any, by the Murdochs to go unpunished. I should say, as a preliminary point, that they were not placed on oath, but “Erkine May” the bible of Parliamentary procedure makes it clear that lying to or misleading Parliament can amount to a contempt of Parliament, which is punishable by Parliament.

The procedure before the Committee is very much in the hands of the Chairman. In this Case Mr Whittingdale, MP, decided that the way to operate was for each member of the Committee to have an allotted period to ask the questions they wanted to ask. Effectively therefore the Murdochs faced 9 or 10 separate prosecuting counsel, all asking questions about different areas. There was however no cohesion in the process, and points were returned to, and gone over more than once, even where it appeared to an outside observer, that the matter had been dealt with already. Each MP on the Committee however wanted to have their chance to question the Murdochs, as was their right, even where that questioning did not really advance matters at all. Only Tom Watson MP, who has been pursuing the phone hacking matter for a number of years, really took the Murdochs through a detailed and logical questioning proves, and it might have been much better if he had been allowed to continue asking questions on behalf of the Committee, but the members were not willing to give up their own chance to interrogate. In fact, the most telling moment of the proceedings, excluding the pie attack on Rupert Murdoch, occurred at the very end, when the Chairman permitted Mr Watson to ask a supplementary question, as I will refer to below.

In contrast, the Home Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Mr Vaz, has taken a far more structured approach with witnesses. Mr Vaz’s practice is to deal with one area at a time, giving the members of the Committee turns to ask about the specific areas identified before moving on to another part of the investigation. This seems to be a more logical way of proceeding, allowing MPs to follow up on and return to issues raised in the answers.

As with the Sheridan case, many of the questions were potted speeches, perhaps designed to be a snappy sound bite for the news, rather than to get meaningful answers from the Murdochs.

There have been various areas in both gentlemen’s evidence which have been looked at, but I want to focus on one.

After the pie incident, and on the completion of all of the questioning, James Murdoch was asked at Q 413 by Mr Watson “When you signed off the Taylor payment, did you see or were you made aware of the full Neville email, the transcript of the hacked voicemail messages?” (The uncorrected transcript of proceedings is the source for these extracts  ) (The Taylor payment refers to the settlement of a claim of phone hacking against the NotW by Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, where James Murdoch authorised a payment of £700,000 including costs to conclude the matter. The “Neville” referred to was a former chief reporter for the NotW who received an email containing transcripts of many of Taylor’s phone conversations.)

James Murdoch replied, “No, I was not aware of that at the time.”

Since that evidence was given, Mr Tom Crone, former legal manager for the NotW and Mr Colin Myler, former editor of the NotW, have issued a statement saying that James Murdoch had seen that email, in contradiction of his evidence to the Committee. Does James Murdoch’s answer cause him problems?

If it transpires that the answer was wrong, and Mr Watson has already asked the police to investigate the evidence given to the Committee, would James Murdoch be in difficulties? There is a difference here between what the legal consequences of any error would be and the public relations and corporate ones. If it is the case that James Murdoch did see the email at the time, then I imagine his explanation would be that he had simply forgotten this, on the basis that many things have happened over the years since the payment was authorised, and that he has seen many items regarding this whole affair. If Mr Watson had been afforded the chance of prolonged questioning on this point, then perhaps James Murdoch would have found himself in a position where it would be hared to explain this as a lapse of memory. Interestingly, the following exchange between Mr Whittingdale and Mr Watson took place just after the above question was asked.

Chair: I am getting galled. We have covered this at some considerable length.

Mr Watson: Actually, Chairman, we have not, but I respect you. Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook.

Mr Watson was denied to chance of pinning James Murdoch down, although by this stage the Murdochs had been giving evidence, including the interruption, for over three hours.

 

How do these cases bear upon the possible NotW perjury charges?

 

Tommy Sheridan dispensed with his counsel at an early stage of his trial, and proceeded to defend himself. By all accounts, for a lay person, he did a good job. After all, this was not far short of a matter of life and death for him, and he has always been known for his oratorical skills.

However, one disadvantage comes from his lack of court experience. As with the Bonds Grand Jury, Sheridan’s questions were often imprecise and vague. Frequently the questions, especially when asked of his political or media opponents, were barely disguised polemic, perhaps designed to appeal to the jury. In addition, I imagine that, in conjunction with his remaining legal advisers, Mr Sheridan had decided by this stage not to give evidence himself. Therefore some of his questions would, either deliberately or sub-consciously, been designed to get his “evidence” across to the jury, although he would have been aware that the judge would direct the jury that his questions did not amount to testimony.

In addition, there is the problem that the three NotW witnesses were not, by and large, prosecution witnesses. Bob Bird was called by the Crown to give evidence about payments to witnesses and about the video tape purporting to show Sheridan “confessing” to his former friend, George McNeilage.  Sheridan’s cross examination of Bird lasted much longer than his examination in chief. The questioning ranged through many areas. As I have written before, Mr Bird has some questions to answer in connection with his evidence regarding missing emails. He told the court that a large number of emails had been lost when transferred to Mumbai and thus could not be made available to the defence. However, after an investigation by the Information Commissioner, it transpired that the emails were still in existence and that there had been no transfer of them anywhere, especially not to Mumbai. Mr Bird will maintain, I am sure, that he made an innocent mistake. That is one of the issues I imagine Strathclyde Police will be investigating. Clearly also the recovery of evidence sought by the defence is relevant to the case, even if ultimately the emails contain nothing that would have assisted Mr Sheridan.

Mr Bird was asked about the “culture” of the NotW. That is a matter for debate, and not one where an answer can amount to perjury. Subjective questions of that nature have their role in the court process, but cannot, in my submission, found a perjury case.

Mr Wight was called as a Crown witness formally, but this as a courtesy to Mr Sheridan. After confirming his details to the prosecutor, Mr Sheridan began what was, in effect, cross examination of Mr Wight. However he too was not asked the detailed and precise questions a professional advocate would have done, and was not pinned down on areas where otherwise there might have been difficulties.

Finally Mr Coulson was called as a defence witness. His evidence was no part of the case against Mr Sheridan. Mr Sheridan’s case against the NotW at his trial was, effectively, that the paper was against him as he was an effective tribune of the people, holding big businesses like the NotW to account, and that they determined to destroy him by whatever means necessary. This included phone hacking, although it was never made crystal clear how this impinged on the specifics of the case against him. Mr Sheridan had tried to call as a witness an impersonator who could “do” Mr Sheridan’s voice, and who had done so on the radio, perhaps to show that the McNeilage Tape could have been prepared by an impressionist. Alternatively it was hinted that, if his phone had been tapped or hacked, then extracts could have been put together to create the incriminating tape. However Mr Sheridan, whilst suggesting these possibilities did not produce any expert testimony regarding the video, and effectively left it to the jury to determine that one or more of these factors might lead them to disregard it.

Mr Coulson denied that there was a “culture” of phone hacking at the NotW. If he had been asked if there had ever been such an activity, without going into the realms of “cultures” and if the questioning had precisely defined what phone hacking was, and that the questions were looking at whether this was done either by NotW staff or agents for them, this might have been more problematic for Mr Coulson, standing what is now publicly available. However, I don’t understand that the questioning went down such a detailed road.

Press interest has centred on Mr Coulson’s reply to the question asked of him about making payments to “corrupt” police officers. Mr Coulson replied that the NotW did not make payments to corrupt police officers.

Here again the addition of just one word “corrupt” to the question puts a different perspective on how any perjury charge regarding this might go. Let’s assume, for hypothetical purposes only, that the NotW did make payments to police officers (as indeed Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the NotW confirmed to Parliament in 2003). The NotW has over the years worked closely with the police, often providing them with details of their investigations exposing criminality in others. In return, for the purposes of this example, grateful police officers might have provided information to the NotW and been thanked by way of a financial gift. The NotW, in such hypothetical circumstances, might consider these officers to be fine and up-standing members of the force, assisting the NotW in bringing news of wrongdoing to the public’s attention, whilst not compromising criminal processes. These officers, in this example, would not be seen by the NotW as corrupt. This is despite the fact that it is illegal for an officer to receive payments in such circumstances, and, on one view, receipt of such a payment would render them, in law “corrupt”. But if Mr Coulson was aware of payments to officers, his belief, whilst legally wrong, that they were not corrupt, would mean that his answer would not be a wilful evasion.

As with the other witnesses, a more detailed examination of maters might have pinned the witness down clearly and unequivocally. However, as with Mr Bonds, the “killer questions” were not asked, giving the person responding legitimate room for manoeuvre in their response.

 

 

Conclusions

 

 

So where does this take us? The Bonds case shows how important the questions asked are before a person can face charges for perjury or similar matters.

Looking at the possible matters for consideration just now, the normal position applies – namely that it is very difficult to establish perjury to obtain a conviction.

But there is more than the justice system to consider.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been convicted in the court of public opinion. They might never achieve the goal of being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, although their performances deserve it.

Tommy Sheridan’s position is polarised. His supporters never doubted him, despite his conviction. His enemies simply took the conviction as validation of their opposition to him. In general perhaps the conviction reinforced the image of Sheridan as a rogue, but a likeable one, complete with his sun tan. Few “neutrals” would have had sympathy for the NotW even after the conviction.

In light of recent events, there will be even less feeling for the NotW.

The Murdochs have been seen on the world stage, and, even if nothing further happens as regards James, there will not be, for a long time, a positive opinion of News International here.

The final question is what criminal proceedings against Mr Coulson, in particular, would mean for the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron? But that is a question to be answered another day.

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