The Queen of Denial: Be Careful or Rachel Whetstone Will Clap You in Irons

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

H.L. Mencken

You may have read one of many, many recent news articles about an internal Federal Trade Commission report about the Google antitrust investigation released by the FTC under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Wall Street Journal.   That report conclusively demonstrates that at least some of the lawyers at the Federal Trade Commission wanted to bring an action against Google for a variety of violations of the U.S. antitrust laws.

That report was overruled by the political appointees who run the FTC.

The Journal followed up their reporting with an analysis of how many times Google met with Obama Administration officials at the White House both before and after the FTC voted not to pursue an action against Google.  When coupled with the number of Google executives now working in the U.S. government (not to mention the Chief Technology Officer at the White House and the Chief Digital Officer at the Office of Management and Budget) this raised the implication of Google crony capitalism on an even grander scale than usual.

It was only a matter of days before the FTC began pushing back hard.  More about that later.  But today we heard from Google in the form of a post on a Google blog by Rachel Whetstone, Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Policy at Google.  Ms. Whetstone denied any undue influence from Google’s massive and well-known U.S. lobbying efforts and the number of former Google executives in high ranking roles in the U.S. government as well as former U.S. government employees with high ranking roles at Google.

Under the title “Really, Rupert?” we were treated to sanctimony that only the “see no evil” crowd can come up with, complete with infantile animated GIFs–literally.

Ms. Whetstone decided to focus her ire on the Wall Street Journal–not the journalist, not the editor, no no.  Not the Wall Street Journal and not News Corp.  No, that’s not how Google rolls.  She laid into News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch.  Remember him?  He owned News of the World and was notorious for the influence of News Corp. (or News International) in the government of UK Prime Minster David Cameron.

Without reviewing the entire revolting phone hacking scandal that brought down News of the World and was one of News Corp’s darkest periods, let us recall one of the key figures in that scandal: Andy Coulson.

So who was Andy Coulson and why is he relevant to Ms. Whetstone’s tirade against Mr. Murdoch?  If you just read the reporting on Ms. Whetstone’s post you would have no idea.

Mr. Coulson was a journalist and worked his way up to being the editor of News of the World until he resigned from News of the World in 2007 at the early stages of what became the phone hacking scandal.  He was then hired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron as the highest paid special advisor on Camerons’ communications staff where he stayed until 2011 when he resigned shortly before his arrest as the phone hacking scandal came back with a vengeance.  Mr. Coulson was convicted of crimes related to phone hacking and sentenced on July 4, 2014 to 18 months in prison.  He is about to be tried in Scotland for perjury in an unrelated case, so may find himself a guest of the Scots if that trial doesn’t go well for him.

What’s the connect?  As the Guardian reports (“Tory rivals Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton move in together“):

Coulson, the Essex boy who became editor of the News of the World, and Hilton, who has been the brains behind the detoxification of the Tory brand, are said to have differed over election strategy. The two men have always been on friendly personal terms. But Coulson was said to favour a harder edge while Hilton wanted to focus on a sunnier, optimistic message of the future in the mould of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” theme.

So Mr. Coulson and Mr. Hilton were quite well acquainted with each other.  But what’s the Google connection?

The Telegraph summarized the connection quite well (Will We Be Governed The Google Way or Rupert Murdoch’s Way?)

During the [last] general election, David Cameron tried to resolve [the] differences [between Coulson and Hilton] by placing them in the same office [see above]. This made things worse. Their relationship can in part be accounted for as routine feuding between courtiers. But it goes much deeper. They represent the rival belief systems and world views associated with two media behemoths, News International and Google. These organisations, one so dominant in the news and broadcast media, the other the most dynamic force in the world of online communication, find themselves in constant and often angry conflict.

Eerily, this conflict manifests itself daily inside Downing Street, where Andy Coulson represents the News International point of view. Editor of the News of the World for four years, he was destined for the top of News International until his royal correspondent was caught hacking into the private telephone conversations of members of the Royal family, forcing Coulson’s resignation (though he denies any knowledge of the hacking [which denial proved his undoing]). He shares many of the values of Rupert Murdoch, the great newspaperman and business genius who founded News International: populist, lower middle class, Thatcherite, chippy….

While Coulson wears the dark business suit and well-pressed white shirt expected of all NewsInt executives, Steve Hilton pads round Downing Street in his socks with his shirt untucked. This style, de rigueur in Google’s California headquarters, where creativity is valued ahead of conformity, raises eyebrows in Whitehall. He spent six months in Santa Clara county, California, shortly before the last election, with his high-powered wife Rachel Whetstone, who is Google’s global communications chief and a former Tory staffer.

Yes, that’s right.  Rachel Whetstone–she of the high dudgeon and animated GIFs pillorying Mr. Murdoch on the Google blog–is married to a close advisor to UK Prime Minister David Cameron.  Not just any advisor, but the one who somehow came out on top in the power struggle over Mr. Cameron’s ear between Google and News Corp.  According to Wikipedia “Whetstone is married to Steve Hilton. The couple were godparents to Ivan Cameron, the late eldest child of David Cameron.”

So the irony of Ms. Whetstone’s latest attack on Mr. Murdoch is that there is probably no one at Google who is more personally tied up in crony capitalism than she.  You have to wonder just what state of denial she must be in to sign her name to a sanctimonious whinge trying to deflect attention away from the reality of Google’s influence peddling and away from the equally obvious reality of the FTC report.  Given all the disclosures about Google that have come out since Mr. Coulson’s undoing, it’s pretty obvious that she doesn’t understand that nobody is buying what she’s selling–least of all Senator Mike Lee, chair of the U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee who is rumored to be contemplating an investigation into the entire FTC debacle.

The Telegraph article concludes:

This tension between the naive but joyful [pre-Snowden] optimism of Google and the bleaker but arguably more realistic News International philosophy of human nature is likely to persist. But the future of Andy Coulson is less certain. He was obliged to give evidence in Glasgow’s High Court yesterday in a legal case which has been connected with the phone hacking scandal. Outings such as these do not amuse News International executives. They say that Coulson’s high profile as Downing Street director of communications gives unwarranted publicity to a dismal episode in News International history which they would much rather forget.

I am told that Rupert Murdoch himself, though an admirer of Coulson, believes that it is high time that his one-time protégé quit Downing Street. For the time being, however, David Cameron remains determined to keep his embattled communications chief.

So as it turned out, the answer to the Telegraph’s question is that the UK is being governed the Google way.

And by the look of it, so are we.

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