Murdoch’s Watergate

Carl Bernstein writes:

The hacking scandal currently shaking Rupert Murdoch’s empire will surprise only those who have willfully blinded themselves to that empire’s pernicious influence on journalism in the English-speaking world. Too many of us have winked in amusement at the salaciousness without considering the larger corruption of journalism and politics promulgated by Murdoch Culture on both sides of the Atlantic.

The facts of the case are astonishing in their scope. Thousands of private phone messages hacked, presumably by people affiliated with the Murdoch-owned News of the World newspaper, with the violated parties ranging from Prince William and actor Hugh Grant to murder victims and families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The arrest of Andy Coulson, former press chief to Prime Minister David Cameron, for his role in the scandal during his tenure as the paper’s editor. The arrest (for the second time) of Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royals editor. The shocking July 7 announcement that the paper would cease publication three days later, putting hundreds of employees out of work. Murdoch’s bid to acquire full control of cable-news company BSkyB placed in jeopardy. Allegations of bribery, wiretapping, and other forms of lawbreaking—not to mention the charge that emails were deleted by the millions in order to thwart Scotland Yard’s investigation.

All of this surrounding a man and a media empire with no serious rivals for political influence in Britain—especially, but not exclusively, among the conservative Tories who currently run the country. Almost every prime minister since the Harold Wilson era of the 1960s and ’70s has paid obeisance to Murdoch and his unmatched power. When Murdoch threw his annual London summer party for the United Kingdom’s political, journalistic, and social elite at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens on June 16, Prime Minister Cameron and his wife, Sam, were there, as were Labour leader Ed Miliband and assorted other cabinet ministers.

Murdoch associates, present and former—and his biographers—have said that one of his greatest long-term ambitions has been to replicate that political and cultural power in the United States.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, on the phone-hacking scandal

Marina Hyde writes:

Say what you like, this does finally give meaning to David Cameron’s “we’re all in this together” catchphrase. Whether the members of Britain’s necrotic establishment are wading in it, or are up to their necks in it, will be a matter for you to call. But what an irony that Murdoch tabloids, infrequently righteous in their crusades, have finally been shown what major corruption looks like. It’s not a couple of swingers daring to live an unconventional lifestyle in a Wilmslow terrace – it was in the mirror all along.

Yet the solemn announcement that the News of the World is dead (long live the Sun on Sunday!) does not indicate the Murdoch-controlled culture that has debased this septic isle for decades has been dismantled. This week, people have beheld MPs saying what they actually think about Britain’s most obscenely powerful unelected foreign tax exile, and marvelled as if they had seen unicorns. That gives you some idea of the scale of the clean-up, and unless all manner of establishment drones get brave and stay brave, revulsion over the corruption of public life by Murdoch and his soldiers will go the same way as that pertaining to bankers or MPs’ expenses.

People are right to be revolted. It is revolting. Indeed, there are so many threads that we should don rubber gloves and follow merely one of them for a flavour of the whole. So, do open your textbooks at “war”.

Rupert Murdoch was the only figure powerful enough to be able to state explicitly, without consequence, that he was backing war on Iraq to bring down the price of oil. So his “free press” all cheer-led for said war, and began commodifying their version of it, even confecting their own military award ceremonies as though the medal system were inadequate.

The whitewashing report into the death of a scientist who questioned the basis for that war was mysteriously leaked to Murdoch’s papers – another WORLD EXCLUSIVE – while others in his pay hacked the phones and emails of those casualties of war being repatriated in bodybags, to be monetised as stories all over again. Any complaint about this must be taken before an industry court presided over not by the kangaroo of Rupert’s native Australia, but an even less engaged selection of backscratching editors, including his own.

Polly Toynbee writes:

David Cameron’s press conference was nearly a masterclass in damage limitation. How firm he sounded with his three-point actions, announcing two inquiries and the demise of the “failed” Press Complaints Commission. Yes, he would have accepted Rebekah Brooks’s resignation. How shocked he was. It was “simply disgusting”. Here was a wake-up call on the “culture, practice and ethics of the press” and, for now, the crucial BSkyB deal would be delayed. He strove with every sinew to show he gets it, he really does get the public outrage at the hacked phones of a murdered child and dead soldiers. But as the questions rained down, you could see the crisis slipping from his control. This was too little, too late, not quite grasping the changed rules of the old politico-media game.

He said “frankly” once too often, a word that rings alarm bells from politicians on the ropes. “We’ve all been in this together,” he confessed. All the parties, “yes, including me”, had cosied up to Murdoch, turning a blind eye to court political support. But paddling hard to stay afloat, he could not say the Murdoch bid should be stopped. He could not apologise for hiring a man who had already resigned over phone hacking. Every time he said he gave Andy Coulson “a second chance”, that soundbite sounded weaker. What may some day do for him was his denial that he ever received private warnings, one from the Guardian, not to take Coulson into Downing Street, as further revelations were imminent. “I wasn’t given any specific information … I don’t recall being given any information.” Denials about who knew what often turn embarrassments into serious political danger.

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One thought on “Murdoch’s Watergate

  1. delia ruhe

    “…unless all manner of establishment drones get brave and stay brave, revulsion over the corruption of public life by Murdoch and his soldiers will go the same way as that pertaining to bankers or MPs’ expenses” (Marina Hyde).

    And the chances that bravery will triumph is approximately zero.

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