News Corp’s three wise monkeys knew nothing

Roy Greenslade, who was a senior executive at two News International titles, The Sun and the Sunday Times, says that Rupert Murdoch’s testimony in Britain’s House of Commons yesterday, where he essentially plead ignorance about wrongdoing inside News of the World, clashes with Greenslade’s own experience of the way Murdoch oversees the operations of his companies.

At both newspapers, I was close enough to the editors – sometimes standing in as editor myself – to witness how Rupert Murdoch operated. Despite living in the United States, he ensured that he knew everything that happened at his British papers.

In phone calls marked by a mixture of abrupt questions and periods of intimidating silence, he elicited information from his editors and managers about intimate details of both editorial and commercial affairs.

It was impossible to conceive that anyone would lie to Murdoch either by commission or omission. He was street smart. He saw through bluster and he was not above testing the veracity of what he was told by one executive by running it past another.

His cross-referencing of his internal company sources was journalistic. He wanted to hear the minutiae; who had said what to whom? He relished the gossip.

In those days he was already running a giant company, with a Hollywood film studio, a burgeoning US TV network and media outlets across the world. It is fair to say that, by the turn of the millennium, it had grown bigger still, most noticeably due to News Corp’s global pay-TV interests.

It is also undeniable, as his faltering performance yesterday illustrated, that as Murdoch’s company expanded so he grew older. So he may well have been altogether less hands-on in the past decade than he was during the time I worked for him.

Then again, it beggars belief that he didn’t smell a rat in 2006 when the News of the World‘s royal editor Clive Goodman was arrested along with a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who was being paid more than £100,000 a year under a contract with the paper.

That was the moment I would have expected him to ask searching questions of the editor and the chief executive of his News International division in Wapping. Did he really accept the public stance about voicemail interception being confined to a single rogue reporter?

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