For more than 30 years now there have been two truths about Rupert Murdoch’s increasingly infrequent visitations to the British outpost of his media empire.The first: anyone who is anyone in the world of politics and business angles for (and is delighted by) any kind of audience with the great man.
The second is the chill his visit engenders amongst his senior editors and executives in Wapping [News International's London headquarters].
Yesterday as Mr Murdoch’s corporate Boeing 737 jet, complete with a boardroom and double bed, touched down at Luton Airport, it was clear how much has changed in the last week. The chill in Wapping is still there – worse than ever – but the audiences for Mr Murdoch have dried up.
He and his company – feted by David Cameron and Ed Miliband just two weeks ago at the News International Summer Party – have become a political liability. To paraphrase the famous quote: “It was News of the World wot lost it”. Yesterday Downing Street made it very clear that Mr Cameron would be neither meeting nor speaking to Mr Murdoch on this visit.
Privately Government sources are blunter. They are incandescent at the political damage done by the phone-hacking scandal and angry that News Corp has not voluntarily suspended its attempted takeover of BSkyB in the wake of the allegations.
They feel they are getting unfairly blamed for not stopping the takeover and the impression is growing that they are still in the pocket of the company. “We always knew we were going to have to eat a shit sandwich over the BSkyB deal,” said one. “We didn’t know it would turn into a three course dinner.”David Carr writes:
[H]ow did we find out that a British tabloid was hacking thousands of voice mails of private citizens? Not from the British government, with its wan, inconclusive investigations, but from other newspapers.
Think of it. There was Mr. Murdoch, tying on a napkin and ready to dine on the other 60 percent of BSkyB that he did not already have. But just as he was about to swallow yet another tasty morsel, the hands at his throat belonged to, yes, newspaper journalists.
Newspapers, it turns out, are still powerful things, and not just in the way that Mr. Murdoch has historically deployed them.
The Guardian stayed on the phone-hacking story like a dog on a meat bone, acting very much in the British tradition of a crusading press, and goosing the story back to life after years of dormancy. Other papers, including The New York Times, reported executive and police complicity that gave the lie to the company’s “few bad apples” explanation. As recently as last week, Vanity Fair broke stories about police complicity.
Mr. Murdoch, ever the populist, prefers his crusades to be built on chronic ridicule and bombast. But as The Guardian has shown, the steady accretion of fact — an exercise Mr. Murdoch has historically regarded as bland and elitist — can have a profound effect.
His corporation may be able to pick governments, but holding them accountable is also in the realm of newspaper journalism, an earnest concept of public service that has rarely been of much interest to him.
The coverage last week, on a suddenly fast-moving story that had been moving only in increments, destabilized the ledge that the News Corporation had been standing on. James Murdoch regretted everything and took responsibility for almost nothing. What looked like an opportunity for him to prove his mettle as a manager of crisis might yet engulf him.
Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World who became the chief spokesman for Mr. Cameron, has been arrested. And Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International and previous editor of The News of the World, responded by saying that it was “inconceivable” that she knew of the hacking.
I’d suggest it was inconceivable she did not know, given the number of hacking targets. What editor doesn’t know where her stories come from, especially stories chock full of highly private, delicious conversations. Did Ms. Brooks think they were borne in through the window by magic fairies?http://warincontext.org/2011/07/11/uk-govt-official-murdoch-made-cameron-eat-a-shit-sandwich-which-turned-into-a-three-course-dinner/