There was a telling lack of judgment on display when James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks burst into the Independent to berate me
As far as I recall – yes, I think that's the phrase – it was late afternoon and I was sitting with the Independent's art director working on that night's front page. I looked up to see first Rebekah Brooks and then James Murdoch in the middle of the paper's newsroom, and heading my way.
A series of slogans made up a mini-campaign on billboards and on the front page of promotional copies of the newspaper. "Trade union money won't decide this election. You Will", proclaimed one. "Lord Ashcroft won't decide this election. You Will", said another. And, yes, we dared also to present the proposition that "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election. You Will".
I took him and Brooks into the room where we held our conferences. (Of course, I should have insisted that our exchange took place in the full hearing of our newsroom, but that was something I have to file under l'esprit d'escalier.)
I sat on a sofa, Brooks perched on the arm of another sofa, and Murdoch walked and talked. He was excitable and angry. "You've impugned the reputation of my family," he said at one point. He called me "a fucking fuckwit" and became furious at my bemusement that he should find our campaign so upsetting, given that one of his newspapers famously claimed that it did indeed decide elections.
Murdoch referred to "my family" constantly, something he echoed in his Leveson evidence today. Referring to this exchange, he said that I had been the beneficiary "of my family's hospitality for a number of years". Set in the context of his many dissemblings and obfuscations over recent months, the fact that this is a bald-faced lie is neither here nor there, just a casual slur despatched with little regard for the facts. (For the record, I went to Elisabeth Murdoch's 40th birthday party in September 2008, the only time I can be accused of "availing myself" of Murdoch hospitality.)
In retrospect, that incident in the Independent newsroom was the first sign of a fissure in the edifice of News International. Little more than a footnote in newspaper history it may be, but what it betrayed was a breathtaking lack of judgment and discretion, the head of the country's most powerful media organisation straying on to the sovereign territory of another newspaper to berate the editor over an incontestable truth in an advertising campaign. It's the same lack of judgment, together with a monumental arrogance in the wielding of corporate power, that has led us to where we are today. Which, of course, is the eve of the appearance before Lord Justice Leveson of Rupert Murdoch, the capo di tutti capi.
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