Every summer Murdoch, now 80 years old, pays one of his rare visits to London, the social highlight of which is the annual News International party. An invitation carries the same weight, say insiders, as a royal command. In the phrase of one of his executives, to turn it down is a ‘statement of intent’.
And you thought Murdoch had power here. (Don’t get me wrong, he does have vast power here, but it’s on a different level in the UK, not to mention Australia).
I reviewed that angle in May, looking at a piece Archie Bland wrote for CJR and one Sarah Ellison wrote for Vanity Fair. Both are worth reading to get an expanded view on what Rusbridger and Oborner are talking about above.
Our piece had this incredible quote from the executive editor of Murdoch’s “serious” UK paper, the Times of London, on why his paper wasn’t covering the scandal:
“With this whole story I just hear the shrill shriek of axes being ground,” said Roger Alton, executive editor at The Times. As editor of The Independent in 2009—after ten years at The Observer, which he left acrimoniously—he felt the story was old news. “Everyone has an agenda. The New York Times certainly has an agenda, after Murdoch’s very forceful attempt to rival them with The Wall Street Journal.” There was no way to condone what had happened, Alton added, but that doesn’t mean the story merits coverage today. “For me this is stuff that happened a long time ago. People have gone to prison. Coulson’s resigned twice. It’s not as if any perceived wrongdoing hasn’t been sufficiently addressed. For me it’s roughly on a par with parking in a residents’ parking bay in terms of interest.”
That set me off:
This is either insane or craven. I’ll go with the latter. Police coverups. Corporate coverups. Celebrities and royals hacked. Hundreds of millions of dollars. Billionaire Rupert Murdoch. Press hypocrisy. Payoffs to keep quiet. Possible perjury by the prime minister’s top aide. Stonewalling executives who now run The Wall Street Journal. And it’s far from over. This story is a journalist’s dream.
Now even Alton and The Times can’t ignore this one. It’s now front page news in that paper.
Today, The New York Times fronts a smart story on how the Milly Dowler news has finally set cowering British politicians, both Conservative and Labour, against Murdoch.
Britain’s Parliament on Wednesday collectively turned on Rupert Murdoch, the head of the News Corporation, and the tabloid culture he represents, using a debate about a widening phone hacking scandal to denounce reporting tactics by newspapers once seen as too politically influential to challenge.
Here’s a sample of the outrage in Parliament yesterday:
Zac Goldsmith, another Conservative legislator, said that Mr. Murdoch was guilty of “systemic abuse of almost unprecedented power” and had run roughshod over Parliament.
“There is nothing noble in what these newspapers have been doing,” he said. “Rupert Murdoch is clearly a very, very talented businessman — he’s possibly even a genius — but his organization has grown too powerful and has abused that power. It has systematically corrupted the police and in my view has gelded this Parliament, to our shame.”
“To our shame,” indeed.
Rusbridger has the obvious next question:
But what now? How can we make sure that we never again have this kind of dominant force in British public life?
Will this pushback will be sustained and will Murdoch’s chokehold be broken? I seriously doubt it. Even the most immediate possibility, the BSkyB transaction, is most likely just being delayed in the hope that this will blow over. But it shouldn’t be.That deal should be killed outright. If the events of the last five years haven’t shown the perils of media consolidation, nothing will.
This story is now out of Murdoch’s control. He and his people have miscalculated in the last few years—not unreasonably, but presumably out of hubris, too—that their political power would enable them to sweep this under the rug with minimal damage.