Oborne’s masterly Dispatches programme last night laid bare Newscorp gangsterism as never before.
I was writing a piece last night about Piers Morgan, and the unconsciously written evidence of dirty deeds in one of his books. As some of it related to the Prime Minister’s friendship with Liz Murdoch, I was vaguely clocking the telly in the background: Channel 4 was trailing a Dispatches documentary about Newscorp. My first reaction was one of “It’ll be the same old same old” – even I’m getting Hackgate fatigue now. And my second thought was, “It’s Channel Four, there’ll be an agenda”. But having finished the piece, I went to a listings website, and saw that the programme had been written and narrated by Peter Oborne. This changed my mind.
Oborne is, by all accounts, a cold fish and somewhat intense – a former Marxist turned Christian country gent, he is nevertheless interesting. I was due to have lunch with him last year, but he was called away suddenly to an African assignment. As it happens, we have friends in common, and so it may happen later this year. His writings in the Telegraph rarely connect for me, but what they all have is ample evidence of a very fine mind. An old (now retired) Fleet Street chum referred to him once to me as “a great man”.
What’s obvious from last night’s hour-long programme is that Peter Oborne has a genius for making one key point several times without boring the viewer. His thesis was simple: Rupert Murdoch gives support to politicians all over the world, and in return they give the green light to his business needs. Failure to do this results in a politician’s doom, often accompanied by threats to reveal peccadillos about his or her life.
None of this is new, but the wider audience beyond Media Gulch has always failed to understand that crucial definition of what Newscorp is when you strip out all the dissembling: a lawless, scheming, and corrupt media company out of control – and yet feared by the very people who should be controlling it.
Not only did Oborne nail this with devastating evidence – a lot of it fresh – he also managed seamlessly to point up how policing policy is but a short bus ride from both the media and Westminster. And it was in this sphere that the Murdoch operation began to take on the air of a mobsters’ operation.
Interviews never rambled. All were tightly edited to make a simple point, and then followed by examples of the various ghastly Newscorp modus operandi. John Major startlingly emerged as the only PM in the last thirty years with the bottle to rebuff Rupert Murdoch; his reward was a nonstop stream of false accusation and harassment in Newscorp tabloids. (And lest we forget, Alistair Campbell at The Mirror was very happy to join in with his own brand of baseless filth about Chelsea shirts and toe-sucking). Major was crushed by Blair in 1997, who in turn was revealed – as we all suspected – as the man who went that extra yard up Rupert’s backside.
Blair was shown to have passed the 2003 Media Act to facilitate more Murdoch ownership in the TV sphere, and Rupe was instrumental in making Blair offer a Referendum on EU membership – something Blair very clearly did not want to do. Similarly (and disastrously) Blair became much more pro-Bush due to the Digger’s personal influence. Murdoch seemed to have been a key figure in the decision to go to war, and there was even a hint that he wasn’t far from the Dodgy Dossier. Following that, of course, David Kelly wound up dead. Even the odious Alan Rusbridger shocked me by pointing out, “Of the 175 Murdoch papers around the world, 174 backed the Iraq War. Only a Muslim paper in New Guinea didn’t”. This shows all too clearly the icy grip of control from a man who swore blind to Parliament last week that he had no idea of the detail of what his newspapers get up to.
Somehow, Oborne got contributors usually defensive about Murdoch to be frank about the wielding of Newscorp power. Paul MacMullan (who looks more derelict with every week) openly talked of his departmental budget of £3 million “for buying people” and paying for illicit police information. “I fink it was two hundred quid for a number plate,” he said at one point. An Aussie journalist at one time close to Murdoch told of how at one conference, delegates has laughed at the very idea of ethics at the News of the World. When he questioned this, nice gentle old Rupe called him “a wanker” in open session.
In other areas still, Oborne was fearless. He showed up Andy Hayman for the remonstrating hypocrite so many allege him to be, and directly accused yet another top Met copper, Dick Fedorcio, of variously lying and track-covering his way to safety. (Already this morning, Fedorcio has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission). After all the lachrymose bollocks about the death of NotW the week before last, the documentary showed graphically how its ceaseless emphasis upon crude sex had driven sales forward – and more generally, how Murdoch’s tabloid policy never changed: to buy a lower-mid market paper, and then drag it further downmarket with the help of Newscorp lieutenants skilled in the arts of misleading, salacious celeb gossip, and/or ‘cheeky’ headlines.
The tragedy is that this excellent documentary was probably seen by – what? – three million people….very few of whom buy The Sun. Because above all, it rammed home once more with feeling the point so few Britons seem able to grasp about Rupert Murdoch: he is a calculating, almost autistic lying control freak, perfectly aware of the fact that he runs a media empire with the sole objective of getting and giving favours. At his peak, he could start wars, neutralise the police, own half an American political Party, lie to the FBI, break business laws, penetrate national security, endanger the life of the Head of State, and tell national leaders what they could and couldn’t do.
For the moment, his nadir looks as if it has passed. But never say never with Murdoch. Three years ago I forecast that Rupe’s failure to understand the genuinely open and free-market internet would be the start of his decline. Until last October, however, I never seriously expected that the Newscorp ‘culture’ of monopolist blackmail, threat and intimidation would accelerate that decline dramatically. I only changed my mind when the growing queue of civil Court cases about phone-hacking seemed to me bound to start the evidence pouring forth. Many other bloggers and journalists were at their posts long before I was. But despite his initial liking of, and support for, David Cameron, last night Peter Oborne did what he began to do in a live interview ten days ago: expose the degeneracy of the Cameron-Murdoch-Chipping Norton set for all to see.
We owe him bigtime.