25 Apr 2012

Murdoch: text and email trails and settling accounts

I’m not sure it’s quite right for politicians and journalists to refer to what Fred Michel wrote to his bosses in the Murdoch empire as “hearsay,” a word I’ve heard quite a lot of in the last few hours. Fred M flamed up his contacts by referring to JH whenever he had a contact with JH’s longstanding special adviser Adam Smith. But he didn’t misrepresent what Adam Smith said – not once from my reading of the emails. We know that because the Leveson Inquiry has got hold of the texts and emails from Adam Smith that prompted Fred M’s internal emails. You can read them here.

It’s not clear whether, when the PM gave his backing to Mr Hunt yesterday, the No. 10 machine had quite digested this bit of the evidence. Looking at those texts and emails it is hard to see that they can be what the DCMS Permanent Secretary had in mind when he authorised a point of contact between the Secretary of State and the Murdoch empire. “We need to get to the bottom of all this,” the Culture Secretary said last night. Looking at the table of DCMS Special Adviser texts and emails you might think getting to the bottom of it all was quite straightforward: did JH authorise AS to maintain the type of contact he did and know all about it or didn’t he? You might think that the fact that Adam Smith is still in post suggests that Mr Hunt doesn’t think his special adviser over-stepped the agreed mark.  

Mr Hunt says he wants to put his case to Lord Justice Leveson soon and should be given the benefit of the doubt until then. Not sure the political world will necessarily let Jeremy Hunt choose his judge, jury and trial date. Lord Justice Leveson said his inquiry was going into pre-local election purdah after Rupert Murdoch’s appearance this week. Isn’t there a case for possible breaches of the Ministerial Code being investigated? I would expect Labour to put in a request for just that. I would expect Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, to be poring over the evidence sheet mentioned above and talking to the DCMS Permanent Secretary about it.  

Looking at the coverage this morning in the papers you can see that a day that could so easily have been another calamitous one for James Murdoch was turned into a calamitous one for the government instead. That will not have passed Rupert Murdoch’s attention. You get the sense that the Murdoch family, after decades of heavy involvement in the UK can’t see what else there is new to bid for, is prioritising its own reputation and is now closing its account … and settling a few accounts while it’s at it.

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