My part in Rupert Murdoch's ascent?
Curiously, I do not think it was fear of being traduced or “exposed” by the Murdoch media that made us go easy on him.
It is easily forgotten that in the 1980s and early 1990s, Murdoch struck many across British media as a refreshingly ballsy outside influence administering a shake-up to our deeply conservative trade. And I use the word conservative in its true sense – resistant to change whether from a right or left wing perspective.
New, brash Aussie money somehow seemed to challenge the old media hegemonies. Scale was not in those days any kind of a problem. It was when he got into television that scale began to play. Yet what had defined his entry into newspapers – republican, anti-European, free market economic views, and Page 3 attitudes – played almost no part in the ever-expanding electronic world of News Corp. Not until Fox News, did we see any of that.
Rupert’s defection from his Oz to his US passport was a moment we barely took note of in 1985. But that was THE moment when what had merely seemed to be expanding UK influence went global. The wielding of power by press barons has been a feature of previous generations of the British body-politic – Rothermere, Beaverbrook and the rest – and maybe there are some echoes in what is being laid out in front of us at Leveson, even if theirs was a little more transparent. But we are dealing with the now. That “now” is the Murdoch period.
Retrospectively, what had seemed a harmless, yet deeply un-British incident, in which the media mogul lugged an aspiring JFK-like youthful bidder for power more than half way round the world, today becomes much more significant.
Young Tony Blair, battling to escape the chaotic overhang of the Kinnock bids for power in 1987 and 1992, was prepared to go many uncharted extra miles. When he flew all the way to Hayman Island off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 1995 to court Rupert in his News Corp den, it now seems the moment which captured a shift in how power and influence works in our country. An aspiring British politician in near-supplication to gain the support of a foreign corporate power.
It was a tableau completed, according to Vogue Magazine in 2011, by the vision of a Blair, standing on the banks of the River Jordan in a white chasuble, ordaining his position as godfather to Murdoch’s youngest daughter Grace.
In between, as the Leveson Inquiry has now heard, British public and private life allegedly became subjected to the most extraordinary period of un-British performance in our modern history. Private secrets were stolen, or so it has been claimed from Leveson’s witness table, and public servants were corrupted.
What had seemed strange and unusual in 1995, suddenly fitted a form. This was a form that apparently penetrated at every level of our public life.
Where once we would have laughed at Italian corruption, this week we suddenly blanched when we were told it has happened to our own; to our police, to our civil servants, to our prime ministers – even, we are told, to our publicly-owned horses. Now we laugh at ourselves, but with a worrying hollowness.
So far this is less to do with provable criminality, than with a more obvious “culture”. This week’s developments are, after all, police allegations.
This journey that I have described, book-ended by Hayman Island and the River Jordan, is not about who we thought we were, is it perhaps more about who we have now become.
Is that why, as a journalist who has operated throughout this period, I feel a sense of personal failure, even responsibility, when it comes to the reporting of Rupert Murdoch and the influence of his empire?
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