Hypocrisy taints Murdoch grilling

By Nicholas Wapshott
May 30, 2012

Watching Tony Blair appear this week before the British judicial inquiry into press standards in London has left me feeling a little queasy. What began as an open-minded investigation into how to protect individuals from the snooping of the press in the age of the Internet has turned into a show trial to shame politicians who fell under the spell of Rupert Murdoch.

Now, heaven knows, I’m no apologist for Murdoch. His cynical approach to his readers and viewers and employees belies the fact that he is descended from sternly moral Scottish Presbyterians. He declares that the buck stops with a newspaper owner when one of his papers or journalists or printers fouls up, but when widespread illegality happens in his name, right under his nose, he forgets his fine words and lets it be known he has no intention of stepping down from his dual role of CEO and chairman of News Corp.

But I can’t help thinking that there is an unattractive element of hypocrisy when hearings into the intimidation of politicians by Murdoch and his henchmen end up as a means of intimidating politicians into confessing they were in cahoots with Murdoch. Blair was honest with Justice Leveson about the tacit deal he did so that Murdoch’s tabloids would not trash him as they had done his predecessor as Labour leader, Neil Kinnock.

Explaining why he agreed to fly halfway round the world to appear as the star turn at a News Corp. executives’ retreat, an action that inevitably sparked suggestions he had entered a Faustian pact with Murdoch to go easy on press regulation in exchange for support in the 1997 election, Blair said: “The minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces and the maximum objective was, if possible, to open the way to support.” There was no specific deal, Blair said, because no deal was necessary. He needed Murdoch to win in a landslide, and Murdoch needed him to back off from interfering with his business.

Blair was treated with enormous respect by the judge, as is the English way, but there is still something discomforting about the whole venture. Blair is the biggest fish to have swum into Leveson’s net so far, though the current prime minister, David Cameron, is also scheduled to appear. Cameron hired Andy Coulson, chief editor of the defunct News of the World who presided over phone hacking of the murdered schoolgirl that set off the hue and cry against Murdoch in the first place.

Cameron’s judgment in picking as his press secretary such a dubious person is, to put it mildly, questionable. But does it deserve a full-blown fishing expedition that lasts months in which everyone who has ever been crossed by Murdoch, and a great number who have not, can have their day in court? Whatever good will come of it?

Murdoch himself has already come as near as such a proud man can ever come to apologizing when he appeared before the Commons media committee to explain why he did not notice that the journalists and private eyes he hired were using illegal methods to steal voice messages from phones. Murdoch’s “This is the most humble day of my life” is as much as we can expect from a rich man who usually only hears people saying: “How right you are again, sir! Now what else can I do for you?”

For all its gentility, the Leveson Inquiry still has far too much of the Joe McCarthy hearings about it. It hovers between a guillotining, a witch hunt, a circus, and a kangaroo court. If you are a British politician who has dealt with the Murdoch press – and that is almost all of them – or if you are a current or past Murdoch employee, even being called to give evidence is something of a trial without charge. Without the safeguards of a true court of law, Leveson’s inquisitors can ask anything they like about anything that takes their fancy and expect to be given a full and frank explanation.

The Brits think Murdoch has coarsened the public discourse. They think he has been given special treatment by politicians scared he will set his dogs on them. They think they have been let down by their rulers. They are right. Murdoch is a bully who has no compunction about destroying those he dislikes or those he disagrees with, which are mostly the same people. But now that the Brits have enjoyed month after month of schadenfreude, enough already! It’s time to move  on.

PHOTO: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives before giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics and practices of the media at the High Court in central London, May 28, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

7 comments

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Yes, let us drop this unseemly peeking behind the curtain and get back to business as usual. Wouldn’t want to change the system or anything radical now, would we?

Posted by MartyB2 | Report as abusive

RUPERT MURDOCH’S BLOVATING IGNORAMUS
Donald Trump is without a doubt a world-class “Bloviating ignoramus”.

But to be honest, the rest of the current GOP leadership, have also earned the right to the very same citation.

For goodness sake…Sarah Palin almost made into the White House and Rick Perry would have been the Republican nominee, if not those confusing debates in which he couldn’t remember…his own name.

Its Rupert Murdoch’s “fair and balance” Fox News that turned the Republican party into the home of the non-compromiser, hate-mongering “Bloviating ignoramuses”. And that’s the whole and nothing but the truth.

Posted by JonBer | Report as abusive

Sorry…the public will likely disagree with you, as do I. A man and empire as big and evil as I believe his to be needs to be taken down. It’s scary how much power he has to shape the hearts and minds of those who rabidly consume the hate speech his networks and newspapers spew.
Mmmm, that schadenfreude is delicious. More please.

Posted by KenD90027 | Report as abusive

When the media distort the facts in order to win a political election, democracy dies. That happened in 1928, 1930s in Germany. Fox News and its ilk have created an environment of hate and racism in America. I blame Murdoch’s minions, sycophants who have ignored facts in order to achieve their collective objective: control of government.

Posted by asmith36 | Report as abusive

Nick, it sounds to me like you’re in the can for Rupert too.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

It’s only for show. They give their “too-big-too-fail” hero’s a real ticking-off, a vicious dressing down! a heinous tongue lashing, and all in the gaze of the public!! What feigned humiliation. And meanwhile they all meet up at the club for gin later and carry on but with a lower profile for a while.
These criminals should be in court. You or I would be if we’d perverted the course of justice, committed perjury, illegally tapped phones, etc etc.
No law for them, extra laws and taxes for everyone else… oh and you can send your kids of to fill their battle fields too.

Posted by Tiu | Report as abusive

I think this is a good article. The goal of the inquiry to my knowledge is to investigate press standards in order to reform press governance for the better. The insights required for this came out long ago – what we have now is a show-trial that has little practical value.

I think the press will always be close (and probably closer than people would like) to the government as their interests are so closely intertwined. What worries me more – which has gone quiet now – is the closeness of the press and the police.

Posted by johannes121 | Report as abusive