By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.
Soon after Rupert Murdoch moved to Beverly Hills in 1986 to tinker with his new toy, Twentieth Century Fox, his wife at the time, Anna, was asked how she was enjoying Los Angeles. “Well, it’s very different when you don’t own the paper,” she said. In Sydney, London, and New York, Mrs. Murdoch was used to “A” list parties, tables in restaurants at short notice, the best seats for sold out shows. But wives of movie moguls, she fast discovered, were something less than the wife of someone who bought ink by the gallon.
Mr. Murdoch has his own reasons for “owning the paper.” As the scandal that is engulfing his company’s UK arm, News International, is exposing for all to see, he has had little compunction about marshaling his papers to further his interests. Although he is a free-market conservative, he is not concerned so much with party politics as ensuring that government regulations do not interfere with his business ambitions. In Britain in the last thirty years, those who aspired to power have had first to make their peace with him. Those, like Labour’s Tony Blair, who fell in with his plans, performing as the star turn at a management retreat on Hayman Island, Australia, were blessed with benign coverage. Conservatives like John Major, whom he disliked, were subject to ad hominem assaults in his papers.
Now that News Corp’s corporate culture has been shown to have failed to prevent voicemail hacking and police bribery in London, the question being asked on both sides of the Atlantic is, how far did the illegality extend? Hacking at the News of the World was, it seems, matched by sharp practice at The Sun and The Sunday Times. Murdoch’s world turned out to be little more than a free market version of “The Lives of Others.”
Have editors at the New York Post or Fox News, too, been turning a blind eye to bugging phones or paying police for stories? What bargains have been made to keep politicians’ dirty linen from being aired? What grubby secrets have been exposed because their perpetrators failed to tow the line? Above all, is Rupert Murdoch going to take responsibility for this sorry state of affairs?
Many companies are made in the image of their boss, but none more so than News Corp. While Murdoch has been obliged to delegate at his TV network, at Fox News, and at the Fox movie division, Murdoch, a brilliant tabloid journalist, is the true editor-in-chief of his newspapers, as every editor who has worked for him knows – full disclosure: I was an executive at The Times, London, 1992-2004. As Andrew Neil, a dozen years The Sunday Times editor, wrote, “Anybody of importance reports direct to him. Normal management structures . . . do not matter.”