M.P. Tom Watson has taken flak for a ‘partisan’ report calling Murdoch unfit to run News Corp. Now, Murdoch’s ‘tormentor in chief’ tells Mike Giglio that it's not about politics.
Tom Watson, the hard-charging Labour M.P. who has been one of Rupert Murdoch’s prime antagonists in the phone-hacking scandal, has found himself in a rare position today—under attack.
Opposition Labour member of Parliament Tom Watson (center) speaks during the launch of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report, “News International and Phone-Hacking” at a press conference in London, May 1, 2012 (Carl Court, AFP / Getty Images)
Watson was the force behind the headline-grabbing language in the parliamentary report into phone hacking that was published to great fanfare yesterday. The report’s unexpectedly damning condemnation of Murdoch—which stated that the mogul is "not a fit person" to run an international media organization—immediately made headlines around the globe. But it has also sparked criticism that Watson went too far—“hijacking” the report, in the words of one committee member, and in the process letting Murdoch off the hook.
Watson fired back at the criticism—and doubled down on the political overtones that have surrounded the release—in an interview with The Daily Beast today, saying that the report’s Conservative authors had been bent on dissention no matter what. “There was nothing we could have done to stop members of the committee from opposing the report,” he says, adding that he faced similar criticism during the committee’s first report against News Corp. in 2009. “That’s exactly what they said when we did the report in 2009. So it’s no surprise they’ve repeated the line this time around.”
Even before the crisis reached a head this summer with the revelation that Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid hacked the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, Watson had used his seat in Parliament to batter the mogul and his New York–based News Corp. with constant criticism and accusations, doing as much as any lawmaker to bring the scandal to light.
In the process Watson has gone from a behind-the-scenes political operator—he was once known as a taskmaster for former prime minister Gordon Brown—to a high-profile player in the scandal, dubbed by one British newspaper as Rupert Murdoch’s “tormentor-in-chief.” He was promoted this fall to a top position in the Labour party and recently released his own book on the scandal to warm reviews. And he has helped turn the parliamentary Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—once known as a plum posting for scoring tickets to theater and sporting events—into an investigatory heavyweight on the phone-hacking trail.
It was before this same committee that Murdoch and his son James, until recently the head of News Corp.’s U.K. arm, received their infamous grilling on phone-hacking last summer, with the elder Murdoch receiving a shaving-cream pie to the face. Yesterday saw the release of the committee’s much-anticipated report into that summer testimony, and into News Corp.’s handling of the scandal at large.
The “unfit” condemnation of Murdoch was pushed by Watson in a special amendment, and it dominated coverage of the report. But it has also led to a high-profile war of words between Watson and his Conservative opponents, along with charges that dissention between the report’s authors has watered down the otherwise-damaging findings about News Corp. and the Murdochs.
While BSkyB insists it remains “fit and proper.”
The hacking scandal might be spilling over to the U.S. Following the British Parliament’s censure of News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday, a U.S. ethics watchdog group has targeted Murdoch’s immensely profitable Fox News, calling on the Federal Communications Commission to revoke Fox’s 27 broadcasting licenses. The director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) declared that “if they [News Corp.] are not passing character standard under British law, it seems to me that they are not going to meet the character standard in America.” Meanwhile, satellite broadcaster BSkyB—of which News Corp. holds a 39 percent ownership stake—insisted to British regulators that its practices are “fit and proper,” and insisted will be “better and stronger” following the hacking scandal.
Aside from the personal embarrassment and humiliation, a new report declaring the News Corp. mogul ‘unfit’ could have drastic corporate consequences—including the loss of BSkyB, says Stephen Hewlett.
Whichever way you look at it, the last 18 months have not been good for Rupert Murdoch. The fallout from the phone-hacking scandal at his onetime top-selling Sunday tabloid the News of the World has cost him dearly. Last July he was forced to close the paper—his first U.K. venture, bought way back in 1969. He had to abandon his bid to buy back the 61 percent of the now hugely profitable U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB that he doesn’t currently own, thus frustrating News Corp.’s ambitions to be a global leader in pay TV. He had to watch his son James turn from heir apparent into no such thing, whilst personally enduring two difficult and humiliating public grillings—one from a senior high-court judge and the other from a committee of British M.P.s, whose report on Murdoch was published Tuesday.
News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Wendi Deng, leave their London home as Murdoch prepares to give evidence for a second day at the Leveson Inquiry, April 26, 2012 (Ben Stansall, AFP / Getty Images)
The consequences of the M.P.s’ report could well be more serious still. Aside from the very harsh words used by the committee to describe the actions of three senior News International executives accused of seriously misleading them, the company as a whole is described as exhibiting “wilful blindness,” “fail[ure] to investigate properly,” and “ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing.” That James and Rupert Murdoch apparently failed to ask appropriate questions when confronted with prima facie evidence of misbehavior—and, in James’s case, failed even to read an email he was sent containing a leading lawyer’s opinion that there was widespread evidence of hacking among the company’s ranks—is described by the M.P.s as “simply astonishing.”
The picture emerges of a company virtually devoid of effective corporate governance, with a seeming instinct for cover-up and conspiracy when challenged. The committee then went further, describing Rupert Murdoch personally as “unfit” to be running a major international company. This last finding—pressed by Labour members of the committee in the face of strong opposition from their Conservative colleagues—might, by politicizing the committee’s findings, ultimately rebound on its proponents by offering News Corp. the opportunity to portray the M.P.s and the committee’s findings as politically biased. The fact remains, however, that the overwhelming majority of the committee’s statements were agreed upon by most of its members, Conservatives included.
Aside from the report’s personal embarrassment and humiliation for Murdoch, its corporate consequences could be quite significant. The U.K. media regulator Ofcom has a continuing obligation under Britain’s broadcasting laws to ensure that any person or organization holding—or having effective control of—a broadcasting license must be “fit and proper.” This term is, for all intents and purposes, undefined and has been invoked only rarely, usually against pornographers. But any company that could fairly be described in the terms used by the M.P.s on Tuesday must run the risk of being found wanting.
After all, Britain’s system of regulation depends on the idea that those subject to it are being, at least essentially, honest. If Ofcom were to find News Corp. not “fit and proper,” then it would follow—since News Corp. owns a controlling 39 percent share in BSkyB—that the broadcast company would not be “fit and proper” either. This could potentially force a sell-down, or even a full sale of News Corp.’s stake in BSkyB.
As corporate reversals of fortune go, that would really be quite something. After all, BSkyB was started by Murdoch at huge financial risk to his entire empire at the time—he even apparently mortgaged his New York apartment at one point—and it has gone on to become an extraordinary business success story, now generating in excess of £1 billion a year in clear profit. So for Murdoch, in spite of his well-known affection for newspapers, it’s personal.
What’s more, in a twist rich with irony, it is also the scene of James Murdoch’s most notable business success. As CEO, he drove the acquisition of struggling ISP Easynet and telecom operator One Tel, putting Sky well and truly ahead of all its U.K. rivals in the race for pay TV’s holy “triple play” grail: Internet, phone, and pay TV from one supplier. Indeed, it was a result of his success at BSkyB that James looked like his father’s best chance of fulfilling his fondest wish for the family firm, to be succeeded by one of his children.
In a bombshell report, British lawmakers said that Rupert Murdoch is ‘not a fit person’ to run News Corp. and he turned a ‘blind eye’ to phone hacking. Peter Jukes and Mike Giglio report.
In a devastating report by British lawmakers, James Murdoch dodged a bullet of being accused of misleading Parliament—but a bigger missile was lobbed at News. Corp and his father, Rupert.
Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
The final conclusions of the report, released this morning, go well beyond the issue of phone-hacking that has created such a crisis in News Corp.’s British media empire, News International, and target the senior Murdoch directly—declaring him “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
From an issue of lawbreaking and intrusions into privacy in Murdoch's newspaper holdings in the U.K., the British lawmakers have now made it a case of corporate governance in the media conglomerate, and directly confronted those in the News Corp. HQ in New York.
The Culture, Media and Sport committee—which has been investigating the scandal following the crusading Labour M.P.s Tom Watson and Chris Bryant—summoned the Murdochs before Parliament last summer, and it heard the two claim they had not been aware of the extent of the phone-hacking scandal that had festered under their watch. Some critics had hoped the committee would find that testimony misleading, which would in turn suggest that either James or Rupert Murdoch had acted to cover up the crisis in the past.
Instead, the report declined to rule on what they might have known about the problem and when, instead calling their governance of the company to account. “On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications.”
What British lawmakers’ bombshell report means for Rupert Murdoch.
The accusation of “willful blindness” could be damaging to the reputation of News Corp.’s chairman and CEO, who underwent a two-day grilling before a public inquiry into the British press last week. Though neither of the Murdochs was accused of misleading Parliament (a technically jailable offense), the conclusion about the culture their leadership had fostered did not mince its words: “This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organization and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International.”
Says he “led a blind eye” to hacking.
Members of the British Parliament who are investigating phone hacking called Rupert Murdoch “not a fit person” to lead News Corp. and said he had misled them. Murdoch “turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness,” said the report by the 11-member House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport. It also claimed that if Murdoch had been “entirely open” to his shareholders and lawmakers, the hacking scandal would have been discovered months earlier. The report also criticized Murdoch’s son James, saying he should ultimately take responsibility, as well as Les Hinton, Colin Myler, and Tom Crone, three former executives at News International, News Corp.’s British wing.
The future of James Murdoch’s career—and even News Corp’s future with Britain’s lucrative BSkyB—could rest on a report expected early Tuesday from the Select Committee. Peter Jukes on why the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Tuesday’s long-delayed report from the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee looks set to seal the career of James Murdoch, and could well determine not only his continuance on the board of BSkyB but even News Corp.’s controlling stake in Britain’s richest broadcaster.
James Murdoch arriving at the High Court to testify at the Leveson Inquiry in London (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)
The stakes couldn’t be higher. This Select Committee was the venue both James and his father, Rupert, were forced to attend when the news of the hacking of murdered teenager Milly Dowler turned the long-running allegations against the now-shuttered News of the World into a national scandal.
The report has been delayed because of the extraordinary number of arrests—now more than 40—in subsequent investigations into alleged police bribes and phone hacking. Britain’s attorney general has been called in to advise the committee on how to avoid contempt of court proceedings for those who have been arrested. This includes News International’s CEO, Rebekah Brooks, who faces three possible charges, among them conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The committee’s report has to be careful not to prejudice any pending criminal trials and therefore must avoid commenting on any related issues.
It is widely believed the focus of the report will be on Brooks’s immediate boss, James Murdoch, who was News Corp. head of Europe at the time, and his much-debated claim that he knew nothing about the extent of phone hacking, even though in 2008 he authorized a $2 million payout to one of the earliest victims, Gordon Taylor, head of the soccer-players association. This was more than 20 times any previous British court settlement for invasion of privacy. During his Leveson testimony, Rupert Murdoch called the amount “incredible.”
James Murdoch’s senior in-house lawyer, Tom Crone, and News of the World editor Colin Myler, recommended settling at this extraordinary level because legal disclosure had uncovered a document, the now-famous “For Neville” email, which indicated phone hacking had been rife at the Sunday tabloid. They insist they told James Murdoch at the meeting in May, and earlier this year an email chain surfaced during police searches that confirmed he had been briefed on the problem.
James Murdoch testified before the Leveson Inquiry.
Appearing before the committee last November and again before the Leveson Inquiry last week, James Murdoch said he hadn’t read to the bottom of the email chain, sent to him over a weekend, because he was with his kids. Mark Lewis, a Manchester lawyer who pursued the early phone-hacking settlements, has said of Murdoch’s version of events: “Having to choose between incompetence and criminal cover-up, it’s understandable James chose incompetence.”
Investigators allege Boris Johnson met with executives.
London Mayor Boris Johnson allegedly pursued commercial negotiations with News International even as Scotland Yard investigated reported phone hackings at Rupert Murdoch’s news empire, the BBC reported Monday. Further, as mayor of London, Johnson is responsible for Scotland Yard, whose chief and deputy chief both resigned after being smeared in the investigation into alleged payments to police in an attempt to cover the alleged hacking. In meetings with James Murdoch, Johnson reportedly pressed the former News Corp. chairman for support of a cable car the mayor had planned, as well as for a proposed academy in the city, the BBC reports.
The mogul says that News Corp. has been meeting privately with members of the Parliament committee investigating his empire. Peter Jukes on the troubling ties.
Was News Corp. secretly meeting with parliamentary investigators, too?
While the British Culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, is still fighting for his ministerial survival as a result of evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry by News Corp., more evidence has emerged today that raises questions about the impartiality of some members of the Parliamentary Select Committee who are on the verge of delivering their long-awaited verdict on the phone-hacking scandal.
Jeremy Hunt’s ministerial career is on the line because of an email chain submitted as part of Rupert Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday suggesting a senior News Corp. lobbyist was in intensive contact with his office during the months he was judging News Corp.’s $16 million bid for BSkyB. The minister was supposed to be acting in a “quasi-judicial role” and the appearance of a back channel with one side of the contentious bid is alleged to have compromised his impartiality.
Meanwhile, in a separate written submission Thursday, Rupert Murdoch detailed all the political contacts that have taken place between News Corp. and British parliamentarians since 2009. Included on page 3 of the list are five Conservative members of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee, including the committee’s chairman John Whittingdale.
Chris Bryant, a Labour MP who sat on the same committee from 2001 to 2005, told The Daily Beast he finds these revelations troubling: “We normally do not have private meetings with companies or individuals who we are investigating especially if they are pursuing a particular agenda.”
News Corp.’s evidence only names individuals and time periods, and gives no detail about the frequency or content of the meetings. However, during the last three years the DCMS has been running two inquiries in into News Corp.’s News International subsidiary, mainly as a result of the phone hacking at News of the World which first emerged in 2006.
Jeremy Hunt’s ministerial career is on the line because of an email chain submitted as part of Rupert Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday suggesting a senior News Corp. lobbyist was in intensive contact with his office during the months he was judging News Corp.’s $16 million bid for BSkyB. (Jon Super / AP Photo )
The committee’s first 2009-10 report into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel noted the “collective amnesia” of News International executives over the phone-hacking issue, but refused to compel the then chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, to testify.
With a flash of menace, the mogul defended his realm before Britain’s Leveson Inquiry this week. Are we at the beginning of the end of the Murdoch empire?
On the opening night of the News Corp. retreat in Sun Valley in 1997, a bizarre sight greeted the executives and editors brought together to celebrate the company’s success and to squander some of the $1.8 billion its Fox movie division made from James Cameron’s Titanic. Above the lawn where bigwigs from around the world were gathered, actors dressed as American Indians, with long feather headdresses and war paint, emerged from the hilltops and began their slow descent.
News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, right, wife Wendi Deng, and son Lachlan leave their London home on April 26, as Rupert Murdoch prepares to give evidence for a second day at the Leveson Inquiry (Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images)
Leading them was an uncomfortable-looking Rupert Murdoch, cast as the chief-of-chiefs, who, when the absurd ceremony was complete, addressed his staff. “Don’t be naive,” he warned them. Reporters from rival news organizations had been sent to file critical stories, he said. Everyone should watch what they say lest their offhand remarks be twisted and damage the company.
It was classic Murdoch: like Richard Nixon, he is cautious, competitive, deeply cynical, and strongly laced with paranoia. He is proud to be an outsider, beyond reach, unaffected by the social pressures that affect normal mortals. He cannot disguise his longstanding antipathy toward the British. Above all, he does not like to be thought jejune.
Back in July, when summoned by Parliament to explain phone hacking committed by his employees, he had assumed a modest persona. “This is the most humble day of my life,” he confessed. But appearing before the inquiry into press standards presided over by Lord Leveson in London last week, the wily Murdoch tried to appear candid and charming but let slip his dark side. “I have never asked a prime minister for anything,” he insisted, with a flash of menace. Murdoch was back on the offense.
Sure, prime ministers and politicians may have fallen in line with his business goals, but that was their affair, he said. If there was any wrongdoing, it was people like Tony Blair and David Cameron who were to blame because they, not he, were elected to represent the people’s interests. He put News Corp. first. If politicians were too callow and craven to resist him, too bad.
The facts tell a different story. Murdoch says Cameron went “out of his way to impress” when he was flown to see Murdoch on his yacht before the general election of May 2010. Since the election, Cameron has consulted with Murdoch seven times. Murdoch says such exchanges are “part of the democratic process,” but such was the prime minister’s embarrassment at being seen taking orders that the 81-year-old tycoon was asked to use the back door because “[they] don’t want me photographed going out the front door.”
For those who have watched Murdoch at close quarters, his belligerent attitude came as no surprise. He is a lonely, headstrong figure, used to getting his way, and is furious not only to have been frustrated in taking the remaining 61 percent of the British satellite broadcaster Sky that he does not already own, but finding himself being challenged by lawmakers and government lawyers over whether he is a fit and proper person to own and run a media company. The nerve!
The octogenarian tycoon was on top of his game under intense questioning about the relationship between the press and politicians, stunning many with his displays of audacity, aplomb, and brazenness.
Ah, what a performance. What a performance. If it had been at the West End, the actor would have received a standing ovation. Instead, the forum was the Royal Courts of Justice. The spotlight was on the Keith Rupert Murdoch. For two days, he appeared as a witness before Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is conducting an inquiry into the “culture, practice and ethics of the press.” The inquiry arose after the revelations that reporters at the News of the World had hacked into telephone messages of scores of individuals in order to get stories.
Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
Most of the intense questioning of Murdoch focused on the relationship between the press and politicians, a subject of intense interest here. His lines might not have brought applause, but it certainly left many listeners gasping in disbelief at his audacity, brazenness and aplomb.
Murdoch, now 81, sought to portray himself as a humble media proprietor who never used his power to advance his political or commercial interest. There were long theatrical pauses by Murdoch, so long that it times it almost appeared that he had fallen asleep. He appeared to be trying to give gravitas to his answers, as if he really were thinking deeply.
“I have never asked a prime minister for anything,” Murdoch said. “I don’t know how many times I have to state to you, Mr. Jay, that I never talk commercial considerations” with politicians, he said in response to another question from Robert Jay, the inquiry’s lead counsel.
While many find this hard to swallow, if true, some of his shareholders might wonder if he has been protecting their interests.
Murdoch’s first-day performance—er, appearance—earned a front-page review in the Financial Times. “Eyes bright, sharp as a tack—and in control of the situation,” wrote Matthew Engel. “There were lots of pauses for thought, but these were not vacant pauses; he was selecting which trick to employ—humorous self-deprecation, cleverness, mock-stupidity or sheer brass-neck brazenness.”
In 1981, Murdoch was seeking to buy The Times and Sunday Times, the country’s largest-circulation broadsheets. He already owned The Sun, a tabloid and the country’s largest-circulation newspaper. As a result, the government’s monopolies and mergers commission would likely have to rule. Murdoch wanted to avoid that.
While the media mogul said that he ‘failed’ to stop the hacking scandal, Murdoch blamed ‘one or two’ people—and strongly hinted at former editor Colin Myler. Mike Giglio reports. UPDATE: News of the World’s former legal manager called Murdoch’s cover-up allegations ‘a shameful lie.’
Rupert Murdoch took the stand in London this morning for the second day of his testimony before the public inquiry into the controversy his U.K. media empire has inspired, and the focus finally turned to the issue that sparked crisis in the first place—phone hacking.
Asked how the problem had gone on for so long at his News of the World tabloid without the knowledge of Murdoch or his senior executives, as has been claimed, Murdoch had a simple explanation: cover-up.
In response to questions from Robert Jay, the chief counsel to the Leveson Inquiry into corrupt practices in the British press, Murdoch said he had been “misinformed and shielded” from the problem. He casted the blame downward, away from himself and from trusted executives such as Les Hinton, Rebekah Brooks and his son James, who have all held top positions at News International, the U.K. arm of Murdoch’s New York-based News Corp. “I do blame one or two people for that who perhaps I shouldn’t name because for all I know they may be arrested,” Murdoch said. “There is no question in my mind [that] maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret.”
Murdoch added that one of the suspects he had in mind “was a friend of the journalists and a drinking pal and a clever lawyer. […] This person forbade people to go and report to Mrs. Brooks or to James.”
AFP / Getty Images
Murdoch seemed to be referring in part to Colin Myler, who was appointed as editor-in-chief of News of the World in 2007 with the mandate, in Murdoch’s words, “to find out what the hell what was going on.”
He later said that Myler, who was installed by Hinton, would not have been his first choice for editor at News of the World. Myler has since become editor-in-chief of the Daily News, the rival New York tabloid to Murdoch’s New York Post.
Both Myler and Tom Crone, the legal affairs manager at News International at the time, have argued that in 2008 they had alerted James Murdoch to the existence of a wider phone hacking problem at News of the World than the so-called “rogue reporter” defense the company had long claimed.
Also admits to five extra meetings with Cameron.
Back before the inquiry into media ethics, Rupert Murdoch admitted there was a phone-hacking cover-up, but he blames one or two “strong characters” at News of the World—including former editor Colin Myler. He had unusually sharp words for his son James, saying he was shocked at the size of the Gordon Taylor settlement and that it showed James was “pretty inexperienced.” On Wednesday night, Murdoch admitted to having five more meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron than previously admitted—a contradiction of earlier claims that "every contact" had been made public.
As the Leveson Inquiry continues, a cache of emails spells trouble for the Conservative government in Britain. Peter Jukes reports
As Rupert Murdoch rose to take his oath at the Leveson Inquiry on Wednesday, heads were already rolling in Whitehall as a result of a trove of emails deposited by his company.
Adam Smith, the senior political advisor to the Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, resigned after News Corp. handed the Leveson Inquiry a cache of emails from News Corp’s European head of affairs, Frederic Michel, which detail confidential information passed by Smith to the company during their contentious $16 billion bid for BSkyB.
The 163 emails seem to demonstrate an intense and cozy relationship between the office of the culture minister and one of James Murdoch’s closest aides. Many of the emails contain advance notice of parliamentary statements, internal arguments with the regulator and other officials, which were both market sensitive, and highly compromising for the culture minister, who was supposed to be overseeing the bid in an impartial "quasi-judicial" process. Labour accused the Conservative minister instead of being a "cheerleader" for News Corp. and that throwing his special adviswr under the bus in order to save his career was in breach of the ministerial code.
As the Leveson Inquiry explored over thirty years of Rupert Murdoch’s dominance of Fleet Street, the media mogul’s recurrent theme was that he never used political pressure to achieve any commercial ends. (Leon Neal, AFP / Getty Images)
New allegations are surfacing in London, which detail Hunt’s five days in the United States meeting News Corp. executives around the time its British newspapers began to support David Cameron. More comically—but perhaps just as damaging—a Daily Telegraph reporter, Ian Martin, relates an incident, when Jeremy Hunt apparently hid behind a tree to avoid being seen while sneaking to a dinner with James Murdoch.
All these revelations at Westminster somewhat contradicted the Wednesday testimony of Rupert Murdoch who appeared a mile or so away at the Royal Courts of Justice. As the inquiry explored more than 30 years of the media mogul’s dominance of Fleet Street, Rupert’s recurrent theme was that he never used political pressure to achieve any commercial ends.
“It’s a complete myth that I used the influence of the Sun, or supposed political power, to get influence,” he reiterated again and again, complaining about the allegations: “they just aren’t true!”
This current part of the Leveson Inquiry is looking at the connections between the press and politicians, and it’s already become one of the stormiest sessions of all. In a raucous session of prime minister’s questions, David Cameron had to answer yet more allegations of secret dinners with the Murdochs and "cosying up to News. Corp." This was followed by an equally noisy barracking of his culture minister as Jeremy Hunt made a statement, claiming that no one should jump on the "political bandwagon" and he deserves his time in court in front of Lord Justice Leveson to state his case.
Says “we are not perfect.”
In a lively day of testimony before Parliament, Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday he “didn’t believe” in using hacking, calling it “a lazy way of reporters not doing their job.” “We are not perfect, I’m not saying that we are, but we are nothing compared to what you see on the Internet every day,” Murdoch said. Questions mainly focused on Murdoch’s influence over elected officials, but the News Corp. chairman insisted he never got special treatment because of his power—and he said he has never asked for any favors.
On the stand in London, the News Corp. mogul took aim at the former Sunday Times editor—the latest in a 30-year feud.
It was comic and sad to see Rupert Murdoch testify at the Leveson Inquiry this morning dealing with all the charges against him. It was comic for me because he had to find a way of denying that he ever broke his promise to maintain the independence of The Times under my editorship. Political independence was only one of the promises he made and broke. It was sad that, having lost his memory, he compensated by spectacular displays of imagination. On the stand he invented a scene in which I came on my knees, begging him to tell me what to think, and not to tell anybody that I’d asked him.
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To the detailed evidence in my book Good Times, Bad Times—never challenged or repudiated over 30 years—he could only affect memory loss, and claimed never to have read the book, which describes a year of meetings.
There is a pattern to the Murdoch sagas. He responds to serious criticism by a biting wisecrack or diversionary personal attack. What is denied most sharply invariably turns out to be irrefutably true. As with the hacking saga, so with my charges. It’s fair to say Good Times, Bad Times was well received, but several commentators suggested I had exaggerated the influence of Margaret Thatcher, and that Murdoch had honored the editorial independence he promised the editors of The Times and The Sunday Times. Charles Moore said the story should have waited until I had died; it was ungentlemanly, he thought, to write so soon of events of which I had knowledge. I am sorry I disappointed him by staying alive.
Sir Harold Evans responds to Rupert Murdoch’s statements at the Leveson Inquiry
It must disappoint all the apologists that on March 16, 2012, the Churchill Archives Centre (CAC) in Cambridge released two discomfiting documents from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. They give the lie to the official history of The Times from 1981 to 2002. The historian engaged by The Times, Graham Stewart, wrote that Murdoch and Thatcher “had no communication whatsoever during the period in which The Times bid and referral was up for discussion.” [i] On the contrary, the documents reveal that on Jan. 4, 1981, the prime minister and Murdoch had an extraordinary secret lunch at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence.
The record of the “salient points” of the meeting by No. 10’s press officer, (now Sir) Bernard Ingham, testifies that in accordance with Thatcher’s wishes he would not let his report go outside No. 10, which is to say ministers would not be briefed on the meeting. It must be galling for Stewart that the source he relied on for the falsehood in his history was the man who engaged him to write it. The meeting that Stewart writes never took place was highly improper. Moreover, Ingham’s “note for the record” reeks of cover-up in triplicate. It bears some parsing.
First, the pretense is that Murdoch was afforded a private meeting with the prime minister so she could be briefed on the takeover battle. That’s absurd enough, given the coverage in the press and the responsibilities of the Department of Trade. The larger absurdity is that the prime minister’s redundant “briefing” is being done by only one bidder, and by one who has an urgent interest in rubbishing his competitors. Interestingly, Murdoch’s list of rivals makes no mention of someone Stewart refers to as making a “serious offer” [ii]: Vere Harmsworth, the third Lord Rothermere, the most formidable of the newspaper owners whose great uncle Lord Northcliffe owned The Times between 1908 and 1922, a newspaper genius whose mind failed him at the end. Murdoch also chose not to inform the prime minister of the bid by the Sunday Times’s management buyout team, which submitted its offer to the Thomson Organization on Dec. 31, 1981. The monetary amount of £12 million sterling was the same. He deliberately conflates the bid by the profitable Sunday Times editors and managers with the less credible bid by journalists of the loss-making Times.
British Prime Minister David Cameron testified before the Leveson Inquiry Thursday, saying politicians and the media have an ‘unhealthy’ relationship that lacks trust and high standards.