Posts Tagged ‘The News of the World’

Murdoch’s Editorial Interference and Right-Wing Bias

June 7, 2016

The phone hacking scandal has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. For a moment it looked like Murdoch himself was going to end up in court, because of allegations that he personally interferes in editing his newspapers. According to Private Eye, he almost appeared before the beak a few years ago on a libel charge, after Michael Foot sued the Times for claiming that he was a KGB agent, based on the unlikely word of Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a former KGB agent, and self-confessed liar. From what I recall, a number of the Times’ staff were highly sceptical of the allegations, with the exception of the editor, David Leppard. And so the paper printed the story that Foot, a principled democratic socialist, whose loyalty to his country should never have been in doubt, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

Murdoch’s managed to escape these scrapes with the law, and wriggle out of them when he has been forced to appear before public enquiries and parliamentary committees, by claiming that he doesn’t interfere with his papers’ editorial policies. Mark Hollingworth, in his book The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, points out that Murdoch largely doesn’t need to. He appoints editors he knows will follow his political line, like Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, who before he became editor of the Sunset Times was one of the editors on the Economist. Neil told his staff at a meeting of the Gay Hussar pub in London that he fully supported Thatcher’s policies on monetarism and privatisation, although on macroeconomic policy he claimed he was further to the left, and more like David Owen. (p. 18).

The News of the World

But Hollingworth makes clear that the Dirty Digger does interfere with the editor’s running of his newspapers, and certainly did so when he took over the News of the World at the end of the 1960s. Hollingsworth writes

However, when Murdoch was faced with an editor who didn’t share his political views and wanted a semblance of independence, the situation changed dramatically. when he took of the News of the World in 1969, Murdoch told the incumbent editor, Stafford Somerfield: I didn’t come all this way not to interfere.’ According to Somerfield, the new proprietor ‘wanted to read proofs, write a leader if he felt like it, change the paper about and give instructions to the staff’. As the paper’s long-serving editor, Somerfield was used to a fair amount of independence and he tried to resist Murdoch’s interference. In 1970 Somerfield was dismissed by Murdoch.

A similar fate befell another News of the World editor a decade later. Barry Askew had been appointed by Murdoch in April 1981 after a successful career as the crusading editor of the Lancashire Evening Post during which he published a series of stories about corruption among local public officials and institutions. However, when Askew and the News of the World declined, like the Times under Harold Evans during the same period to give the Conservative government unequivocal support, Murdoch took action. ‘He [Murdoch] would come into the office,’ said Askew, ‘and literally rewrite leaders which were not supporting the hard Thatcher monetarist line. That were not, in fact, supporting – slavishly supporting – the Tory government.’

Askew believes the big clash came over an exclusive story about John DeLorean, the car tycoon. A freelance journalist, John Lisners, had persuaded DeLorean’s former secretary, Marian Gibson, to reveal details about her boss’ business practices and alleged irregularities. It was a superb story, backed up by other sources and also cleared by Gibson’s lawyer-Clarence Jones.

However, just after noon on Saturday 3 October 1981, Murdoch telephoned Askew, as he invariably did every week, to discuss the main stories. Askew told him about the DeLorean scoop and Murdoch appeared initially to be enthusiastic. Later that afternoon Murdoch arrived at the office in Bouverie Street and went straight to the ‘back-bench’ to read the DeLorean material. One of the key sources was William Haddad, who had worked for Murdoch on the New York Post. On learning of Haddad’s involvement, Murdoch said: ‘He’s a leftwing troublemaker’, although he later denied saying this. ‘I may have referred to Bill’s love of conspiracy theories.’

Murdoch then consulted his legal advisors and they decided the story was legally unsafe. The story was killed. The next day the Daily Mirror published the same story on its front page and the rest of the media followed it up. Interestingly, according to Ivan Fallon and James Srodes’ book DeLorean, it was Murdoch who arranged for Lord Goodman to act as DeLorean’s lawyer to discourage the rest of Fleet Street from pursuing the story. Within a year DeLorean’s car firm was bankrupt. Within two months, in December 1981, Askew was dismissed and he returned to Lancashire a bitter man. ‘I don’t think Fleet Street gives a damn about ethics, morality or anything else. It gives a damn about attracting a readership that will attract an advertising situation which will make a profit which will make the press barons powerful politically.
(pp.18-20).

The Times

This editorial interference did not stop with the News of the World. It also extended to the Times, when that august paper was under the editorship of the highly respected journalist, Harold Evans. Hollingworth continues

But by far the most revealing example of Murdoch’s desire to set the political line of his papers also came during 1981 when the Conservative government was very unpopular because of high unemployment. when Harold Evans was appointed editor of the Times in March 1981, he was given official guarantees by Murdoch about editorial freedom. On 23 January 1981, the new owner of Times Newspapers had given formal undertakings that ‘In accordance with the traditions of the papers, their editors will not be subject to instruction from either the proprietor of the management on the selection and balance of news and opinion.’

Within a year, however, Evans had been dismissed, claiming he had been forced to resign over constant pressure by Murdoch to move the paper to the Right. Evans’ added: ‘The Times was not notably hostile to the [Conservative] government but it wanted to be independent. But that was not good enough for Rupert Murdoch. He wanted it to be a cheerleader for monetarism and Mrs Thatcher.’ Murdoch denied the charge: ‘Rubbish! Harry used to come and see me and say, “Rupert, it’s wonderful to have you in town. What do you want me to say, what do you want me to do, just let me know.”‘ On this crucial point, Evans told me: ‘Lie plus macho sneer with a useful ambiguity. It is a lie that I ever asked him what to say… It is true that I asked his view from time to time on developments of the paper. The truth is that far from asking Murdoch “what to say”, I followed an editorial policy often in opinion at variance with his own Thatcher-right-or-wrong view.’

The evidence certainly gives credence to Evans’ interpretation of events, although he also fell out with some of the staff. According to leader writer Bernard Donoghue, features editor Anthony Holden and executive editor Brian Macarthur, there was political pressure on Evans because of what Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Times centrist drift’. When unemployment had reached three million in the summer of 1981 Murdoch and Gerald Long, Managing Director of Times Newspapers, wanted the Times to emphasize the number of people in work. Evans declined and Murdoch snapped at him: ‘You’re always getting at her [Mrs Thatcher].’ The Times editor and his proprietor continually argued over economic policy and on one occasion Evans received an extraordinary memorandum from Gerald Long: ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the recession has ended. Why are you have the effrontery in the Times to say that it has not.’

Evans believes the Times was simply taking a more detached, independent editorial position. But by early 1982, Murdoch was clearly losing patience. According to Bernard (now Lord Donoghue, a leader writer and now a stockbroker at Grieveson & Grant, Murdoch had promised Mrs Thatcher that the Times would be back in the Conservative camp by the Easter of that year. But the editor refused to submit to what he later called ‘political intimidation and harassment’. On 12 March 1982, Evans wrote the following editorial: ‘ Unemployment is a social scandal… We favour a more competitive society as against one which is subject to the monopoly power of capital or the trade unions. Three days later Evans was dismissed.

Such lack of sovereignty and independence by the editor has been prevalent throughout the Murdoch empire. ‘I give instructions to me editors all round the world, why shouldn’t I in London,’ he told Fred Emery, home affairs editor of the Times, on 4 March 1982. However, since 1983 all four of Murdoch’s London papers have taken a consistently pro-Conservative government line and so there has been no need to interfere. According to a report on the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team, this is how the system works: ‘Murdoch appoints people who are sympathetic to him. Thus most of the senior staff like Hugo Young have left or been completely emasculated or replaced… To survive you have to self-censor. You approach a story in a different way than if you’d run it in the way you wanted to.’ (pp. 20-1).

The Sun

Hollingsworth concludes that Murdoch actually rarely interfered with the Sun, as under its editor Larry Lamb, who was knighted by Thatcher in 1980, it had already moved to the Tory right, a policy that was continued by the succeeding editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. (p. 21).

So while Murdoch may not interfere in the day-to-day editorial matters of his newspapers any more, they do reflect his personal political opinions and his own personal style of journalism, as carried out by compliant, sympathetic editors.
There was an outcry when he tried to buy the News of the World in 1969. The paper’s then-management were worried about how he would change the paper. And the same fears were raised again when he went off and bought the Times in the late ’70s or first years of the ’80s. There were indeed plans to refer his proposed purchase to the monopolies and mergers commission, though that might have been when he bought the Daily Herald and turned it into the Scum.

And his critics were right. He is not a fit and proper person to own a paper, and he should never have been allowed to buy them. It says much about Thatcher’s grubby, domineering leadership that he was.

Bruce Page on Rupert Murdoch

January 27, 2016

I found an entire chapter devoted to Rupert Murdoch in the book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Petrolia: CounterPunch 2007). The book is about the end of critical, investigative journalism, particularly in America, and the way the press now colludes with and promotes Conservative parties and policies. The chapter on the Dirty Digger, ‘Murdoch’s Game’, describes the Australian media magnate’s rise to global dominance, his role as a right-wing propagandist and his psychopathic psychology. Part of the chapter is an interview with Bruce Page, an Australian-born British journalist and former member of the Insight team at the Sunday Times, before that august journal was bought out, along with the Times proper, by the Chunder from Down Under. Page had written a critical study of Murdoch and his empire of yellow journalism and sleaze, The Murdoch Archipelago. Other books have been written about the media magnate since then, and particularly since the phone hacking scandal. This chapter is still very interesting, and it’s worth reading the whole. However, I was particularly struck by certain passages, which I’ll reproduce here.

Cockburn himself makes a good point about Murdoch as a propagandist for Right-wing regimes.

core thesis is that Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief (as with the recent PCC ruling on the acquisition of DirecTV), monopoly markets and so forth. The propaganda is undertaken with the utmost cynicism, whether it’s the stentorian fake populism and soft porn in the UK’s Sun and News of the World, or the shameless bootlicking of the butchers of Tiananmen Square.

Page on Murdoch’s attitude to offshore ownership and democracy:

“On sovereignty: my belief is that Murdoch and his like deeply fear every kind of collaboration between effective democratic entities. They can exist only in an offshore domain from which they truck and barter with comprador elites. Sadly for them, there is an antagonistic tendency which every now and then makes crucial advances: if and when the OECD countries organise a viable tax system, Newscorp is toast. The US and the EC have made more progress in that direction than is generally realised. Only crooks really like offshore, and crooks have no guaranteed monopoly over the world.”

‘Comprador’ is a Marxist term for the elites in subaltern countries, who collaborate in the economic domination of their country by the capitalist West. General Pinochet and his cronies in Chile would constitute such a ‘comprador elite’ after the CIA sponsored coup, for example.

Page makes the case that Murdoch learned his authoritarianism and mendacity from his father, the journalist, media mogul and propagandist Sir Keith Murdoch. Murdoch claimed to be an independent journalist, but worked behind the scenes to impose conscription for Australians during the First World War. He was also involved in a plot against the Ossie general, John Monash, purely because that senior officer was Jewish. This was despite the fact that it was Monash’s volunteers broke the German line at one of the battles. Page goes on and says of the way Murdoch’s own authoritarianism and sheer credulity have allowed him to dominate the world’s media.

“Journalists are insecure, because they must trade in the unknown. Their profession, said the sociologist Max Weber, is uniquely ‘accident prone’. Good management may reduce this insecurity-but Newscorp style actually uses insecurity as a disciplinary tool. And the seeming assurance of the authoritarian has tactical benefits: Murdoch can swap one attitude for another with zero embarrassment, and it enables him to ‘deliver’ newspapers to any power he approves of. Readers naturally grow sceptical. But this does not yet harm Newscorp’s business model.

“It would have been remarkable for Rupert to develop in non-authoritarian fashion, given his inheritance. When his father died, he had neither graduate from university, nor gained any real newspaper tradecraft. In order to take control of what was then News Limited, under the trust Sir Keith established, Rupert had to accept his father as a paragon of journalistic integrity: to convince the trustees, believers in that myth, of his desire to emulate it. Exactly when independence is essential for personal and professional development, a spurious parental image descended on him. And he has emulated the political propagandist, not the mythological paragon.

“The outcome attracts today’s politicians because a sickness afflicts them. In all developed societies trust in politics has declined: while democracy advances in the developing world, it finds itself ailing in its homelands. Finding themselves distrusted, politicians turn for a cure to tabloid journalism-Murdoch’s especially-which they realise is distrusted still more than themselves. They do so just as victims of a slow, fatal disease use quack remedies if the real cure still seems too strenuous.

“The real problem of politics is the increasingly complex, and therefore occult nature of advanced society. We fancy it has become more open, and it somewhat has. But progress has fallen behind the needs of better-educated, less deferential citizens whose problems grow more daunting intellectually. The state for which politicians are responsible cannot explain itself to its citizens. It might change this by opening itself far more freely to scrutiny. But against this the bureaucrats-public and private-on whom politicians rely for administrative convenience conduct relentless guerrilla attack. Should politicians choose to fight back, they will not lack allies, for most Western societies still have some competent, independent news media and the demand exists among citizens. In Britain, real newspapers and broadcasters like the BBC continue to be trusted, as Murdoch’s tabloids will never be. But quack remedies still appeal to governments: and all Murdoch asks in return is a little help in extending his monopolies.

“Of course, if the process goes far enough, only the quack remedy will be available, and democracy’s ailment would then be terminal.”

In other words, modern society is too complex to be easily explained by politicians and civil servants. The complex nature of modern life has meant that the educated want more information, not less. The civil servants don’t want this. The politicians also find themselves distrusted. So to the boost politicos’ popularity and for the civil servants to fob people off with less information than they want or need, both groups of officialdom turn to Murdoch.

I’ve got a feeling that Adam Curtis said something extremely similar in one of his documentaries years ago. I’ve got a feeling it was in the one where he attacked game theory, and its view of people as fundamentally selfish. And since then, the elite’s desire for secrecy and disinformation has come back in spades, as shown in Cameron and co.’s attempts to muzzle the Freedom of information Act. And guess what? They were helped into power by none other than the Dirty Rupe, dubbed in his homeland, ‘the Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This was the title the Nazis gave Goebbels. And if the cap fits, wear it.

Spitting Image on Rupert Murdoch’s Journalism

January 19, 2015

Long before the phone hacking scandal, Murdoch’s papers, like the Sun and News of the World, were notorious for the virulence of their invective and running highly dodgy stories about celebrities. In this Spitting Image sketch, Murdoch and two of his journalists, shown as vultures, concoct an ever-more sensational and completely unfounded story about cricketer Ian Botham, in which they accuse the great man of terrorism offences and incest.

Unfortunately, precious little has changed in the over a quarter of a century since the sketch was shown, so that it still remains highly topical.