As the British media and, slowly but surely, their American counterparts begin dismantling the myth and blowing away the aura that has surrounded Rupert Murdoch for far too long, this is a moment perhaps, to pay tribute to the man who was the first to spot the stink of sewage coming from that direction, who cried the warning but was ignored. I know I have featured the audio from this interview before but here is the video, which is well worth watching. That man was Dennis Potter, the English playwright and here he is speaking about the Dirty Digger in a celebrated TV exchange with Melvyn Bragg. Potter suffered from psoriatic arthritis, a terrible disease, and was a few days away from death from cancer when he gave the interview. Enjoy and remember he was blowing the whistle on Murdoch in 1994, seventeen years ago, since when the Australian media mogul has visited his blight elsewhere in the world, notably here in America courtesy of Fox News.
Update 15.22 EDT – Rupert Murdoch’s influence on the course of British politics – buying politicians’ favours by putting his media clout at their disposal – has been brilliantly chronicled by Lance Price, whom I knew vaguely when he worked at the BBC in Belfast. Once he moved into doing PR for Tony Blair my estimation of him dipped – until that is I read this piece by him describing the Dirty Digger as the unseen minister at Blair’s Cabinet table exercising influence over so many of Blair’s key decisions. Hugh Grant, another character who has risen in my judgement over this affair even if he has behaved in unashamed self-interest, wrote these scathing words about Margaret Thatcher’s relations with Murdoch. We know current PM David Cameron has also kowtowed to Murdoch because he chose disgraced NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his press person. That means every major prime minister during the year’s when Britain was wooed into the world of neo-liberal economics was under the sway of Murdoch and owed him big time for the support his media empire gave them at election time.
Update – 22:17 EDT: No-one involved in the extraordinary News of the World (known as News of the Screws in my youth) scandal – extraordinary because someone in a high place in News International was so dumb as to think they would get away with such a blatant and widespread malpractice carried out by so many people for so long – deserves any sympathy. But spare a thought for Rebekah Wade’s predecessor as NotW editor Andy Coulson who clearly is being set up by Murdoch & his despicable crew as the fall guy for the
hacking & police bribery that went on. Bets are that this is possible because the bold Rebekah has the goods on Murdoch’s son, James and if the Dirty Digger moves against her, he knows that she can produce the emails, recorded phone calls and so on in sufficiently damning quantity and quality as to bring the House of Murdoch to its knees.
Murdoch et al are probably gambling that Coulson does not have the same sort of quality leverage, so he has become expendable – hence all the disingenuous, faux horror from Murdoch, his son James and the rest of the News International crew that of course they are ‘appalled’ to learn what was going on, and of course they knew nothing of any of this, there were loose cannons in the newsroom don’t you know & wasn’t Rebekah tanning herself on the beach in Crete when Milly was hacked and so on?
But it is a gamble. Even if Coulson does not have the sort of evidence Rebekah may have/probably has he would have been a very foolish man indeed if he had not spent the last months reconstructing in painful detail all those incriminating conversations he undoubtedly had with News International’s top echelon before, during and after the whole sordid affair broke. So he can do lots of damage one way or the other. That’s one reason why this ploy by Murdoch is such a huge gamble.
The other is that Murdoch is also threatening to throw Coulson’s erstwhile employer, Tory leader and British PM, David Cameron to the lions. It is a challenge Cameron can hardly duck. His judgement in hiring Coulson has already been severely questioned – even Ed Milliband couldn’t help but look good attacking him, for God’s sake – but standing idly by as Coulson, and by implication his most recent employer, are destroyed in the courts will be his Waterloo (the one where John Wayne wasn’t born). So, he has to fight back. The public opinion tipping point against Murdoch has been passed and it’s doubtful if the needle can ever be pushed back. If Cameron fails to see that – the fate of the BSkyB deal will tell this story – then he’s a goner. Murdoch has always dealt with pliant, malleable politicians in Britain (see Lance Price’s account of Blair, in his first year as PM, traveling half way across the world to pay homage to Murdoch and his lackeys) and also in America. No British prime minister has ever defied Murdoch and one has to doubt whether Cameron has the stuff to be the first. But if he doesn’t he will be toast. One of them will fall. As political dramas go, you couldn’t make this one up. But for the first time in my life, I’m tempted to root for the Tory.
Update, July 8th, 21:13 EDT – When the British Army’s favorite daily, The Daily Telegraph, house journal of establishment British Conservatism (rather like the Wall Street Journal or Morning Joe on MSNBC) , turns against Murdoch as it has done here in this piece written by its Chief Pol Corr, Peter Oborne or in this lead news story then you know Murdoch is totally under water. As one of my old mates in Belfast used to say in other similar situations, ‘it couldn’t happen to a more deserving fella’.
Update, July 10th, 17:19 EDT
It been almost impossible to switch on a radio or TV programme dealing with the Murdoch hacking scandal without Roy Greenslade popping up to lecture the world about how insidious and destructive Murdoch’s media reach has been in Britain. Only this afternoon I switched on NPR’s On the Media and there he was again, this time full of breathless excitement about the latest sordid twists and turns in the story. Reading his Guardian blog, it is clear that the former Daily Mirror editor turned journalism professor is savouring ever moment of the Dirty Digger’s fall – as, indeed, are we all.
But there is an old rule in journalism, as in life, which says that people who live in glass houses should be pretty careful about where and in whose direction they toss stones. A couple of years ago the Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who has been more responsible than any other British journalist for uncovering the NOTW hacking scandal, published a book called Flat Earth News dedicated to uncovering malpractice and misbehaviour in the British media, not least at the Sunday Times, the flagship of the Murdoch media empire in Britain and Greenslade’s former employer.
According to Davies, during Roy Greenslade’s tenure as Managing News Editor at the same Sunday Times, the now ubiquitous Murdoch scourge doubled as an pseudonymous correspondent of An Phoblacht-Republican News, the Provisional IRA’s once weekly newspaper. According to this report, Greenslade was so angry at bad British reporting of the 1988 SAS shootings in Gibraltar that “(he) was provoked into one particularly bizarre manoeuvre in his efforts to let some light into the story. He believed in the Irish republican cause and occasionally wrote for the Sinn Fein paper An Phoblacht, but discreetly hid his work behind the pseudonym George King.” George King was of course meant to be a play on ‘King George’ (ho!ho! Nice one Roy).
Now, compared to hacking into Milly Dowler’s cell phone, hiding behind a false by-line to write for an overtly political newspaper hardly rates, while others might choose to celebrate this rarest of rare examples of a British hack actually taking the other side in the Irish story. But it is still unethical journalistic behaviour – reporters are not supposed to take sides and isn’t the fact that Murdoch egregiously, aggressively and unapologetically takes sides all the time, in his case on behalf of the powerful political elites in Britain and America, that makes him both a dangerous and insidious influence?
If Greenslade felt so strongly about the Gibraltar killings and in particular the way his colleagues on the Sunday Times reported the story, there were other, more acceptable, honest and certainly more effective ways to have made his views known – not least by going public with his criticism under his real name. As the Glasgow-based Media Research Group reported in their investigation of the British media coverage of the Gibraltar killings, Murdoch’s Sunday Times, whose news coverage Greenslade was partly responsible for, led a despicable pack of British newspapers which distorted and twisted the evidence of eye witnesses like Carmen Proetta whose testimony damned the SAS and the Thatcher government. Few people were better placed to expose all these dirty deeds than Roy Greenslade. But he didn’t – at least not in the way he should have.
As I say, this doesn’t rate compared to hacking into the mobile phones of teenage murder victims but imagine the impact if Greenslade had publicly critiqued his own newspaper’s coverage of the story – and presumably he could have told some tales – particularly since more principled journalists, like Roger Bolton and his Thames TV team were being crucified by the Murdoch media for their great investigative documentary ‘Death on the Rock’. But he bottled. Instead Greenslade chose to keep his job at Wapping while salving his conscience anonymously in the columns of AP-RN while no doubt racking up some brownie points with Gerry Adams & Co.
As if that wasn’t all bad enough, Greenslade wrote this review of Davies’ book in in the Guardian in February 2008 and managed to make no mention at all of his own little excursion outside the realm of journalistic ethics in an otherwise rousing ‘three cheers for Nick’ piece celebrating the exposure of other peoples’ outrageous transgressions.
In some later pieces for the Guardian, the keen-eyed and perhaps cynical reader might wonder if Roy Greenslade ever stopped writing for AP-RN, at least in his own head. Take a look at this indignant 2002 piece that he wrote in the aftermath of the Stormont raid on Sinn Fein’s offices (you know, the one that eventually exposed Denis Donaldson as an British spy!) and note the line on ‘British securocrats’ out to sabotage the peace process because it is such a threat to the union. The piece could have come wholesale from a Martin McGuinness/Gerry Adams speech so full is it of Sinn Fein-speak. Had Roy done his homework and actually talked to some of these so-called ‘securocrats’, he might have discovered that far from beavering away at its downfall many were so enamoured of the peace process, recognising it as signalling the end of the IRA, that they were bending over backwards to make it work and to ensure the survival of the Adams-McGuinness leadership. But again, he didn’t.
Anyway here is the wonderful Dennis Potter: