b. traven and Alex Dunn
Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul known for espousing conservative causes on Fox News, the New York Post, and other venues, built his empire on reporting the sleazy side of news. His editors specialized in looking down on those caught with their pants down, especially when they were liberal politicians and celebrities. Now we’re learning that some of these same “high road” editors, often figuratively in bed with the right wing British Tory Party, were themselves fond of sex, lies, and sleaze. Witness the current case involving Murdoch employees Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson that combines conspiracy, illegal hacking, and adultery (more on this below).
Faustian pacts between media moguls and politicians are hardly new. Recall the days when Winston Churchill gave a job to his ally and Murdoch of his day, Lord Beaverbrook. The British public has long watched such unlovely couplings through the prism of their political apathy. The left wing press, bitter at their impotence and envious of right wing circulation figures, has done its share of pointing out bad behavior, but without quite the same venom – or results.
And Murdoch’s venom has been nothing if not effective. In 1992 Murdoch’s Sun, which has by far the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in the United Kingdom, saved the Tories from almost certain electoral defeat at the hands of Neil Kinnock’s resurgent Labour party. A number of The Sun’s headlines culminated with the words, “If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” Kinnock agreed that The Sun’s venom served to poison the electorate against him.
A tipping point vis-à-vis Murdoch’s venomous tactics finally came in Britain in 2011 when The Guardian newspaper revealed that teenage murder victim Milly Dowler’s voice mail had been hacked by a journalist at Murdoch’s News of the World. That the voice mail was hacked whilst the police search for Dowler was ongoing pushed the intrusion into new territory. A disgusted British public soon learned that invasive phone hacking by Murdoch’s empire was as widespread as it was illegal.
Ongoing revelations of privacy invasion by Murdoch’s journalists exposed a tangle of power networks in Britain linking the Tory government to Murdoch’s empire. Crown prosecutors are currently presenting their case against former Murdoch executives who authorized or were directly involved in illegal phone hacking as well as the bribing of government officials for access to citizens’ private information.
But the highest profile case is the current investigation of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Brooks headed the entire Murdoch newspaper operation in England and Coulson was editor of the News of the World (one of Murdoch’s papers), after which he became the spokesperson for the British Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron. In a stunning twist, Brooks’ own private text messages were made public as part of the Leveson Inquiry, releasing a blow-back of toxic publicity when the closeness of her relationship with Cameron became apparent. The nature of the messages between a sitting British Prime Minister and a woman now on trial for (among other things) perverting the course of justice was best illustrated by a message from Brooks to Cameron which included the phrase “Let’s discuss over country supper soon.”
The British public is used to hearing about “The Chipping Norton Set,” the “elite” of politics and media who schmooze and canoodle with one another. But Cameron’s friendship with Brooks has become a public embarrassment. This is one association he is unlikely to shake off.
Few watching the unfolding events could have imagined the latest revelation, which if it were not true, could only have existed as a fantasy of the left wing media. Brooks and Coulson started a sexual liaison in 1998 that lasted for six years, during which time both married other partners.
From the “Independent” newspaper of London
Mrs Brooks married the actor Ross Kemp in 2002, while Mr Coulson and his wife Eloise were married in 2000. Mr Edis (prosecutor) explained to the jury that he was not deliberately intruding on their private lives, or making a moral judgment on their behaviour. Instead he said the key issue about the relationship concerned the criminal charges they both faced.
He said: “[They] are charged with conspiracy and, when people are charged with conspiracy, the first question a jury has to answer is how well did they know each other? How much did they trust each other?”
“And the fact that they were in this relationship, which was a secret, means that they trusted each other quite a lot with at least that secret, and that’s why we are telling you about it.”
How hypocritical can you get? Murdoch operatives who crucified others (especially liberals) for sexual peccadilloes now stand revealed as scheming adulterers who lied to their spouses for years.
David Blunkett was Home Secretary under the British Labour Party when, through illegal phone hacking by the Murdoch organization, he was found to be having an affair with a pregnant married woman. Coulson, while editor of News of the World confronted Blunkett with the evidence. (Blunkett recorded the meeting and it is now in police hands.) An article ran in a paper, overseen by Brooks, which excoriated Blunkett for his immoral behavior. But the real goal was to embarrass the Labour government, and it succeeded. Blunkett resigned.
Those on trial now were lead players in Murdoch’s news empire. So why should you care? It’s just another sleazy tale of sex, lies, and dirty politics. Right?
You should care for three reasons. First, the investigation mustn’t stop with Brooks and Coulson. What of the Murdochs? Why hasn’t James Murdoch (Rupert’s son), who both Brooks and Coulson reported to, as well as Rupert Murdoch himself not been indicted? James Murdoch is pleading ignorance, but if he knew nothing, what on earth was he doing to justify his huge salary? Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile, has never been known as a hands-off boss. He’s always kept a tight hold on the policies his underlings pursue. What did he know and when did he know it?
Second, one might also ask why the U.S. Department of Justice, given the British indictments, hasn’t looked more closely at Murdoch’s operations in America. Is the moral rot in Murdoch’s empire confined to Britain, or did it manifest itself in the USA as well? And third, what are we to make of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president in 2016, who arranged a private meeting with Murdoch during the 2008 presidential campaign? How much did she know of Murdoch’s dirty tricks?
Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows. It makes for bed-hopping as well. The high-minded might prefer to ignore the sleaze. But when it involves illegal invasions of privacy and politically-motivated conspiracy, you should pay attention, no matter how sordid the affair may be.