Rupert Murdoch’s empire, new book


This video is called Hack Attack: How the truth caught up with Rupert MurdochNick Davies – Published 31st July 2014.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

The pervasive power of Rupert Murdoch: an extract from Hack Attack by Nick Davies

In this first extract from his new book, the reporter who broke the phone hacking story looks at Rebekah Brooks’s 2009 wedding – and how it was a perfect display of the nature of Rupert Murdoch’s hold on British life

Friday 25 July 2014 14.00 BST

On a bright Saturday afternoon in the middle of June 2009, in the rolling green downland of west Oxfordshire, there is a wedding party. Several hundred men and women are gathered by the side of a great lake, 350 metres long, crowned at the far end with an 18th-century boathouse disguised as a Doric temple. The sun pours down. The guests sparkle like the champagne in their gleaming flute glasses. The bride arrives to the sound of Handel’s “Rejoice!”, written for the arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Among the onlookers, two men lean their heads towards each other.

“So what do you make of all this?” one asks quietly.

“It is a statement,” says the other, in an equally discreet whisper, “of power.”

The man who wants to know what he should make of all this is a senior member of Gordon Brown’s Labour government, one of a small group of ministers scattered through the gathering. Alongside them is a group of other senior politicians from the Conservative opposition, including its leader, David Cameron. The other man in the whispered conversation is a famously aggressive national newspaper editor, a creator of storms, a destroyer of reputations – and just one of a substantial collection of editors, former editors, political editors, political consultants, newspaper executives, TV presenters, political lobbyists, political PR specialists and political correspondents, all now pressed together by the lakeside. This is a gathering of the country’s power elite, and yet the power that is being stated here is not that of the guests.

As the Christian wedding blessing begins, there is an extraordinary interruption. A large car with dark windows arrives at the top of the slope that leads down through the trees to the lake and, instead of halting there with all of the Bentleys and Mercedes (and the chauffeurs slowly baking in the sun), it ploughs on down the hill, its engine horribly loud, its presence horribly wrong, and when several hundred heads turn to understand the commotion, they see the doors of the intruding vehicle open to reveal the familiar form of the prime minister, Gordon Brown, arriving late.

Brown starts to move among the guests, but his body language screams his discomfort. He shakes hands, offers a rictus smile and moves on, obviously ill at ease and out of place. Other guests watch and conclude that he simply does not want to be here. He has just attended the Trooping the Colour ceremony. He is due back in London to meet President Bush. But the fact is that he had to be here, to show respect.

An alien intruder would assume naturally that this respect is being shown to the bride and groom. The groom is Charlie Brooks – easy-going, clubbable, a trainer of racehorses and a liver of the good life, a man who only a few weeks earlier had explained to Tatler, the posh socialites’ magazine, that he liked nothing better than to wake up in the morning in his two-bedroomed, taupe-painted converted barn with his bride-to-be by his side, and for the two of them to fly off to Venice for lunch at Harry’s Bar, followed by some sightseeing and shopping by the canals, and then to fly back to London for dinner in the famously elegant surroundings of Wilton’s oyster bar in Jermyn Street. A perfect day. Charlie is from old English money – nothing flash, nothing vulgar, just solid, comfortable, horse-loving, home counties country folk.

But, for the most part, it is not the amiable Charlie who catches the eye in this gathering. His bride captures far more attention. Rebekah is beautiful, with her red hair falling in crazy corkscrews around her elfin face. She is also charming – really quite famous (among this power elite) for her ability to make anybody feel that she is their special friend, that she is part of their team, always ready with a favour, always willing to confide. She is particularly good with men, her fingers resting gently on their forearm and her gaze resting direct on their eyes. Not quite sexual, not quite romantic, but so intimate that a well married, conservative kind of man, several decades older than her, reflects that sometimes he finds himself sighing and wondering whether “maybe, if things had been a little different, maybe we would have been together”.

This is Rebekah who was so close to Tony Blair when he was prime minister that Downing Street aides recall Blair’s wife, Cherie, finding her in their flat and hissing privately: “Is she still here? When is she going?”; Rebekah who then effortlessly transferred her affection to the next prime minister, Blair’s great political rival, Gordon Brown, who showed his own affection for her by allowing his official country residence, Chequers, to be used one night the previous summer for an all-girls pyjama party and sleepover to mark her 40th birthday; Rebekah who now spends her weekends swapping canapes and gossip with Brown’s newest political rival, David Cameron, who could possibly be prime minister within a year, and who is said to sign off his notes to her with the words “Love, Dave”. Everybody (who is anybody) is Rebekah’s friend.

There are those who say that this is not entirely natural, that they have seen her, for example, on the eve of an important dinner, studying the table plan like a schoolgirl actress with her script, spending several hours revising until she knows all the names and the partners’ names and the children’s names and the personal interests and the important topics; and then she goes out and performs. And everybody feels so special. Some say that, in truth, Rebekah has no friends at all, only contacts; that all these charming conversations she holds with all these guests are really nothing more than transactions; that all of her relationships are simply a means calculated to attain an end for “the World’s Number One Networker”. Her obvious and immediate end would be journalistic. She is the editor of the Sun, the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the country, and, of course, she wants contacts, to give her the stories she needs to succeed. So, in these transactions that pass as conversations, clearly she has more than her charm to offer. She also has power – the power to make and break a reputation; quite an incentive for those who are offered her friendship.

And she will break as well as make: she is famous not only for her charm but also for her tornado-like temper. Some at the Sun remember the morning she woke up to discover that the rival Daily Mirror had beaten them to a particular story, and how she expressed her feelings by walking into the office and targeting the news desk with a well aimed missile, hastily identified as a heavy glass ashtray. One of the guests at this wedding, who has been close to her for years, says that here in Oxfordshire Rebekah is a country wife, riding horses and organising shooting parties, but in London, where the real transactions take place, she is “the beating heart of the Devil”.

The word that follows Rebekah around is “ambitious”. Most of the journalists who have worked for her love her. In the language of Fleet Street, she has earned the highest accolade – she is “an operator”. When she wants a story, nothing will stand in her way. Years ago at the News of the World, she once dressed up as a cleaning lady to infiltrate the office of the Sunday Times and steal their story. But some of those who know her say that it is not really journalism that moves her – that she knows exactly how it works, how to pull in a story and turn out a headline, but that she has no real love for it, no pulse of excitement at the very idea of it. They say that, for Rebekah, journalism is simply a ladder reaching from her not particularly well-off middle-class origins in a village in Cheshire, up through her first humble jobs in various newsrooms, then rapidly up the next few rungs to the editor’s office at the News of the World, and then to the editor’s office at the Sun – and then higher and higher, as far as the eye of her ambition can see. This summer day in 2009, she is still only 41, still climbing. For her, they say, the power of an editor is simply a mechanism for acquiring still more power. “Where there is power,” says one of those who acts as her friend, “there is Rebekah.”

And yet, any intruder who imagines it is the power of Rebekah Brooks that is being stated here today has entirely missed the point. She is merely an avatar. It may not be immediately obvious, but the man with the real power is the elderly gentleman, aged 78, with the avuncular smile and the clumsily dyed orange hair, chatting quietly in the crowd. He is entirely undistinguished in this gathering, but it is he who has raised Rebekah up the ladder of her ambition, and it is his presence that makes the simple, central statement to the members of this power elite: “You need to be here.” He is one of a small global group who have reached that special position where they are commonly identified simply by a first name. It may be Rebekah’s wedding, but this is Rupert’s day. Since 1979, no British government has been elected without the support of Rupert Murdoch. Between then and this wedding, all those who have been prime minister – Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown – have consistently cleared their diaries and welcomed him to the inner sanctum of their governments (and then disclosed as little as possible of what passed between them). It is certain that other national leaders have done the same, in Beijing and Washington and Canberra, and in numerous capitals across the planet. This is the current state of the democratic deal: each man has one vote; this man has power.

The fact of the power is clear. Even here, at the wedding, it colours every move around him. At one point, for example, Tony Blair’s former media adviser, Alastair Campbell, strolls up to David Cameron and tells him that, although naturally he hopes Cameron will lose the general election that is due next year, he would support the Conservative leader if, on winning office, he tried to do something about the press. Campbell starts to unwind a well rehearsed speech about the mendacity and negativity of so much political coverage, and Cameron focuses and is in the process of saying that he does think that newspaper behaviour has got even worse, when suddenly he catches his breath and freezes, like a schoolboy spotted by the teacher, as Rupert materialises at his shoulder, smiling. When Murdoch smiles, respectable politicians burst with appreciation.

Why? That is less clear.

Outsiders often misunderstand the power of a man like Rupert Murdoch. They look at him and they see the very model of a media megalomaniac. Certainly, by fair means and foul, with cleverness and cunning, he has built a vast media organisation – News Corp – with more than 800 subsidiaries and total assets worth some $60bn. He and his family trust directly own 12% of the shares (although a subtle legal manoeuvre means that they control 39.7% of the votes). On this day in June 2009, News Corp owns one of the world’s big six film studios, Twentieth Century Fox; one of the world’s 20 biggest book publishers, HarperCollins; and what was once the world’s most-visited social networking site, MySpace. But, most important of all, News Corp owns TV channels and newspapers.

Murdoch creates media triangles. Country by country, he has bought a downmarket tabloid (the Sun in the UK, the New York Post in the US, the Herald Sun and the Telegraph in Australia); then he has found himself a quality title (the London Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Australian); and alongside them, he has locked in a TV network (BSkyB, Fox in the US, Foxtel in Australia). Each triangle in its own way is the foundation of great wealth and political power.

News Corp’s reach is enormous. Through News International, it owns the four titles that together capture 37% of Britain’s newspaper readers; plus 39.1% of the BSkyB satellite TV business, beaming movies and sports and the Sky News channel into 10m homes in the UK and Ireland. It supplies 60% of Australia’s daily papers and 70% on Sundays. Its TV holdings have spread across Europe (west and east), across southern Africa and into Latin America. Its Asian TV network, Star, reaches all of India and China, most of the rest of Asia and now, through Star Select, the Middle East, too. News Corp’s TV channels broadcast movies made by its own studios and then reviewed by its own journalists in any of its hundreds of magazines. News Corp broadcasts sports whose rights it owns, played by sportsmen whose teams it owns, in games whose results are published by newspapers it owns.

Seeing how Murdoch has hoarded media outlets like a miser gathers gold, outsiders often imagine that he behaves like a caricature media boss, who jabs a finger in the face of the dependent politician and dictates “how things are gonna be if they wanna stay healthy”. In this version of events, the mogul forces the government to cut a deal. He agrees not to attack the government’s policies (and not to expose the grubby personal secrets of its members); in return, the government agrees to reshape its policies to suit the mogul’s ideology; the mogul then whips his compliant reporters into line, and they produce the political propaganda he requires; the government rewards the mogul with lucrative favours for his business.

And yet government ministers, special advisers and civil servants who have dealt with Murdoch, and executives, editors and journalists who have worked for him, tell a different story. The difference between the two stories is itself a clue to one part of the mogul’s method. Those who know him say that this is a man who loves information: he uses his journalists as a network of listeners; he taps up every contact for the inside story; he collects political gossip; he is given secret briefings by intelligence agencies; and he has made a fortune out of selling news. But with his own life, and particularly with his business life, he is well walled and secretive: the outsiders are there to be misled.

The insiders say that his use of power is far subtler than the outsiders imagine. They say first of all that there is something very deep that drives him very hard – maybe, some suggest, that he grew up believing that he could never be good enough for his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, a towering patriarch who built businesses and broke opponents; and so, all his life, Rupert has been compelled to make his own business bigger and bigger, as though one day his dead father might finally signal that it was enough. With that in mind, they say that his primary interest in politicians is not political; it’s commercial. He may be a highly political animal, they say – obsessed with the details of life in the corridors of power and personally possessed of some extremely right-wing opinions – but what he most wants from politicians is favours for his business. He’ll betray his own principles, he’ll embrace politicians for whom he has very little respect, just as long as they have the power to help the company get bigger.

In practical terms, this comes down to a repeated demand to be freed from regulation. He and his senior journalists all sing from the same song sheet on the virtues of deregulated free markets, in the UK and the US and Australia, wherever Murdoch owns outlets: theirs is the world’s loudest voice calling for the state to be cut back to make way for private enterprise. They do this as though it were simply a point of political philosophy. Clearly, however, it is a matter of overwhelming commercial interest for a businessman who wants to expand, to beat competitors and to dominate the very markets whose freedom he so often proclaims. Democratic governments across the world create regulators to speak up for the public interest – to protect their markets against the power of dominant corporations, to stop them crushing the competition or setting unfair prices or otherwise abusing their position. Repeatedly Murdoch has had to find ways to beat them, and to sideline the public interest in order to advance his own. Legal fences obstruct him – so he looks to friendly politicians to quietly open gates and wave him through.

The outsiders may assume that this involves striking a deal. The insiders again say it is subtler than that – not so much a deal (finite, static, a conscious agreement) as a somewhat cynical relationship (each side pretending friendship but seeking advantage, both offering a little more than they hope finally to give, neither side ever quite sure of the outcome). And that special relationship, they say, is born and brought up and free to flourish in places like this wedding.

Here, beside this lake, Murdoch and his executives and senior journalists enjoy the first privilege of power: that they are given for free the kind of access for which unscrupulous lobbyists will pay fat packets of cash. The prime minister, his likely successor and their respective followers queue up to hear his views, to pick up the signals, to understand what he wants, to send him their own signals, to bond. Some 46 million voters in the UK might like that kind of access to their leaders, but it is this foreign billionaire – who does not even have the right to vote in the UK – who enjoys it and the special relationship with governments that it brings.

So he moves among the wedding guests, casual and relaxed, chatting quietly. He does not display his power in any overt way – no bodyguards, no sitting apart and holding court like some silver-screen godfather. There is no hint of threat or enforcement. Effortlessly, and with some charm, he harvests the respect of those around him. But …

Ultimately, of course, there is something else at work here. It is not respect. It is fear. It is a curious fact that Murdoch holds no fear for ordinary people: most could not care less about him; the few who do care, tend to hold him in contempt as a model of avarice with his seven homes around the globe and his annual income touching $22m. But among those who play the power game, certainly, beneath the courtesy and the conversation, there is a quiet fear.

That, in turn, is a little to do with his character. He can show his charm, he can tell a blue joke to the lads, but the truth is that many of those who shake his hand can see the snarl behind his smile. An Australian associate recalls what happened one day when he suggested to Murdoch that he might like to rebuild bridges with a businessman with whom he had argued and who had since seen his business empire collapse. As he remembers it, the snarl pounced out as Murdoch explained: “I didn’t like talking to that cunt when he had money, and now he’s broke, he can get fucked.” One member of this powerful gathering recalls a much gentler but equally revealing comment from the Queen, who asked about Rupert’s son, James, and then added, sotto voce: “The father is awful.”

The man’s character, in turn, is at the heart of his approach to business. Rupert Murdoch is a man who will crush an opponent like a beetle beneath his boot, and he will do it for one simple reason – for News Corp. One of the guests who is closest to him says: “Rupert does not discriminate – he does not care about anybody more than he cares about the business. That includes himself, his kids, his political allies. The business comes first. His plan is “kill or be killed”. Every single corporate battle that he’s fought over the last 50 years, he’s gone head-to-head to win. You have to win. You don’t acknowledge that politics is a higher power. You don’t yield to the law of the land. You don’t submit to any higher code than your own.”

Notoriously, in 1975, Murdoch abused his position as a newspaper owner to support a plot that ousted the democratically elected prime minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, who had dared to wander away from the mogul’s path. Murdoch is the man who threw 6,000 men out of work when he broke away from the printing unions in London; who dumped his own citizenship as an Australian in order to become an American so that he could own more than 25% of a TV network; who pushed the Daily Telegraph and the Independent to the edge of destruction in a UK price-cutting war which doubled the circulation of The Times; who adopted Christianity like a new suit and then dumped it when he tired of it.

But above all, the fear is generated by the people he hires to work for him. “He loves thugs,” as one of his senior executives puts it. Roger Ailes at Fox TV; Kelvin MacKenzie at the Sun; Col Allan at the New York Post; Sam Chisholm at Sky TV: they all came out of the same box, marked “bully”. And when Murdoch’s men bully, their victims really feel it. All these members of the power elite have seen what Murdoch’s news outlets can do, using their stories in the same way muggers in back alleys use their boots, to kick a victim to pulp. “Monstering”, they call it – a savage and prolonged public attack on a target’s life, often aimed at the most private and sensitive part of their existence, their sexual behaviour, inflicting maximum pain and maximum humiliation.

Very often, this will have nothing to do with Murdoch’s own manoeuvres; it will simply be a matter of filling news space at the expense of some hapless individual who has caught the tabloid eye. Most journalists will refuse to do it, just as most men would refuse to be torturers. But some of those who carry press cards are like the droogs in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange: they kick their victims because they love it. It sells newspapers, it pays well, it’s fun.

A monstering from Murdoch’s droogs is a terrible experience. If the damage they did were physical – visible – the courts could jail them for years. As it is, they inflict grievous emotional harm, the kind of injury from which some victims simply never recover. Indeed, there are some who have been left suicidal by the experience. It can come out of nowhere, picking on some off-the-cuff statement or some tiny detail that has caught nobody else’s eye, least of all the victim’s, and suddenly the violence begins. It can be completely arbitrary in its choice of target. If Miss Muffet abandons her tuffet because of the approaching spider, the droogs can choose to attack her for cowardice; or to attack the spider for indecency and threatening behaviour.

Once it starts, the monstering cannot be stopped by the victim. If the spider says he meant no harm, he was simply looking for somewhere to sit, then “an unrepentant spider last night threatened to spread his regime of fear”. Apologising will not work – “a humiliating climbdown”. Nor will refusing to apologise – “an increasingly isolated spider”. There is no end to the potential angles. The droogs will call everybody who ever sat next to the spider until they find somebody else who didn’t like him. They will comb through arachnophobes everywhere, in search of alarmist quotes and calls for action. They can keep it going for days. A little distortion here, some fabrication there. The fact of the focus is itself a distortion: the relentless return to the same victim, the desire to destroy that corrupts normal editorial judgement. Often, other newspapers and broadcast bulletins will join in, so that simple commercial competition encourages the hunt for a new angle. The spider is helpless – if he speaks out, he fuels the story; if he stays quiet, the story tramples him.

Eventually, the monstering stops, usually because some new target has arrived; or because the target has been destroyed. Sometimes, even destruction is not enough. In his diary, Alastair Campbell recalls the ferocious monstering that was given to the then transport secretary, Stephen Byers, in the spring of 2002, which continued even after he had resigned: “It’s like they get a corpse but then are disappointed there is nothing left to try and kill, so they kill the dead body too.”

The fear of this monstering generates power far beyond the relatively small number of victims who are attacked. All those in the power elite are prone to fear Murdoch, because none can be sure that they will not be next to be kicked by the tabloid boot. They all saw what happened to the former Labour minister Clare Short. Several times she criticised the Sun’s use of topless women to sell the paper and found herself denounced to millions as “killjoy Clare”, “fat”, “jealous”, “ugly”, “Short on looks”, “Short on brains”. At various points, the paper offered readers free car stickers (“Stop Crazy Clare”); sent half-naked women to her home; and ran a beauty contest to ask their readers whether they would prefer to see her face or the back of a bus. Separately, the News of the World ran two bogus stories suggesting she was involved with pornography; tried to buy old photographs of her as a 20-year-old in a nightdress; and published a smear story that attempted to link her to a West Indian gangster.

Her fellow Labour MP, the former Anglican priest Chris Bryant, provoked the full wrath of the Murdoch papers when he trapped Rebekah Brooks into admitting that her journalists had paid police officers for information at the media select committee hearing in March 2003. Immediately afterwards, Bryant was warned by a reporter from the Sun that “they will get you for that”. They got him a little bit a few months later when he told the House of Commons that he opposed the idea of a referendum on the new EU constitution and found the Sun telling its readers that he was a “Euro fanatic” who thought they were too stupid to vote. They got him more severely that December when the Mail on Sunday exposed his sex life, complete with an embarrassing photograph of him wearing only a tight-fitting pair of briefs, and Brooks at the Sun and Andy Coulson at the News of the World joined in a vicious monstering. Brooks made it very clear that this was personal, sashaying up to Bryant at a subsequent Labour party conference to deliver a sharp dig at his sexuality, calculated to remind him of the embarrassment of one of his former colleagues who had been accused of cruising a London park for gay sex: “Oh, Mr Bryant, it’s after dark. I’m surprised you’re not out on Clapham Common.”

The punishment was equally harsh for the American writer Michael Wolff. In March 2009 he found himself on the receiving end of a thorough monstering by the New York Post when he was working on a biography of Murdoch. By some unexplained means, the mogul’s people had laid hands on an unpublished typescript and started to send clear warnings that the boss was not happy with some its contents. Wolff recalls a senior executive calling to ask him to make changes before the book was published.

“What will you do if I don’t?” Wolff asked.

“Then we will not support the book.”

“How bad is that?”

“It could be bad.”

And it was bad. The New York Post discovered that Wolff had been having an affair, and ran stories on 2, 3, 6, 25 and 30 March, and 3 and 9 April, publishing along the way a secondary story that accused Wolff of evicting his mother-in-law from her apartment, as well as a cartoon of Wolff in bed with his lover, portraying the Jewish writer in a style which might reasonably be described as antisemitic.

At its worst, everybody in the power elite has heard that the punishment can amount to crude blackmail. They have all heard the stories about how Murdoch editors have safes containing dossiers of evidence about the private lives of politicians and competing businessmen; and that Murdoch and his people agree to suppress these gross embarrassments in exchange for yet more favours. There are specific rumours – about a senior figure in British sport who is said to have complied with Murdoch’s plans for TV rights when he was informed that the Sun was ready to tell its readers that he had had sexual relationships with young men; and about a middle-ranking Labour politician who is said to have spoken up on behalf of Murdoch’s UK newspapers after journalists obtained a video of him having sex with a prostitute while the prostitute’s husband watched. It is true that the sports administrator and the Labour politician offered their support to Murdoch. Whether they did so out of fear of the dossiers – or whether the dossiers even exist – is not so clear. The power is in the belief and in the fear it engenders. Which is widespread.

Certainly, many have come across a gentler version of this, something more like whitemail – a favour done rather than a threat made. There are senior politicians, police officers and others who know that senior Murdoch journalists have privately put in a word for them, to help with a promotion, to defuse some threat. Most of the wedding guests know that Rebekah worked a clever piece of whitemail with the deputy prime minister John Prescott when, as editor of the News of the World, she got hold of the story that many years earlier Prescott’s wife, Pauline, had given up a baby for adoption. This had happened before the Prescotts had met, but now the long-lost son had made contact. Prescott pleaded with Rebekah not to publish the story until his wife and her adult son had had a chance to get to know each other. She agreed – a decent act, and one that earned her a sense of indebtedness from Prescott who later, when his family were ready, opted to take the story to her at the Sun, where she had become editor. Favours are valuable currency in the corridors of power.

Rebekah Brooks and Tony Blair

The power to conceal or reveal sensitive personal information turns out to be just like the power of the bully in the school playground. The bully need only batter one or two children for the fact of his power to be established: fear will then ensure that the others do all they can to placate him. In the same way, the really big power that Murdoch is said to wield – that he can swing the result of elections – does not have to be entirely real. What matters is the fear that it could be real. Far safer to be an ally, or even to join the shuffling queue of current and former members of the power elite who take his money, writing columns for his newspapers or selling their memoirs to HarperCollins: the then Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich; the daughter of the then leader of the Chinese Communist party, Deng Xiaoping; the former Conservative leader William Hague; the former Metropolitan police commissioner Sir John Stevens; the former Labour minister David Blunkett; the former Downing Street press adviser Alastair Campbell; the former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Andy Hayman; and so on and on.

Nobody is sure whether an aggressive newspaper really can decide the outcome of a national ballot. The newspapers like to claim that they can; politicians claim not to believe it; psephologists argue about the impact of news on voters and the distribution of any newspaper’s readers among the swing voters in marginal seats that dictate results. In the best-known UK case, Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun in 1992 bloodied its toecaps all over the political career of the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock, and loudly claimed to have won the election for the Conservative leader, John Major. MacKenzie’s claim was widely seen as unfounded, if only because of his notorious estrangement from the truth.

There is no doubt that the droogs can cause grievous political harm. A cynical newspaper that targets a political party – in or out of government – can inject it with chaos. All debates become splits, all problems become crises, all changes become climbdowns, all setbacks are humiliating, all successes are ignored. It can change the news agenda so that on any day, the party or government is diverted into managing some crisis that the newspaper has manufactured. It can ruin reputations, with falsehood as easily as with truth. It can wreck the public debate of whole subjects by pumping it full of distortion. (Britain’s relationship with the European Union, for example, has been fundamentally shaped by a relentless sequence of notoriously false stories about the EU supposedly banning the British army, Scottish kilts, pints of beer, bent bananas, charity shops and Christian teachers, as well as supposedly suffocating daily life with an imaginary set of petty regulations.) The impact is like the effect a screaming brat has on a family: the family may not break up, but ordinary life becomes impossible.

Murdoch controls his company’s money with obsessive care, checking daily “flash reports” from every subsidiary to ensure they are sticking to the budget he has laid down for each of them. But very little of the editorial distortion in his empire comes directly from him. He intervenes in the round by requiring his outlets to work within the boundaries of policies that will favour businesses like News Corp: cut taxes, cut welfare, cut government, cut regulation – all the essentials of neoliberalism. From time to time, he directly intervenes in particular stories – to help an ally, to promote his business, to reflect some random personal bias. His senior journalists admit privately that this is unacceptable – a clear form of editorial corruption – but they insist that he intervenes far less often than outsiders imagine. The vast bulk of Murdoch’s news output, including the huge majority of any falsehood and distortion, is simply the spontaneous product of his highly commercialised newsrooms. It sells.

In the same way, very little of the aggression needs to be directed by Murdoch himself. The fear is all. In the balance of power, a government wins easily over a newspaper group with its vast budget, its military and police, its bureaucracy and all the limbs of the state. But in the balance of fear, the outcome is the opposite. The government lives in fear of what the mogul might do to its collective standing (and perhaps to some individual reputations) by causing chaos in its coverage. The mogul has little to fear from the government. For the most part, politicians will step round him and, in the unlikely event that they do attack, he has the ultimate sanction: he can sell up and leave, avoiding everything they throw at him, taking his investment and his jobs with him.

The point about real power is that it does its own work, particularly among those who deal in power. Nobody in the power elite needs to be told. They all recognise the mogul’s power and, with few exceptions, they do everything they can to pacify him, to ingratiate themselves. The mogul, for the most part, does not have to make threats or issue instructions. He just has to show up. Not even that – he just has to exist, somewhere in the background. Everybody understands; the fact of power is enough. If there’s a bull in the field, everybody steps carefully. The fear gives him access; the access gives him influence. Real power is passive.

Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up With Rupert Murdoch is published by Chatto & Windus on 31 July, priced £20.

Phone hacking: Coulson asked if he has moved personal wealth to avoid costs: here.

Rupert Murdoch says ‘business knows best’: here.

Mail did not reveal to PCC or Leveson that News of the World hacked staff. Four Mail on Sunday journalists were told by the police in 2006 that their mobile phones had been hacked: here.

Why the hacking scandal isn’t a “load of middle-class wank”: here.

British election debate


Gordon Brown and David Cameron in the British elections, cartoon

British elections: Thursday’s televised debate between the leaders of Britain’s three main parties was billed as an historic move towards a more participatory democracy. It was the first time that such an event has been held: here.

Tory MPs prepare to oust Cameron if he loses: here.

Left Labourite Corbyn: here.

Brown, Cameron and Clegg in the British elections, cartoon

Stop Gordon Brown’s wars in Afghanistan and Yemen


This video from the USA is called Rethink Afghanistan.

By Siân Ruddick in England:

Blockade Brown’s Afghanistan conference

A Stop the War Coalition meeting on Tuesday evening resolved to attempt to blockade Gordon Brown’s Afghanistan conference and prevent it from going ahead.

More than 50 activists attended the London activists meeting to discuss demonstrations and blockades outside the conference on Afghanistan and Yemen, and a day of action outside the Chilcot inquiry when Tony Blair gives evidence on the invasion of Iraq.

The conference is due to take place on 28 January at Lancaster House in central London. It will see world leaders gather to back the surge and the spread of the war. Stop the War is calling on activists across the country to mobilise large numbers for the day. The call particularly goes out to students as it is on a weekday.

Tony Blair is due to appear in front of the Iraq Inquiry in the fortnight after 25 January. A day of street theatre, speeches and protest will take place outside the inquiry on the day. The meeting resolved to start organising and building for the day now, preparing those involved to respond quickly when the precise date is announced.

Britain is growing so risk-averse that the public may no longer tolerate deployment of the military, the Armed Forces Minister said yesterday: here.

Obama to ask for USD33 billion for Afghan troop buildup: here.

The Obama administration is now intervening into the seething social and political cauldron of Yemen in pursuit of Washington’s economic and strategic ambitions. In doing so, it will create another catastrophe for the Yemeni people and a quagmire for the American military: here.

A botched air raid has killed a provincial official in Yemen, and tribesmen have blown up an oil pipeline in retaliation, according to local press reports and the Reuters news agency: here.

US missile’ used in Yemen strike: Amnesty International says photos show parts of US missile at site of 2009 attack: here. And here.

Gordon Brown Brown planned troops on the streets after Lehman collapse: here.

On October 25 [2013] Gordon Brown accepted £48,803 for a single speech to Alphametrix, a US company which helps rich people invest in hedge funds and other “alternative investments”: here.

Brown gets dead British soldier’s name wrong


This video from Britain is called Military Families Against the WarAfghanistan – Bring the troops home Oct 09.

From Associated Press:

Brown: sorry for wrong Afghan condolence note<

By SYLVIA HUI – 36 minutes ago

LONDON — A handwritten condolence note written by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to the grieving mother of a soldier slain in Afghanistan caused the government fresh embarrassment on Monday.

Jacqui Janes, who lost her 20-year-old son Jamie Janes in Afghanistan last month, complained that Brown hastily wrote the condolence letter, misspelling both her and her son’s name.

In the letter, published in The Sun newspaper, Brown began by writing “Dear Mrs. James.”

“I write to offer you and you family my personal condolencs,” the scribbled note read, which also misspelled the word condolences.

Brown misspelled “Jamie,” then corrected it by scrawling over the mistake.

Mrs. Janes, 47, said the letter was insulting.

“He couldn’t even be bothered to get our family name right. That made me so angry,” she was quoted as saying.

Jamie Janes was killed by an explosion in Afghanistan on Oct. 5.

Support the troops; get their names right … and bring them home now!

From the Daily Telegraph in Britain:

As well as the wrongly-spelt names, the letter contained four other mistakes. Mr Brown wrote greatst for greatest, condolencs for condolences, you instead of your, and colleagus for colleagues.

He failed to dot the letter “i” and wrote security as securiity.

He ended the letter on a repetition, writing “my sincere condolences” and then signing off “Yours sincerely”.

Nine former ministers have attacked Gordon Brown’s plan to scrap tax relief for childcare vouchers, warning the prime minister that the move could cost Labour votes in key marginal seats: here.

Blair pushed Brown to hold Iraq war inquiry in private


This is a British video about Tony Blair, nearly arrested at the Iraq war inquiry.

From British weekly The Observer:

Tony Blair pushed Gordon Brown to hold Iraq war inquiry in private

Former PM feared facing ‘show trial’
• Leak reveals plan to provoke invasion

* Toby Helm and Gaby Hinsliff
* Sunday 21 June 2009

Tony Blair urged Gordon Brown to hold the independent inquiry into the Iraq war in secret because he feared that he would be subjected to a “show trial” if it were opened to the public, the Observer can reveal.

The revelation that the former prime minister – who led Britain to war in March 2003 – had intervened will fuel the anger of MPs, peers, military leaders and former civil servants,

and parents of fallen soldiers

who were appalled by Brown‘s decision last week to order the investigation to be conducted behind closed doors.

Blair, who resisted pressure for a full public inquiry while he was prime minister, appears to have taken a deliberate decision not to express his view in person to Brown because he feared it might leak out.

Instead, messages on the issue were relayed through others to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, who conveyed them to the prime minister in the days leading up to the announcement of the inquiry last week.

A Downing Street spokesman last night said: “We have always been clear that we consulted a number of people before announcing the commencement of the inquiry, including former government figures. We are not going to get into the nature of those discussions.”

Blair is believed to have been alarmed by the prospect of giving evidence in public and under oath about the use of intelligence and about his numerous private discussions with US President George Bush over plans for war. A spokesman for the former Labour leader would only say last night: “This was a decision for the current prime minister, not for Tony Blair.”

The Observer reveals today that six weeks before the war, at a meeting in Washington, the two leaders were forced to contemplate alternative scenarios that might trigger a second UN resolution legitimising military action.

Bush told Blair that the US had drawn up a provocative plan “to fly U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, painted in UN colours, over Iraq with fighter cover”. Bush said that if Saddam fired at the planes, he would put Iraq in breach of UN resolutions and legitimise military action.

Last night, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, whose party opposed the war from the outset, said: “If this is true about Blair demanding secrecy, it is outrageous that an inquiry into the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez is being muzzled to suit the individual needs of the man who took us to war.”

Brown provoked uproar in the Commons on Monday when he announced the inquiry’s scope, membership and remit. Following protests from military leaders and mandarins, including former cabinet secretary Lord Butler, he announced a partial retreat on Thursday, asking the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, to consider opening a few sessions to the public.

But the move did not ease pressure for a total climbdown. Last night, Brown appeared cornered as MPs of all parties prepared for a Commons debate on Wednesday in which they look certain to back calls for the inquiry to hold sessions in public “whenever possible”.

A Tory motion likely to win wide cross-party backing also calls for the committee to include military experts. The Lib Dems are demanding that it also include constitutional and legal experts to assess the legality of the invasion.

In a sign that the government is preparing to retreat, Chilcot is to meet both Clegg and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, on Tuesday, before the debate. MPs believe that he may then announce a bigger public element to the inquiry in order to avoid the humiliation for Brown of defeat in the Commons.

Chilcot will come under pressure from both leaders to open up the inquiry. Clegg wants a guarantee that witnesses such as Blair will give evidence under oath, while Cameron will ask if the committee can issue an interim report early next year, ahead of a likely spring election.

The Tories say that if Brown does not order a U-turn, an incoming Conservative government will “reserve the right” to widen the scope of the inquiry and increase its powers where necessary after an election.

Sir Christopher Meyer, who was the British ambassador in Washington in the run-up to the war and is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry, yesterday backed calls to make it public. “It should be open,” he said. “I think it should also have powers of subpoena and people should give evidence on oath. I would be perfectly comfortable with that.”

He said the case for openness was increased because there had been “a ton of stuff” published in the US, both via official inquiries and in memoirs written by key players, making public what had previously been confidential. “I would be perfectly happy for the whole embassy archive in Washington [to be disclosed],” he added. “I haven’t got a problem with that being made available. Things were very sensitive then, but this is 2009.”

In a letter to the Observer, a group of current and former Labour MPs, headed by Alan Simpson, the chairman of Labour Against the War, demands a complete rethink. “Neither the public nor parliament will understand how the prime minister’s ‘new era of openness’ can begin with an Iraq inquiry held behind closed doors,” says the letter.

From British daily The Independent:

Blair demanded: Hold Iraq inquiry in secret

Critics say Tony Blair’s hopes of becoming the EU president risk being scuppered if the investigation is held in public

Inquiry into British torture scandal? Here.

Oil rush: Scramble for Iraq’s wealth: here.

Blairism-Brownism drives Labour voters away


This video from Britain is called John McDonnell MP on the future of the Labour Party. Today, tomorrow and this Sunday, there are European parliament elections. Mosts of the results will become known only on Sunday night and later. An exception are the Dutch results (provisional results, as overseas votes have not been counted yet). In Britain, European election results are not known yet.

However, results from local elections, held jointly with the European elections, are known. And they prove that the rightist Thatcherite, pro war, and scandal ridden “new” Labour policies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are driving away millions of previously loyal Labour voters.

Messrs Blair and Brown have managed to make Labour, from the first party in size, into the third party, behind the Conservatives, discredited by Thatcherism and the 1990s sleaze scandals; and the Liberal Democrats, which during most of the twentieth century had just a few MPs.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Abysmal Labour results prepare Brown for defeat

Friday 05 June 2009

by Paddy McGuffin

The omens of doom are writ large for Labour as the results of this week’s council elections go against them. By press time tonight, Labour had failed to take or retain control of a single council. The predicted voter backlash against the expenses scandal seemed to have hit Labour much harder than the Tories.

One veteran Labour activist said: “I’ve never fought an election on a more difficult ticket than this.” In Bristol, Labour suffered a massive defeat – losing eight of its 10 contested seats. The Liberal Democrats claimed majority rule of the city council when it gained four seats. The Tories also took four seats.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives won an emphatic majority in the newly formed Central Bedfordshire Council with Labour not taking a single seat. The Tories came within 12 seats of a monopoly with 54 of a potential 66 seats. It also gained control of Devon and Somerset county councils. The Lib Dems comfortably held Bristol with an increase of four seats from 32 to 36 with Labour being the main losers, shedding eight seats to the Lib Dems and Tories.

And the story of woe continued in Lincolnshire where Labour was close to being wiped out. Overall control remained with the ruling Tories, which took 60 of a possible 77 seats with Labour losing 15 from its previous 19 seats. A threatened strong polling by the BNP failed to materialise.

It was a different story in Lancashire however where the fascist party got a toe hold on the county council taking a seat in its stronghold of Burnley. In Carlisle, where the BNP and No2EU have gone head to head, the BNP vote was reported to be significantly down and this was apparently mirrored in the other north-west seats which No2EU contested.

However, the right made one significant gain, in Doncaster, where the anti-immigration English Democrat candidate Peter Davies was elected mayor with 25,344 votes. The British National Party picked up its first English county council seat in Lancashire, with Sharon Wilkinson defeating Labour’s Marcus Johnstone in the Padiham and Burnley West ward.

Local elections update: here.

MPs will face liquidation in a near-Labourless landscape: here.

Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown, cartoon by Martin Rowson

Tony Blair’s 1983 anti capitalist maiden speech: here.

British invasion of Pakistan?


This is a video about a US missile attack in a village in Pakistan.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Brown threatens a new Vietnam

Wednesday 29 April 2009

by Roger Bagley in Parliament

NEVER-ENDING TRAIL: British troops could be sent into Pakistan

Prime Minister Gordon Brown threatened to plunge Britain into the quagmire of bloody war in nuclear-armed Pakistan on Wednesday.

Mr Brown shocked left Labour MPs in the Commons when he refused to rule out sending British troops into Pakistan in a dangerous extension of the war in Afghanistan.

He launched a new strategy document on “the way forward” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, revealing that the cost of the war is expected to rise to £3 billion this year – compared with £750 million three years ago. …

Left MP Alan Simpson put Mr Brown on the spot by demanding an assurance that neither British regular forces nor British special forces would be crossing the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

His face grimmer than ever, Mr Brown could only mumble: “That is not the issue.”

Failing to give an assurance, he simply waffled on about the importance of giving support to the Afghan and Pakistan armies in their fight against terrorism.

An angry Mr Simpson told the Morning Star afterwards: “It is very worrying if the Prime Minister cannot rule out British troop activity that would be illegal under international law.”

He added: “If this is what British troops get sucked into, it will be a quagmire for us all.”

Left MP Jeremy Corbyn also received a shifty answer from Mr Brown when he asked the Prime Minister: “Is it not just a matter of time before the conflict spreads over to Pakistan, and British troops will be deployed there?”

Mr Corbyn warned that the situation was beginning to look just like the way that the US was “sucked deeper into Vietnam and ended up in a humiliating retreat 15 years later.”

Mr Brown told MPs that he was launching an “updated strategy for our actions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

He confessed that “our strategy is exactly the same as the American strategy announced a month ago.” …

A few minutes earlier, he [Brown] had offered condolences to the family of the 153rd British soldier to die in Afghanistan, who had been serving with the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards.

British aid for Pakistan’s development programme would be increased to £665 million over the next four years, he said.

Stop the War convener Lindsey German warned that Mr Brown had launched the most serious development in the so-called “war on terror” since the invasion of Iraq.

Britain would now be involved in the likelihood of a war involving the nuclear-armed country of Pakistan, she feared.

“This looks like being Obama’s Vietnam,” she added.

“What Gordon Brown should be doing is announcing the withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan.”

During the real Vietnam war, the British Prime Minister then, Harold Wilson, though stupid enough to support the US government politically, at least was intelligent enough not to send British soldiers to Vietnam …

GORDON Brown suffered a shock defeat in the Commons on Wednesday on his government’s policy of restricting the right of former Gurkhas to settle in Britain: here.

With her triumphant espousal of the Gurkhas’ cause, a much-loved actress [Joanna Lumley] has added political clout to her very English brand of charm: here.

ARMS manufacturer BAe Systems has said that it is to close three factories with the loss of 500 jobs because of the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq: here.

Gordon Brown’s Blairism


This parody music video from Britain is called Gordon Brown; to the tune of Golden Brown, by The Stranglers.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Warmed-up Blairism

(Tuesday 06 November 2007)

GORDON Brown‘s advocates within the labour movement, who assured us all that Tony Blair‘s demise would see a qualitative, progressive change in government policies, must be wondering how easily they were conned.

There is little in the Queen’s speech that would have been out of place in the unlamented war criminal‘s list of priorities.

And the underlying themes of imperialist war and neoliberalism are still there, with the commitments to continue the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and to press ahead with privatisation of public services in Britain.

Mr Brown continued his watchword of Labour means business by offering new legislation to free private companies from so-called red tape and essential forms of regulation.

On the other hand, Britain’s most regulated sector – the trade union movement – will have to carry on dealing with the most restrictive regulation in the developed world.

And, despite widespread support on his own back benches and in the trade union movement, he has failed to make any proposal to give equality to exploited agency and temporary workers.

Mr Brown appears to have retreated from his earlier words about an upsurge in council housing and restricts himself now to vague comments about affordable accommodation.

Gordon Brown and Sarah Palin


Sarah Brown and Sarah Palin After Tony Blair‘s Iraq war and his lies about it; his BAe corruption; his cash for peerages scandal; his privatizations …

After Gordon Brown‘s admiration for United States neoconservative Gertrude Himmelfarb and British old Tory Margaret Thatcher

A new low for the British `new` Labour leadership.

From Socialist Unity blog in Britain:

BROWN AND PALIN – YOU COULDN’T MAKE IT UP

Filed under: Labour Party — Andy Newman @ 5:11 pm

The Labour Party’s big idea is to repackage Gordon Brown as a likeable person, with a charming and capable wife. To a certain degree this follows the Americanisation of British politics, where the personality of the party leader becomes the main focus of the media’s interest.

So Sarah Brown is being pushed forward as often as possible into the glare of the cameras. Hard on the heels of the success of Gordon Brown posing with Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, the Labour Party have decided that perhaps they can get a little magic to rub off on Gordon Brown by having his wife photographed with Sarah Palin.

Are we seriously supposed to believe that Sarah Brown is so interested in health charities that she feels the need to fly to New York to take part in a fund raiser, and just happened to be photographed with Sarah Palin? I have news for the Brown family, they don’t need to go to America to find sick people who need help.

Gordon Brown’s electoral incompetence is astounding. The genius of New Labour under Blair was to calibrate its message for the swing voters of middle England – whatever other problems there were with this strategy, it did at least work for winning elections.

So clearly this latest photo call is designed to win over those swing voters in Middle Wallop, who own a gun and a private plane, can shoot and butcher a moose, believe the world is 10000 years old, and who still think that women and men over 40 can get away with using the word “cool”. Hilary Clinton had the political wisdom to pull out of this New York fund-raiser when it was announced that Palin would be there, as Hilary knows that associating with Palin is extremely damaging with the Democrats liberal, urban vote.

While many millions of middle class Americans share Sarah Palin’s outlook to life and her beliefs, almost no British people do – and among potential Labour voters her approval rating must be almost zero, even Hazel Blears has described Palin as despicable! So what on Earth are they playing at?

Sarah Brown is from a public relations background. Not really professional this …

For Sarah Palin, it probably was the first time ever she met anyone from Britain.

Harry Potter money for British Labour Party


This is a video about child poverty in England.

From ITN in Britain:

Rowling donates £1m to Labour

Updated 07.37 Sat Sep 20 2008

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has given a £1 million donation to the Labour Party.

The donation comes as a major boost to the cash-strapped party and its leader Gordon Brown as the annual Labour conference starts in Manchester.

Rowling, whose fortune was estimated at £560 million in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, is known to be a personal friend of Mr Brown and his wife Sarah …

In a statement, JK Rowling, who wrote the first of her best-selling books about boy wizard Harry Potter while an impoverished single mother, indicated that her gift was motivated by Labour‘s record on child poverty and Tory leader David Cameron‘s offer of tax breaks to married couples.

She said: “I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party.” …

“The Labour government has reversed the long-term trend in child poverty, and is one of the leading EU countries in combating child poverty.

“David Cameron’s promise of tax perks for the married, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the Conservative government I experienced as a lone parent. It sends the message that the Conservatives still believe a childless, dual-income, but married couple is more deserving of a financial pat on the head than those struggling, as I once was, to keep their families afloat in difficult times.”

Ms Rowling is extremely probably right in that a Conservative Cameron administration would be even worse for poor children and people in general, than the present New Labour administration.

However, she is dead wrong in singing the praises of the “new” Labour administrations of war criminal, liar, cash for honours corrupt politician, and BAE scandal corrupt politician, Tony Blair; and of his successor, Margaret Thatcher and Gertrude Himmelfarb admiring Gordon Brown.

Thatcherite economic policies of “new” Labour led to an increasing gap between rich and poor in Britain; with also more child poverty, not less as Ms Rowling wrongly claims.

At least, no one can accuse Ms Rowling of being a cowardly rat leaving a sinking ship. A rat boarding the sinking ship of Brownism seems closer to reality.

If only Ms Rowling would have made her donation conditional on withdrawing British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, stopping pro big business and anti poor people policies, and giving John McDonnell a fair chance to stand as Labour leader (which was denied him undemocratically earlier, when there was a coronation, not an election, of Brown as Blair’s successor) …

Britain: Forty percent of children live in poverty: here.

Sunderland and “new” Labour: here.