No doubt there will be claims that articles like the attack on former PM Tony Blair by (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch yesterday are mere spontaneity, and that Creepy Uncle Rupe and his clan do not interfere in the workings of their newspapers, but the Murdoch sense of entitlement, and the manner in which it is policed and, if necessary, enforced loom large all too often.
Not nearly as nice as he looks
What might I mean by “policed and enforced”? Part of the answer has, remarkably, been supplied by the Mail, suggesting that the Murdochs’ behaviour is too much even for them: “outgoing Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards claimed he had been threatened during his eight years in the £393,000-a-year post. He alleged that one media mogul had shouted at him in his office: ‘We know who you are, we know who your friends are and we know where you live.’”
And who might that have been? “The comments, made at a leaving party at Ofcom’s London HQ on Monday, drew gasps of astonishment from guests. Mr Richards did not identify the person but guests said they believed he was referring to Rupert Murdoch’s son James”. Isn’t Junior just the chip off the old block?
The flashpoint was over BSkyB: “Ofcom opposed the takeover – despite support for James Murdoch from David Cameron and Tory Culture Secretary and friend Jeremy Hunt. But the Murdochs had to abandon the plan”. And this didn’t help: “Humiliatingly, he was forced to quit as chairman of BSkyB after Mr Richards questioned whether the company was ‘fit and proper’ to broadcast in the UK”.
Yes, Junior had been disrespected big time. Now, some may find the idea of the Murdochs behaving like a bunch of amateur Mafiosi hard to believe, but this is not an isolated incident, as former Independent editor Simon Kelner can testify. In the run-up to the 2010 General Election, the paper had suggested the public could make their own minds up, and that they alone would decide the outcome.
After the Indy said “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election. You will”, Junior and Rebekah Brooks marched into the paper’s newsroom. Kelner was told “You’ve impugned the reputation of my family”. Junior “became furious at my bemusement that he should find our campaign so upsetting, given that one of his newspapers famously claimed that it did indeed decide elections”.
Kelner concluded of Junior and Ms Brooks “Their use of language and the threatening nature of their approach came straight from the ‘Mafioso for Beginners’ handbook”. Some papers were dismissive of Tom Watson’s select committee comment to Junior that “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise”. The Mail was one of them.
But even the Mail has changed its tune. It’s an offer they can now refuse.