The press establishment does not tolerate dissent within its ranks. Those who transgress this unwritten but brutally enforced rule can expect abuse, ostracism, and above all a serious diminution in the demand for their services. This is a group that has elevated omertà above honesty and openness. Those that do as the Guardian’s Nick Davies did on phone hacking - calling out the bad behaviour - are a rare breed indeed.
The target of O’Brien’s ire was the behaviour of the Sun’s former editor Kelvin McFilth, “whose conduct that day was so despicable he should never have been employed again, let alone elevated and rewarded with another column”. That Kel should still be employed by the Sun was “unbelievable … unless you see it as some kind of Mafia operation”. That was the same conclusion reached by Labour MP Tom Watson.
At the time, Watson was roundly condemned when he made the “Mafia” suggestion to James Murdoch during cross-examination before the DCMS Select Committee. O’Brien also reminded his listeners that MacKenzie was still sniping at Liverpool FC’s supporters, and therefore also the families and friends of the 96, just six months ago. Kel could get away with it because he enjoyed the protection of his proprietor.
That meant O’Brien was not merely calling out Kelvin McFilth - he was calling out Rupert Murdoch. And you’re not supposed to call out the head of the Cosa Rupra from within the profession. Simon Kelner had that demonstrated to him in 2010 when, as editor of the Independent, he ran a promotion for the paper telling “Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election. You Will”. For that he was visited by James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.
Confronted within his own newsroom, Kelner was regaled by Murdoch Junior shouting “What are you playing at?” and, rather more threateningly, “You've impugned the reputation of my family”. That’s why those within the media have to think long and hard before calling out Creepy Uncle Rupe. James O’Brien will have thought thus: he, after all, has already been the target of Kel, who has suggested LBC should sack him.
But that, you might think, is just a pundit sounding off. It isn’t: that call is a reminder of what might happen if the target steps out of line. Kel is telling O’Brien that if he causes The Great Man further displeasure, the Murdoch doggies will turn their fire on him. Fortunately that did not stop O’Brien reminding his listeners that the Sun held ordinary people in contempt, and demonstrated it by keeping Hillsborough off the front page.
Worse, not only do the Murdoch mafiosi not want the likes of James O’Brien to say what he thinks, their own editors do not have the spine to explain themselves, as Tony Gallagher, Kelvin McFilth’s successor, showed after Channel 4 News caught him en route to the office. We’re not talking principled people here. We’re talking about thugs and bullies utterly devoid of principle or morals. Well done James O’Brien for telling the world about it.