THE NIXON COMPARATIVE
Across the north Atlantic, Newsweek magazine has a contribution on Phonehackgate from one of the two reporters that brought the world the original “gate”: Carl Bernstein’s piece is headed “Murdoch’s Watergate?” and in it he draws parallels between the fall of Richard Milhous Nixon, and the fall of the House of Murdoch.
Bernstein concedes that, for him “it is impossible not to consider these facts through the prism of Watergate”. And the parallels are striking: the idea of all concerned keeping schtum, or as Bernstein more eloquently categorises it, the principle of Omerta. The closing of ranks, the Murdoch “family” (which included not only the Murdochs themselves, but Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, and arguably the whole of the Chipping Norton “set”), and frightened politicians kept it all quiet.
But now the code of Omerta is broken, and people are starting to talk. Where might it end? Bernstein has one chilling point to make: “The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that resulted in lawbreaking”.
That is one way of saying that, inevitably, the green light for the routine criminality comes all the way from the top. Moreover, it is from the top that the culture of the organisation is dictated. As a former executive at News Corp has said to Bernstein, “Murdoch invented and established this culture in the newsroom, where you do whatever it takes to get the story, take no prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will justify the means”.
The Nixon parallel can be found from his days as Vice-President to Dwight Eisenhower, who left much day to day decision making to Tricky Dicky. The Nixon character was described in forthright fashion by Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson in a speech given in San Francisco on Saturday October 27, 1956.
“Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win.
This is Nixonland. But I tell you, it is not America”.
And nor is Murdochland Britain. “Thank you and goodbye”? Goodbye and good riddance, more like.