Our free and fearless press may not have picked up on the story - so tell us another one, eh? - but the bid by the Murdoch mafiosi for the 61% of Sky that they do not yet own effectively died in the past 48 hours. Few will have yet noticed, as the crucial events have unfolded on the other side of the North Atlantic, but when put into perspective, it will be easy to see why this corporate goal cannot now be achieved.
Looking back at the last days of the late and not at all lamented Screws, there was one moment that served as the tipping point, finishing the paper’s credibility, and at the same time finishing the then Sky bid. Phone hacking at the paper had been unearthed by Nick Davies and the people at the Guardian back in 2009; by 2011, the lid was coming off the can of worms, and the Murdoch mafiosi knew the Screws would have to close.
Andy Coulson, under whose direction most of the hacking had taken place, knew the game was up; he resigned his post as Young Dave’s chief spinner early that year. Then, in one grim moment, the house fell in on the Murdochs. The Screws had been caught hacking the phone of a dead schoolgirl. The Milly Dowler scandal felled the Screws, and the Sky bid with it, as surely as a tree falling in the forest. The Murdoch mafiosi was bust.
But then, you might say, that was then, but this is now - the current management of what is now called 21st Century Fox, the group bidding for Sky, has been pronounced fit and proper by the Government. This much is true. But that same management is also in charge of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). And FNC is now embroiled in a scandal of Milly Dowler proportions. Thus the problem for the Murdochs.
So let’s set out the story: last year, Seth Rich, a 27-year-old working for the Democratic Party in Washington, DC, was shot dead. The killing remains unsolved, and so, as with all those news vacuums that the nature of the Fourth Estate abhors, interested parties began to invent reasons why Rich might have been murdered.
The conspiracy theories began to take flight, as NPR reports, “in part because WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cryptically suggested that Rich's death may have been related to the leaks of tens of thousands of emails from Democratic Party officials and their allies at the peak of the presidential campaign”. And so FNC became involved.
“Fox News' story, which took flight online and ran in segments across major shows, breathed fresh life into the rumors. Fox reported that the leaks came from inside the party and not from hackers linked to Russia - despite the conclusions of the nation's most senior intelligence officials. The network suggested that Democrats might have been connected to Rich's death and that a cover-up had thwarted the official investigation”.
Conveniently for the Trump gang, and it seems FNC, with Rupert Murdoch now at the helm after Roger Ailes’ departure from the scene, “These developments took place during growing public concern over a federal investigation into the Trump camp's possible collusion with the Russian government during the campaign”.
This brings us to a man called Rod Wheeler, who was a longtime FNC contributor. He has filed a lawsuit against FNC which has also been seen by the people at NPR. And the allegations made in that lawsuit are, to put it mildly, incendiary.
The central allegation can be put directly: “The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the death of a young Democratic National Committee aide”. Using someone’s death to make the news. Like Milly Dowler.
So how did FNC manipulate the narrative? Although he had his concerns, “Wheeler appeared on the shows of Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and Fox News star Sean Hannity, who devoted significant time to the story that night and in subsequent days. In speaking with Wheeler, Hannity said: ‘If this is true and Seth Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC e-mails ... this blows the whole Russia collusion narrative completely out of the water’”. Profesional loudmouth Sean Hannity is an unswerving Trump backer.
The FNC story, such as it was, “was denounced by the Rich family, D.C. police, Democratic Party officials and even, privately, by some journalists within the network”. And it was subsequently pulled: “A week later, on May 23, Fox retracted the story, saying the reporting process failed to live up to its standards. Hannity said he would take a break from talking about Rich's death out of respect for the family”. Some respect that was.
Driving the story had been a man called Ed Butowsky. “In recent years, Butowsky has become outspoken about his political beliefs, becoming a familiar face on Fox News and its sister channel, the Fox Business Network. Butowsky has also appeared on Breitbart News' radio programs featuring then-Breitbart Chairman Steve Bannon, who became Trump's campaign chief and is now the president's senior political strategist”.
He allegedly claimed to Wheeler “Behind the scenes, I do a lot of work, (unpaid) helping to uncover certain stories”. Moreover, “Butowsky says he became convinced that the FBI had a report concluding that Seth Rich's laptop showed he had had contacts with WikiLeaks after speaking to the legendary reporter Seymour Hersh, who was also investigating Rich's death. According to the transcripts in the lawsuit, Butowsky says Hersh had an FBI source who confirmed the report”. The FBI was not involved in the Seth Rich investigation.
And as the story broke, “Butowsky sends an email to Fox News producers and hosts coaching them on how to frame the Rich story, according to the lawsuit. Recipients included Fox & Friends hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade”. He’s not getting to do that without having the nod from FNC management.
The lawsuit also quotes Butowsky claiming “I'm actually the one who's been putting this together but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility … One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion [between] Trump and the Russians”. And when the story broke? Ah well.
“Fox News reports that evidence from Rich's laptop showed he had been in contact with WikiLeaks just days before the site posted those emails. Fox also reports that powerful forces were trying to quash the official investigation into his death … On Fox & Friends, the hosts call the story a ‘bombshell’”. The hosts that Butowsky had coached.
Butowsky later told an increasingly unhappy Wheeler “One day you're going to win an award for having said those things you didn't say”. And one more minor point: it is also alleged that the Trump White House reviewed the Seth Rich article before publication. Trump’s press secretary was involved. And the Murdochs knew nothing?
That review included approval, at least implicitly, of two false statements which Wheeler claims were fabricated and untrue: “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks” and "My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward. That is unfortunate. Seth Rich's murder is unsolved as a result of that”.
So the question now has to be this: how far up the FNC organisation does the approval of this involvement go? If the Trump Gang was also involved, as is alleged, the idea that senior 21st Century Fox management - that would be the Murdochs - somehow knew nothing about it looks less and less credible.
FNC took part in the manufacture of Fake News to advance the Trump agenda - and take the heat off the Presidency by deflecting on to the Democrats. The channel was effectively turned into a state TV outlet. And those who run this show are the ones who, we are being led to believe, are fit and proper to take full control of Sky.
The Murdochs are also, perhaps not by coincidence, part of the organisation that has had the most direct contact with Theresa May recently. More than any manufacturing company. More than any banking group. More than any services conglomerate. And this, it has been alleged, is how they do business when they own 100% of the show.
If one iota of what Rod Wheeler has alleged is true, the Murdoch Sky bid should be abandoned. But as Don Rupioni and his fellow Mafiosi are unlikely to do the right thing of their own accord, the Government will have no alternative. The Sky bid must be declined.
After all, if the Dowler scandal did for the first Sky bid, the Seth Rich one should easily accomplish the same result for the current one.