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Sunday 7 July 2013


Murdoch is still burning and raving in his old age

The media mogul is back in the news again because of leaked tapes, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

MY MY, doesn't Rupert Murdoch lead an interesting life?

The guy's 82 years old, he's running an enormous global media company that only a few weeks ago was split in two (News Corp and 21st Century Fox). He's been instigating innumerable management and editorial upheavals, there have been many sackings and resignations; once close colleagues (including his favourite, Rebekah Brooks) and lowlier types are facing criminal charges, he's been paying out millions to settle hundreds of law suits over phone-hacking and still the writs keep coming. He's announced he's suing for divorce a displeased wife who is unlikely to go quietly, and now he's all over the internet and papers owned by his competitors because of leaked tapes of a meeting in which he grovelled to distressed employees about his mishandling of the crisis that threatened to derail his empire.

Just trying to imagine the stress of all that makes me feel like lying down, and I'm an awful lot younger than old Rupe.

It was July 2011 when a scandal about phone-hacking, bribery and other nefarious journalistic practices led Murdoch to close the 168-year-old News of the World and run huge advertisements with a grovelling apology. Shortly afterwards, he appeared in front of a parliamentary select committee (when his wife memorably felled a pie-thrower), projected an image of a forgetful old dodderer and was later judged in its report as "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company".

That same July, Murdoch set up a Management and Standards Committee (MSC) in what is now known as News

UK, which announced that as part of a clean-up, they would hand over enormous amounts of material to the police. The consequent investigation of Sun journalists and the outing of sources led to dawn raids, more charges, rage among arrested hacks and terror among those wondering if they might be next.

In March, in a desperate attempt to kiss and make up, Murdoch had a meeting with Sun staff and apologised. His organisation had been picked on, he said. "I don't know of anybody that did anything that wasn't being done across Fleet Street and wasn't the culture. . . We're talking about payments for news tips from cops. That's been going on for a hundred years, absolutely . . . It was the culture of Fleet Street."

He admitted there was some truth in the accusation that he had to some extent panicked. "But it was very, very – I don't know – it's hard for you to remember it, it was such – but it was – I was under personal siege – not that that mattered – but it was – the whole place was – all the press were screaming and yelling, and we might have gone too far in protecting ourselves. And you were the victims of it. It's not enough for me to say you've got my sympathy. But you do have my total support."

Panic, he explained, had driven the closure of the News of the World and mistakes had been made, " but we were working in the belief – I think rightly – the police were about to invade this building, and take all the computers out [of] the way, and just put us out of business totally. And everyone could have lost out."

The only beneficiaries of all this were the lawyers who got rich "going through millions of emails, stuff I wouldn't even have thought was suspicious, but they thought 'hand it over'."

Despite warm expressions of sympathy with persecuted staff and a promise to stand by them morally and financially, the anger bubbled over. A letter was read out from a journalist's wife describing the brutality of some of the police raids, suicide attempts by some of those arrested and how the 15-year-old daughter of a senior journalist was so traumatised that her hair fell out.

The leaking of the tapes enables Murdoch's enemies – and there are plenty of them – to accuse him of having told different stories in public to parliament and in private to his staff. Murdoch's staying away from the controversy on Twitter, where his most interesting recent tweet was: "Pope Francis preaches and clearly practises humility. Doing God's work by example. Now needs to reorganise Curia."

I think His Holiness might justifiably tweet back about pots and kettles.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards