Saturday 20 January 2018

Review: Biography: Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson MP and Martin Hickman

Allen Lane, £20,
hbk, 384 pages
Available with free P&P onwww.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

Global networking: Rupert Murdoch
and his lieutenant Rebekah Brooks
Global networking: Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenant Rebekah Brooks

Emily O'Reilly

I met Rupert Murdoch and the former CEO of his News International company Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, at a dinner in Dublin in 2002 while working for the Irish edition of The Sunday Times.



Reflecting on that night in the light of the phone hacking scandals and the detailed revelations of the might and machinations of Murdoch's company in Dial M for Murdoch, I saw that most of the core elements had been on display that evening in Dublin.

One element was the edgy nervousness of some News International executives around Murdoch. This was no relaxed dinner with the boss, although the boss was calm gentility throughout the night.

Others included Murdoch's fondness for Rebekah Wade; Wade's attempts over dinner to contact an also visiting Bill Clinton to see if he could join the party; Murdoch's calm acceptance of everyone flapping around him, and an overwhelming sense that here was a man whose tune everyone needed to dance to.

But what stood out the most was a brief conversation I had with Wade after the meal had ended. She was everything she has been described as since, and indeed before, the News International scandal broke, handsome rather than beautiful, fabulous hair, enormous edgy energy, and someone who appeared always to be "on", and "on" particularly when Mr Murdoch was about.

At the time, she had just become the editor of the News of the World and as she responded to my polite enquiries as to how the job was going, I was struck by the disconcerting, focused, coldness of her approach to her conduct as journalist and editor.

Wade told me how they went about securing the "co-operation" of someone they had found to be involved in some sort of scandalous behaviour. I can't quite remember the example she gave but if, for example, someone was about to be exposed as a serial bigamist, they might suggest that if he co-operated with the story, they might just sugar-coat the pill.

So, instead of an "Exposed: heartless, lying, cheating bigamist," it would read "Exposed: heartless, lying, cheating bigamist but who still finds time to fundraise for African Aids orphans."

Wade's intimate connection with the Blairs was also on display that night.

She spoke of how she had playfully remonstrated with "Cherie" Blair over Mrs Blair's revealing of the fact of Wade's then impending marriage to actor Ross Kemp.

She also spoke of how the wedding was to be in Las Vegas and would be attended by some of Murdoch's grown-up children.

So it was all there, high-level global networking (even though Clinton never did show), the extremely overt display of insider status, an utterly apologetic recounting of the most cynical forms of tabloid exposure, a world where showbiz met global media interests met domestic politics and no one had the remotest idea any more where one began and the other ended.

On display too was the Sun King worship of Murdoch, but also Murdoch's slightly sardonic take on it. I sensed he felt it wasn't his problem if everyone wanted to act like eejits around him and that went for prime ministers and presidents as much as for lesser beings.

The authors of Dial M for Murdoch, Labour MP Tom Watson (who played a leading role on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks) and journalist Martin Hickman have produced a commendable accounting of the phone hacking scandal and all that flowed and continues to flow from it.

And while the rather deathless prose does make you reel in shock and awe at the activities of the hackers and of their bosses, the real meat at the heart of this affair is the extent to which successive British governments and political parties allowed themselves to roll over and be either kicked or licked by Mr Murdoch.

That media group wasn't alone; Piers Morgan's revelations of some years ago about his dealings with then prime minister Tony Blair as editor of the Daily Mirror, told us all we needed to know about the routine couplings between the democratically elected and the commercially powerful with no democratic mandate whatsoever.

How this will all finally play isn't clear. Murdoch may be down but he's hardly out.

No doubt the seedier end of the British media will be a little better behaved for a while and David Cameron might at least pretend that he's distanced himself from the magnetic pull of the media barons and their flame-haired CEOs.

But in a world where the press is free and where the media can indeed make or break political and other lives, that fatal attraction will linger.

And if we needed proof, reports emerged this week of emails that Cameron allegedly sent to Wade at the height of the News International crisis sympathising with her predicament.

Oh do put her down David ...

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