Rupert Murdoch: His empire under attack, a media potentate stumbles
The tawdry depths of the phone hacking scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch's media empire have shocked the UK public and exposed the heights of his political influence.
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Significantly, the London media is a national media. Yes, London still runs on ink. Breakfast rooms, metros, clubs, and street corners are loaded with newsprint. But stories and broadcasts here echo through the British Isles with a singular power. "From the north of Scotland to rural England, it is a national readership," says Jon Silverman, professor of law and media at the University of Bedfordshire and a former BBC reporter. "That's why politicians have kowtowed. Here, if you have a conflict with Murdoch, you can lose millions of voters overnight."Skip to next paragraph
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The power of a central press is also one reason Mr. Coulson, the former NotW deputy editor hired by Mr. Cameron, is so significant. He was the right hand of Ms. Brooks when she edited NotW before climbing the ladder at News International. He is a "made" Murdoch man. His hiring was seen as embodying Murdoch's hold on British politics.
"Murdoch was a copartner with Thatcher. This wasn't independent media," says James Curran of the University of London media studies center. "Coulson was not just tainted by hacking. He is someone from the heart of a very partisan press, up to his elbows in unethical practices, who was brought in to act as a hinge between the Murdoch empire and the government. His job was to make sure that Murdoch was on board."
Comment on Coulson got wide airing from an unlikely source recently. British actor Hugh Grant secretly taped a former NotW reporter, Paul McMullan, who himself had once hacked into Mr. Grant's voice mail. Grant recorded as Mr. McMullan explained a book he is writing on the NotW that appears to finger Coulson in the early hacking period.
On the tape, McMullan says: "Yes, as I said to the parliamentary commission, Coulson knew all about it and regularly ordered it.... [Coulson] rose quickly to the top; he wanted to cover his tracks all the time. So he wouldn't just write a story about a celeb who'd done something. He'd want to make sure they could never sue, so he wanted us to hear the celeb like you on tape saying, 'Hello, darling, we had lovely sex last night.' So that's on tape – OK, we've got that and so we can publish."
On a recent night in London, outside the Red Lion pub off St. James's Square, many of the best and brightest stand around in pinstripes holding pints. A political consultant says that while the Murdoch scandal may be raging, he doubts it will last. "Murdoch is riding low," says the 40-something who did not want to be named. "But in eight months when no one remembers this anymore ... he will come out, a dangerous man, and inflict some payback. Bear in mind, Murdoch still holds half the police and half the politicians in his pocket."