How Murdoch had a hotline to the PM in the run-up to Iraq war

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Murdoch Closer to Journal Deal. ‘Dough!’

posted: 11:40 AM, July 18, 2007 by Harkavy

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One good thing about Rupert Murdoch‘s looking-good bid for the Wall Street Journal: He won’t do much damage to the paper’s editorial page.

The news pages, however, are a different matter. Looks as if the Dow Jones board didn’t pay much attention to Slate‘s Jack Shafer, whose one-man campaign to stop this Caesar’s seizure has made for entertaining/depressing reading. Last night, the board recommended to the Bancroft family that it accept the press barren’s $5 billion offer. Those of us who admire, and depend upon, the Journal‘s dynamic news pages are left feeling a little barren ourselves.

Not all the Bancrofts are on board, but if the sale goes through, we’ll be inundated pretty soon by the Fox Business Channel, which would be propped up by all that snazzy Dow Jones bidness info.

Don’t expect this new cable business network to do any groundbreaking exposés of mighty China. Murdoch does more than just pour money into political campaigns of U.S. pols (most of it to Republicans). Shafer has pinned the tail on donkey Murdoch, who has repeatedly caved to Chinese authorities to protect his bidness interests.

The real concern, of course, is the Journal, which is the best daily paper in America. (Editorial pages don’t count.) Some people at the Times (U.K.) say Murdoch’s purchase didn’t hurt their paper. And after all, it was that paper that broke the story of what became known as the Downing Street Memo. Others may point to the fact that, as many people say, Murdoch didn’t directly interfere much with the Village Voice when he owned us. That may be true, but he was too savvy to destroy the Voice‘s lefty-rag rep, and thus its value, and we were small potatoes anyway.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, is a business-news behemoth, and business is Murdoch’s main business.

Owners and publishers not only gripe at their editors about stories done or not done. They also set budgets. And they have other ways of getting over on their staffs. Citing a 1984 Journal story by Jane Mayer about Murdoch, Shafer makes a good point about the impact of publishers:

Mayer talks to Jack Newfield, then a columnist at the Village Voice, then owned by Murdoch — but one property that he never tamed. Newfield speaks thorns over Murdoch’s habit of using his outlets to push his political views. “He doesn’t have to come into the newsroom and personally slant stories. Reporters anticipate his needs — like Russia under Stalin,” Newfield says.

It’s bad enough that Murdoch has changed the New York Post into a rabid right-wing rag that marched blindly into Cheney‘s War of Terror. Those things happen — you can’t blame Murdoch, after all, for Judy Miller‘s war propaganda in the New York Times. WSJ reporters are less likely than most to practice the kind of self-censorship that Newfield alluded to, but the WSJ is all about business journalism, and that has a direct impact on Murdoch’s global dealings. The Journal‘s daily revelations of foul bidness practices won’t sit well with Murdoch, and the editors under him will feel his heat one way or another.

Shafer (full disclosure: I know him and like him.) dreams of a Wall Street Journal that is as independent of Murdoch as another Murdoch property: The Simpsons.

That won’t happen. Murdoch’s more of a homer than Homer.

How Murdoch had a hotline to the PM in the run-up to Iraq war

By Andrew Grice, Political Editor

Published: 19 July 2007

 

 

 

Tony Blair had three conversations with the media magnate Rupert Murdoch in the nine days before the start of the Iraq war, the Government has disclosed.

Details of the former prime minister’s contacts with Mr Murdoch have been released under the Freedom of Information Act. After trying to block disclosure for four years, the Government backed down in a surprise change of heart the day after Mr Blair resigned last month.

Requests for information under the Act were submitted by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury and The Independent journalist James Macintyre. An appeal was pending and evidence was about to be served in a case before an Information Tribunal.

Yesterday the Cabinet Office said there were six telephone discussions between Mr Blair and Mr Murdoch in 20 months, all at crucial moments of his premiership. The subject of their calls was not revealed.

In 2003, Mr Blair phoned the owner of The Times and The Sun on 11 and 13 March, and on 19 March, the day before Britain and the United States invaded Iraq. The war was strongly supported by Murdoch-owned newspapers around the world. The day after two of the calls, The Sun launched vitriolic attacks on the French President Jacques Chirac. The Government quoted him as saying he would “never” support military action against Saddam Hussein, a claim hotly disputed by France.

Mr Blair and Mr Murdoch spoke again on 29 January 2004, the day after publication of the Hutton report into the death of Dr David Kelly. Their next conversation was on 25 April 2004, just after Mr Blair bowed to pressure led by The Sun for him to promise a referendum on the proposed EU constitution. They also spoke on 3 October that year, after Mr Blair said he would not fight a fourth general election.

The Cabinet Office also said Mr Blair had three meetings with Richard Desmond, the proprietor of Express Newspapers, between January 2003 and February 2004. The Government had said releasing the information would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs, and disclosure of the timing of exchanges with “stakeholders” could reveal the content of the discussion.

Lord Avebury said: “This is a welcome victory for the cause of freedom of information. It shouldn’t have taken so much time and effort to extract information that was clearly of great public interest. Rupert Murdoch has exerted his influence behind the scenes on policies on which he is known to have strong views, including the regulation of broadcasting and the Iraq war.”

In Alastair Campbell’s diaries, published last week, the former spin doctor described a Downing Street dinner for Mr Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, in 2002. “Murdoch pointed out that his were the only papers that gave us support when the going got tough. ‘I’ve noticed,’ said TB,” Mr Campbell wrote. Lance Price, Mr Campbell’s deputy, called Mr Murdoch “the 24th member of the [Blair] Cabinet”. He added: “His presence was always felt. No big decision could ever be made inside No10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.”

Last year, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, ruled that official contacts between Mr Blair and Mr Murdoch should be disclosed, but other contacts were not if no minute or note was taken.

The calls… and the editorial response

How ‘The Sun’ shone on Tony Blair after his phone chats with proprietor Rupert Murdoch

Phone call: 11 March 2003

The Sun says: 12 March 2003

“Like a cheap tart who puts price before principle, money before honour, Jacques Chirac struts the streets of shame. The French President’s vow to veto the second resolution [on Iraq] at the United Nations – whatever it says – puts him right in the gutter.”

Phone call: 13 March 2003

The Sun says: 14 March 2003

“Charlatan Jacques Chirac is basking in cheap applause for his ‘Save Saddam’ campaign – but his treachery will cost his people dear. This grandstanding egomaniac has inflicted irreparable damage on some of the most important yet fragile structures of international order.”

Phone call: 19 March 2003

The Sun says: 20 March 2003

“Time has run out for Saddam Hussein. His day of reckoning is at hand. The war on Iraq has begun… The courage and resilience of Tony Blair and George Bush will now be put to the ultimate test.”

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