BOB GARFIELD: In Britain this week the Leveson inquiry into the News Corp phone hacking scandal continues, with Rupert Murdoch and his son James back on the stand. The week’s big revelation was a trove of 163 emails released by the Murdochs between a News Corp lobbyist and one of the culture minister’s closest aides. The trove dates back to News Corp's bid for BSkyB, a failed acquisition, which would have granted the company an even stronger monopoly over British media. The emails detail confidential conversations among regulators, and with lobbyists for News Corp about the Murdoch bid, suggesting a cozy relationship between the British government and News Corp. The email release seemed designed to guarantee mutually assured destruction, causing havoc for David Cameron’s government, which would very much prefer not to be associated with the disgraced Murdoch clan.
And yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, on the stand Rupert Murdoch sought to portray himself as a political naïf, a kindly, old, ink-stained wretch.
RUPERT MURDOCH: You know, I have to admit that some newspapers are closer to my heart than others but I also have to say that I failed.
BOB GARFIELD: Peter Jukes is reporting on the trial for The Daily Beast. He says that Murdoch’s protestations are undercut by his political side games.
PETER JUKES: So you have a statement and an action totally at odds with each other.
BOB GARFIELD: Add to the web of circumstantial evidence visits, literally, through the back door of 10 Downing Street. And most deliciously, the report from a [LAUGHS] Daily Telegraph reporter, Ian Martin. Tell me what Ian Martin has written.
PETER JUKES: There was a case where Jeremy Hunt, who was potentially going to be seeing a cabinet minister dealing with communications, as the culture minister, was invited to a News Corp party and a tag-off journalist saw him hiding behind a tree, ‘cause he was trying to get to meet James Murdoch and didn’t want journalists to see it. And, you know, that’s –
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHING]
PETER JUKES: You have to court them, but not to be seen to be courting them. That’s the image.
There’s another – and Rupert talked about this – where he, I think, within about two weeks of David Cameron entering No. 10, Rupert comes in, but by the back door. So he said, “I often came in the back door.” And he added in the Leveson inquiry, “Maybe that’s because it’s slightly nearer my apartment.”
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. He was just taking the shortcut. As it turns out, that may be exactly [LAUGHS] what was taking place.
PETER JUKES: I mean, the optics of it are not good because if we talk about back doors and back channels, there’s one more image which may haunt the Prime Minister even more in the weeks to come, ‘cause we have to remember we still have evidence from Rebecca Brooks who was the CEO of News International, that News International was deemed to be slightly close to the police and wining and dining them during this whole phase, when they should have been investigating phone hacking. It emerged that a police horse had been lent to Rebecca Brooks, and this horse was returned in rather bad condition a year or so later.
Ridden too much. And one of its riders was David Cameron. And this is called Horsegate, inevitably. And the connection still might return to damage beyond Cameron himself.
BOB GARFIELD: One of the odd twists to this is that to the extent that Murdoch was cozying up to David Cameron, the cozying seems to be over. On his own Twitter feed, Murdoch has been quite hostile to Cameron and seems to have pretty much turned against him. What’s going on?
PETER JUKES: Well, it’s funny, isn’t it? The proprietor of the world’s third-biggest media conglomerate has to take to social media to get its voice hears.
PETER JUKES: I think there’s some irony there. And yes, for the last three months his main target, David Cameron, figures time and time again.
BOB GARFIELD: I don’t understand what there is for Murdoch to gain.
PETER JUKES: This is the bizarre question, isn’t it because, of course, he can do great damage by revealing these back channels to the conservative-led government, but actually mud sticks both ways. [LAUGHS] And News Corp, they didn’t come out of it well either, so I think this is a slight act of desperation.
BOB GARFIELD: In your coverage in The Daily Beast you suggested this could be the beginning of the end for the whole Murdoch empire, at least in the U.K. And it doesn’t bode well for the coalition government and David Cameron. Tell me how this is all gonna shake out.
PETER JUKES: Well, there’s a difference between the Murdoch empire and News Corp. Though obviously on paper they have all the voting power. I think News Corp will survive. The dynasty is over. James will no longer succeed as chair and CEO of News Corp.
BOB GARFIELD: Mm, and Cameron?
PETER JUKES: I’m in divided opinion. I will happily place myself on the left, center left. I’m not sure I want a newspaper proprietor, no matter how angry, to bring down my elected government. Despite, you know, my reservations about Cameron and the government, I would like that to be determined by the British people in the ballot box, not by the back door and a newspaper proprietor.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you have to be from Eng-land.
PETER JUKES: From Britain, please. We – there is no such nation as England.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] You had a writer there a few centuries back, name of Shakespeare. As you watch Murdoch –
PETER JUKES: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, Bob?
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] No. How about King Lear? Disappointing children, under assault, raving, what do you think?
PETER JUKES: Oh, absolutely. I, I did write a piece in The Daily Beast about his tweets. They reminded me of King Lear on the heath: “I shall do such things. I don’t know what they shall be, but they shall be the terror of all the earth,” which – and he was saying, and I will have my revenge coming soon. It will be brutal — you know, those kind of tweets.
There is something Shakespeare and tragic about Murdoch and something quite magnificent, in some way. And he will leave the stage at some point, probably in the not-too-distant future, and in some ways there will be a loss in public life.
BOB GARFIELD: Peter, many thanks.
PETER JUKES: Thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Peter Jukes has covered the Murdoch scandal for The Daily Beast. He is working on a book called Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch.