The Shit Palace Demands Cleanliness: Murdoch's mafia, Daniel Morgan, and British Media's dangerous hypocrites

Bashir is good box office for the British press, but its complicity with corrupt police officers is the story that we should be focused on.

1 Glasshouses all the way down: As the British press throws rocks over Bashir and Princess Diana, the BBC hands them more

2 The Phoneys War: The British media's worst bastards bash the BBC... and ignore 25 years of their own bullshit

Of all the hypocritical cant published since the release of Lord Dyson’s report on how Martin Bashir secured his 1995 interview with Princess Diana — and the British media is full of hypocritical cants — the examples tripping from the keyboards of columnists employed by Rupert Murdoch are arguably the worst.

I woke up at 4.30 am and the first newspaper headline I read was on a piece by the pompous ping-pong player Matthew Syed — The BBC, the NHS and Oxfam have a bad case of institutional narcissism. It took enormous effort not to sit up and exclaim loudly, “You. Work. For. Fucking. Rupert Murdoch.” I managed it though, predominantly through fear of waking up my partner, who would not have looked kindly on this interruption. As I type, she’s still soundly asleep.

But I’m wide awake and, as is so often the case when I write these newsletters, I am Howard Beale-style mad as hell. As I wrote on Friday, I’m not here to praise or even defend Martin Bashir and the BBC. He was a liar then and he’s a liar now. The issue comes when employees of the Murdoch empire — an organisation that produces lies and distortion on an industrial scale — present themselves as the moral guardians of all that is good and true about journalism.

Syed opens his column by quoting Oscar Wilde. I suppose we should be grateful he’s not reached for Orwell yet again but it’s equally as route one. He writes…

Oscar Wilde, a man who knew a thing or two about the contradictions of human nature, penned an article in 1891 that I have been thinking about a lot in recent days. In it he wrote: “Charity creates a multitude of sins.” His point was that while bodies set up for the public good are often admirable, good intentions alone are not sufficient to inoculate them against the dangers of vice, nor to obviate the need for checks and balances. Indeed, sometimes the quest for moral purity can exaggerate human frailty.

Wilde’s point is a subtle one, but it has deep echoes in recent psychological research. A 2017 paper by economists at Chicago University found that working for a socially responsible company increased the tendency of people to act unethically…

Nothing says respect for the reader like explaining the quote you have chosen to them like you’re teaching philosophy to a class of 8-year-olds. And what do the Chicago University economists have to say about socially irresponsible companies like News UK?

Elsewhere in The Sunday Times, Rod Liddle — a former Today programme editor and current writer of offensive things for money, says:

The BBC’s claims to a moral high ground have always been false and are now demonstrably so. Why should we still pay for it?

Rod Liddle not only does not occupy the moral high ground but cannot even glimpse the moral high ground from the earth’s core-touchingly deep cesspit where he dwells. Liddle is the man who…

  • Began a Spectator column by asking, “So — Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober."

  • Wrote in another Spectator column that he was offering readers “a quick update on what the Muslim savages are up to…”

  • Became the first journalist to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission over a blog post after distorting crime stats in a piece that included the line, “The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community… in return, we have rap music, goat curry and a far more vibrant and diverse understanding of cultures which were once alien to us. For which, many thanks.”

  • Opined that “my own view is that there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory party”.

  • Posted antisemitic and racist ‘jokes’ on a Millwall forum and later said he didn’t regret doing it.

  • Breached reporting restrictions by claiming that the trial of two men accused and later convicted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence would not be fair. The Spectator didn’t contest the case and was required to pay a derisory sum of £5,625 in compensation and costs.

  • Was censured by ISPO over two Sun columns in which he made jokes about a blind, transgender electoral candidate.

  • Wrote “I would have thought that the requirement for amyl nitrate to relax the sphincter muscle and lube to accommodate entry was God's way of telling you that what you're about to do is unnatural and perverse…” in homophobic a Spectator column castigating the gay Tory MP Crispin Blunt which was published not in 1986 or 1996 but 2016.

  • Was arrested for common assault against his partner who was 20 weeks pregnant at the time. He admitted the offence and accepted a caution but later claimed he only did so because it was the quickest way to be released.

… and that’s just a partial list of reasons why Rod Liddle is a howling embodiment of moral emptiness, bigotry and spite. It also serves as a list of reasons that he fits in so well as a News UK employee.

Sir Harold Evans wrote in the 2012 preface to his book Good Times, Bad Times about watching Rupert Murdoch as he gave evidence to a parliamentary committee in 2011 — the “most humble day of my life” appearance. Evans worked up a beautiful metaphor inspired by the name of the venue where the proceedings took place — Portcullis House:

A portcullis is a defensive latticed iron grating hung over the entrance of a fortified castle. It’s a perfect metaphor for News Corporation, which perpetually sees itself as beset by enemies. The company’s normal style is to soak assailants in boiling oil, but this time Murdoch, its chairman and only begetter of the giant multimedia enterprise had little choice between defending the indefensible and denying the undeniable. He chose humility, the honest man betrayed by vassals.

Evans was a giant of true campaigning public interest journalism — his efforts on behalf of the Thalidomide victims and their families would have been enough to secure his place in history — and he pins down Murdoch’s modus operandi with the precision of a lepidopterist:

Of course, [Murdoch’s] direct competitors have hardly been free of the excesses typical of tabloid circulation battles — invasions of privacy with not a shred of justification in the public interest; entrapment, fabrication, malicious gossip; and the occlusion of facts that may stand in the way of a good story.

But News International [the News Corp subsidiary1] practiced the worst of these vices on an industrial scale, invented new ones in bribery and intimidation, and came to consider itself above the law.

When Syed correctly writes in his column that…

… the institutional reflex of the BBC was to disbelieve that somebody so vile could have risen so high in an institution so pure.

… I can help but reply that the institutional reflex in the News Corp world has often been to promote the vilest people as they are the ones willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get the scoop.

The BBC is a bureaucratic beast beset by arse-covering, blame-shifting, and corporate cowardice, but when it gets caught out, its journalists — usually the ones not guilty of any failure — indulge in orgies of self-flagellation. The aim seems to be for the BBC to be crueller to itself than even its many critics can conceive of being.

But as Evans wrote, when News Corp is on the ropes, a very different and dangerous instinct kicks in:

… only when cornered did the company start offering damage money for its intrusions. In the meantime, it did not confine itself to rebuttals. It hired private investigators to build a dossier on its pursuers.

Confronted by a critic, the cry in News International seems not to have been ‘is there anything to this allegation?’ but ‘what have we got on him?’

At a subsequent parliamentary committee session where James Murdoch appeared without his father, Tom Watson indulged in a piece of theatre that’s worth revisiting:

Tom Watson (TW): You’re familiar with the word ‘mafia’…

James Murdoch (JM): Yes, Mr Watson.

TW: Have you ever heard the word ‘omerta’, a Mafia term they use for the code of silence? …would you agree that it means a group of people who are bound together by secrecy, who together pursue their groups business objectives with no regard for the law using intimidation, corruption, and general criminality?

JM: I… err.. again, I’m not familiar with the term particularly, I’ve heard it vaguely.

TW: Would you agree with me that this is an accurate description of News International in the UK?

JM: Absolutely not. I frankly think that’s offensive and it’s not true.

TW: There are allegations of phone hacking, computer hacking, conspiring to pervert the course of justice, perjury facing this company… and all this happened without your knowledge?

JM: As I’ve said to you, Mr Watson, and to this committee on a number of occasions: It is a matter of regret that things went wrong at the News of the World in 2006. The company didn’t come to grips with those issues fast enough, I think we all recognised that.

And I’ve also acknowledged that evidence to this committee was given without full possession of the facts. And that’s something I’m very sorry for. What I can tell you though is that when evidence came to light and when we finally achieved the transparency that is appropriate, we have acted and the company has acted with great zeal and diligence to get to the bottom of issues, to improve the processes to make sure they don’t happen again…

… and to make sure with the police, with this committee, and the like is such that we can bring any wrongdoers — if they are proven to be so — to account.

TW: Mr Murdoch, you must be the first mafia boss in history that didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise…

There was a category error at the heart of Watson’s rhetoric; James Murdoch who has now left the family business and is attempting to rehabilitate himself by speaking out about its coverage of climate change was not the mob moss. He was his father’s fall guy, the world’s most unconvincing consigliere.

The News of the World was closed in July 2011 as Murdoch Snr. attempted to move on from the scandals like a rogue government concreting over a nuclear waste dump. But the radiation is still there and it seeps out from every crack in the edifice of the Murdoch empire.

This week, as The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times were luxuriating in the Bashir story, Home Secretary Priti Patel demanded to review the report by the independent panel investigating the murder of Daniel Morgan before it is allowed to be published. The panel has subsequently refused to hand over its 1,000-page report — which was at the printers when the Home Office made its unexpected and suspect intervention.

As detailed in the book Who Killed Daniel Morgan? by Daniel’s brother Alastair Morgan and Peter Jukes, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers were intimately connected with the case and made extensive use of private detectives. Morgan and Jukes recount early in their book:

Murdoch himself was heard to admit that, when he took over the News of the World in 1969, he was told that the company safe was full of cash to pay off police officers on Saturdays before the paper went to press. ‘We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely,’ Murdoch told Sun journalists in 2013.

Raju Bhatt, solicitor to the Morgan family, told The Guardian:

The failure is not just the police, the Home Office is complicit in these failures. We are suspicious about the motives for the Home Secretary’s unwarranted and late intervention…

And they have good reason to be suspicious. Patel attended Rupert Murdoch’s 2016 wedding to Jerry Hall and listed her last publicly declared meeting with him on September 14 20202 as “a private dinner [with] the Executive Chairman of News Corp”.

The Home Office has reached for the government’s usual excuse for bringing the gears of justice to a grinding halt — “national security concerns” — but a source with knowledge of the five Metropolitan police inquiries into Morgan’s murder again told The Guardian:

There are no national security issues involved. There are national embarrassment issues.

Jonathan Rees, Daniel Morgan’s partner in Southern Investigations — the private detective agency that Nick Davies called “the cradle of the dark arts” in his book Hack Attackwas one of three men tried and acquitted of Morgan’s murder in 2009. In 2011, it was revealed that he earned £150,000 a year from the News of the World alone for supplying illegally obtained information.

Rees used a network of corrupt police officers to get hold of confidential data like bank records, telephone logs, and car registration details. He’s also alleged to have commissioned burglaries on behalf of journalists.

Rees was jailed for perverting the course of justice after he planted cocaine on a woman to discredit her during divorce proceedings. When he was released, he was immediately rehired by News of the World editor, Andy Coulson — David Cameron’s future comms chief, who was later jailed for conspiracy to intercept voicemails aka phone hacking.

What possible reason could Priti Patel, Murdoch wedding guest and private dining companion, have to sit on a report that digs into the tightly wound connections between corrupt police officers and News Corp journalists? I’m sure she’s just doing her best, just like Matt Hancock was when, as Culture Secretary, he scrapped plans for ‘Leveson 2’ — an inquiry which would have explored the relationships between public officials, especially the police.

Watch the moralising and grandstanding by Murdoch employees very carefully now, because they will go very silent when the Daniel Morgan inquiry panel’s work is finally made public. News UK will find ways to distract and deflect from the depths of depravity that Murdoch’s newspapers have sunk to time and time again to get their ‘scoops’. Bashir was bad, but the murkiest corners of Rupert Murdoch’s empire make him look like a particularly devout choirboy.

Don’t look to people on the Murdoch payroll like Syed and Liddle to tell you what is wrong in the British media. Read the words of Daniel Morgan’s son, also called Daniel, who was 3 at the time of his father’s murder:

In 34 years we have never had anywhere near a satisfactory level of closure on the events before, during and after my father’s death.

What remains most sickening is the failure of the institutions of the state to do what was required of them: the failure to address the police corruption that has protected those responsible for the murder from justice; and the repeated failure to confront that corruption over the decades; a failure of the police hierarchy at the highest ranks; the failure of the Home Office which is supposed to be responsible for the police.

My family have been collateral damage in this. Our pain and suffering seems to count for nothing. A generation of grief.

What should be the bigger story — the underhand and unethical way a hack got an interview that Princess Diana was always going to give 25 years ago? Or the continuing efforts of the establishment to deny a family justice 34 years on?


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