I have known and liked LES HINTON for 40 years. I have always trusted his journalism, respected his management skills. All you need to know about Hinton’s self-deprecating spirit is that he wrote the headline to this column as well as the text. . .
I DID A BRAVE THING RECENTLY. I volunteered to appear in the BBC epic Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty to speak positively about Rupert himself.
For years, I had uniformly declined to help with TV shows and books about him. The approaches from producers and authors were always amusing — “It will not be a stereotypical portrait; we want it to be a thoughtful and insightful profile” …. “It’s the right time to produce an historical document” …. “Our ambition is to make the definitive series on Rupert Murdoch”. Yeah yeah.
But this time I accepted. The reason was self-serving: my memoir was out in paperback (buy it now — The Bootle Boy: an untidy life in news, Amazon, £9).
Two bright young men interviewed me over three days in Manhattan and London. I posed for them in a park across my street; they filmed me looking meditatively out of my window; and I did my best to talk about Rupert — his trials, triumphs, and his blunders — without coming across too much as a blindly loyal lifelong fanboy. I worked for him fifty years and, trust me, there were plenty of warts.
They asked tough questions and sometimes I regretted my answers; good interviewers make you do that. I’m not complaining.
They maybe took a few things I said out of context, but who among us in the media hasn’t been rightly accused of that?
I didn’t think they were working on a paean. I knew they wouldn’t be going out of their way to reveal him as a generous, gentle, misunderstood genius.
They lined up the usual hit squad, people who’ve been repeating the same things for a decade at least.
There were Max Mosley and Hugh Grant, whose altruistic worries about the conduct of the tabloid press might be heightened by revelations of their own famous indiscretions. Dennis Potter, the playwright who’s been dead a quarter of a century, was brought back to life to remind us he named his fatal cancer Rupert. Alastair Campbell told us again how he had to wash his mouth out with soap every time he was nice to the Murdoch Press.
And Tom Watson, the former Labour MP whose political career evaporated last year for reasons too distracting to enter into here, repeated his favourite line about the company being a mafia operation. Watson also got personal with me, describing me as beneath his contempt, which I’m fairly confident put me in excellent company.
He was provoked into saying all this by my suggestion that he was motivated to orchestrate a political storm over phone hacking because of Labour’s distress at The Sun for rejecting the premiership of Watson’s hero and puppet master, Gordon Brown. I’d always thought it was a point of pride for him.
Defenders were thin on the ground in this three-hour epic. The most prominent among them was an over-excited Nigel Farage, which struck me as mischievous casting.
My own contribution differed from others in acknowledging some of Murdoch’s non-fiendish traits.
There wasn’t much else positive said about him.
He’s not perfect, far from it, but they might have ticked off a few things on the plus side of the ledger to punctuate the ‘list of crimes’. Such as how he rescued British newspapers from an early death in the 1980s and then upended the suffocating duopoly that ruled broadcasting before the advent of Sky.
At the end of the final episode, there’s a clip from a Murdoch interview in which he is sceptical about the causes of climate change. Straight after that, the show cuts to a raging inferno — an Australian bushfire, I think. The implication was clear: on top of everything else, Rupert Murdoch was now guilty of setting the world on fire.
No doubt the Murdoch loathers loved it. For them, tales of Rupert the demon are like favorite bedtime stories. They’ll listen to them over and over.
For my appearances, the accolades from them poured in on Twitter: “lickspittle …. bag carrier….shoe polisher….lying twat…… a f****** worm”
But I don’t know anymore about the BBC. She’ll be 98 years old in October and the old girl’s age is beginning to show. It’s a sure symptom of cranial decay when someone keeps boring you with the same story.
The BBC has been updating its version of the Rupert Murdoch story for decades. In their version, Murdoch is Britain’s default demon and the source of just about everything that’s gone wrong in this country in the last five decades or so.
The BBC can’t help itself. They must see it as a solemn duty to keep returning to this story to reset the nation’s moral compass lest it forget the devil among them.
But some understanding is called for.
While the BBC loathes Rupert Murdoch, it’s fair to say the feeling is entirely mutual.