A week is a long time in the newspaper industry. On 26 February Murdoch launched the Sunday edition of the Sun in a blaze of hype about a “fresh start” and new era for the News International stable.
Sales figures of over three million suggested that the Dirty Digger could begin to put the scandals of the last 12 months behind him and regroup. Within days the scandal was resurfacing — thanks to years of research by serious journalists like the Guardian’s Nick Davies into New International’s corrupt practice, piecing together a complicated web linking the corporation to dodgy police, the political establishment and the intimidation and harassment of hostile witnesses and celebrities.
The playwright Dennis Potter named his terminal cancer “Rupert” — after Murdoch who he represented everything he thought despicable about the British media. This month the BBC has been re-showing Potter’s greatest TV drama, The Singing Detective. It would have amused the sardonic old socialist that the person to spoil Murdoch’s attempt to renew his British reputation was a very different kind of singing detective, Leveson inquiry witness and deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sue Akers.
Akers has revealed to Leveson that the Sun was responsible for a widespread culture of corrupt payment to public officials, including police.
The payments, she said, were “regular, frequent and sometimes involved significant sums of money”. She made it clear that such payments had to have been authorised at a very high level and that everyone concerned from the reporters all the way up the most senior managers must have been aware that they were breaking the law. News of the World could no longer be represented as the “one bad apple” in the News International barrel.
Murdoch's papers are now accused of actions which are illegal and punishable in the home of his primary wealth and power; in the American courts. This takes Murdoch’s problems into new and far more dangerous territory.
After Akers came Charlotte Church, movingly describing the harassment and bullying of her parents to the point where her mother was pressured to reveal details of her personal medical condition.
Later it was revealed that NotW editor Rebekah Brooks had been lent a former police horse by friends at the Met police. Soon after came news that Cameron had probably had a ride on the horse.
On 29 February Rupert’s son and heir James Murdoch resigned as executive chairman of News International.
All of this, however, may be sideshows when compared to some more telling aspects of this tale.
Two stories in particular will continue to dog those who want to kill this crisis.
First the story that John Prescott had his phone hacked while he was Deputy Prime Minister. When he asked the police whether this was happening they denied it. Forget the New Labour apologist’s awful political record for a moment and pause for thought: the second most important elected politician in the land was having his phone calls intercepted and the people in charge of his and the government’s security either didn’t know or were complicit and covered it up. Prescott's dogged refusal to let this be forgotten is exposing the cosy, mutually-corrupting relationship between tabloid owners and editors and those charged with law enforcement.
Second is the case of murdered private detective Daniel Morgan. His story is worthy of the great US noir crime writer James Ellroy. Morgan was investigating police corruption and attempted to sell the information he uncovered to tabloid newspapers. Unfortunately somewhere between him making it known to newspapers that he had a story and any agreement to publish his material, he was the victim of a very brutal and professional murder.
If the tabloids were serious about their claims to lift the lid on the secrets of the powerful and print the stories they don’t want you to read, what happened next would be all over the Sunday front pages.
The police officer charged with investigating Morgan’s murder was, it is now widely believed, placed under surveillance and harassed by journalists from the News of the World. The dots are not that hard to join up but just in case, the detective’s wife, TV presenter Jacqui Hames, spelled it out at the Leveson Inquiry on 28 February:
“Suspects in the Daniel Morgan murder inquiry were using their association with a powerful and well-resourced newspaper to try to intimidate us and so attempt to subvert the investigation”.
Rupert Murdoch has not yet reached his “Robert Maxwell moment”, and become a figure of derision and fun with whom no-one who wants to remain respectable or credible can have any connection. Such a situation is now, however, becoming entirely plausible.
The reputation of Murdoch's British tabloid enterprise may be irretrievably damaged and he may decide to shut up shop or sell up in an effort to save his much more important and profitable US operation. His loss of an heir in James Murdoch and the very real possibility of US legal enforcement holds out the tantalising possibility of a truly Shakespearean ending to this iconic modern life.
His ruin would be an outcome to be celebrated from the rooftops by socialists and serious democrats everywhere. We should use it, however, to call to account all those in the Labour Party who fell shamefully at his knee and joined eagerly in his attack on trade unions, the poor and the vulnerable.