In conversation with American friends, they often identify a paper as “The Times of London” or even “the London Times” and sometimes I correct them – since its name actually is The Times and has been since 1st January 1788, and since officially it is a UK-wide paper, sold from Campbelltown to Norwich. And sometimes I don’t, because as a practical matter of fact all of the papers published from London are London papers – the rest of the country (let alone the rest of the UK) is not regarded as of particular interest – the same line of thinking that leads David Dimbleby, in Edinburgh, to squelch Nicola Sturgeon when she responds to a question that requires an explanation of Scottish election law, on the grounds that Scottish elections are of no interest to Question Time’s audience.
This attitude in the UK-national media that Scottish politics are not something they should have to care about has been to Alex Salmond’s benefit on a few occasions – most notably over his MP expenses. Or rather most non-notably. But Salmond’s courtship of Murdoch is an extraordinary piece of chutzpah – a certainty that while the Scottish papers may take note, this won’t turn into a thing in the UK-national ones – and it is the UK-national papers that are focussing their attention on the Leveson revelations about Rupert Murdoch and News International.
The Scotsman has nary an article on Leveson on its website between 16th January, the day the “regional editors” gave evidence, and 21st February – which wasn’t an article so much as a reference.) [Correction - I got this embarrassingly wrong. The Scotsman's own website search engine shows this level of Leveson coverage. But when I used Google to search the Scotsman's website externally, I found a level of coverage equivalent to the Herald. Should have done that sooner.] The Herald has more on Leveson, but none of the articles on their website discuss Salmond’s relationship with Murdoch in the light of the Leveson inquiry. And the newspaper with the highest circulation in Scotland, even surpassing the free Metro, hasn’t been covering the Leveson inquiry much, if at all. (Yes, it’s The Sun.)
In comments to a previous post on Alex Salmond’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch and News International, I was accused of being more interested in Murdoch than in independence – of having a “Murdochian obsession”. Indeed, that would be why I’ve written 14 articles about Scottish independence since January, and this is my fourth blogpost about Murdoch in the past six months.
There’s an article in yesterday’s Independent which could have been about Alex Salmond, if Matthew Norman regarded Scottish politics as of any interest:
I have the weirdest feeling that we’ve been here before with this symbiotic relationship… that we once came to regard the Murdoch-government axis as far more insidiously lethal than papers putting coppers and MoD officials on retainers. So, even now, with Leveson unearthing all manner of disgrace and the Feds on News Corp’s case, it feels a bit previous to be celebrating the rupture of his political influence. Like Davros, whose dead ringer he ever-more uncannily becomes, Murdoch has a knack of coming back from the dead, and twice as nasty as before.
In Britain, the amnesia he so hammily offered us last summer is a genuine national affliction. After sporadic eruptions of outrage, the apathy resumes its dominion, allowing us to forget and the horror to return. Within nine years of the invasion of Iraq, the lunatics are rifling through the identical playbook of lies, spurious claims and crude fear-mongering in the cause of replicating the same strategic masterstroke in Iran. It may very well work.
Even God and Murdoch cannot change the past, but mortals tend to forget it. This is why this orchestrated counter-attack against Leveson must be crushed when it revives, and why it must be spelt out ad nauseam et infinitum that what we face here is no evil plot to stifle genuine public interest reporting. We are staring into the eye of a tornado of organised crime and rank corruption, be it bribing public officials, haranguing celebrities’ mothers, or the mutual Murdoch-governmental back-scratching which, as Mr Salmond reminds us, persists.
If the post-Milly Dowler revelations Murdoch medical analogy of choice was a tumour resected from the body politic, cancer has a hateful habit of returning even after successful surgery. The patient wants to trust in the Murdochian doctrine that it belongs in the past, but not for nothing are post-operative patients repeatedly scanned even when they have no symptoms.
With this malignancy, dodgy stray cells are visible in the national bloodstream even now, and it will require the regular irradiation of public examination, fury and disgust. By no means is this war of attrition won yet. With Murdoch boasting about his Sunday newbie while his daily Sun eclipsed all sight of its criminality, only an imbecile or one of his own useful idiots could think that. (Matthew Norman: “Let us never forget the stench of this rank corruption”, The Independent, 29th February 2012)
Of course Matthew Norman didn’t name Alex Salmond as one of Murdoch’s “useful idiots”. Norman is, reasonably for an English journalist, much more interested in Michael Gove, education minister for England and Wales, than he is in Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland.
But the amnesia about Murdoch and NI which Norman condemns is horrifyingly evident as Scottish nationalists embrace Murdoch’s praise of Salmond:
Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politicianin U.K.Gave Cameron back of his hand this week.Loved by Scots.
— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) February 19, 2012
The day after the Scottish Sun on Sunday ran with the leaked story from the Scottish Government about the referendum date, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told the Leveson inquiry that
one public official received more than £80,000 in total from the paper, currently edited by Dominic Mohan. Regular “retainers” were apparently being paid to police and others, with one Sun journalist drawing more than £150,000 over the years to pay off his sources.
“The cases we are investigating are not ones involving the odd drink, or meal, to police officers or other public officials,” she said. “Instead, these are cases in which arrests have been made involving the delivery of regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money to small numbers of public officials by journalists.”
“A network of corrupted officials” was providing the Sun with stories that were mostly “salacious gossip”, she said. “There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate such payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money.”
Nor is the “salacious gossip” the worst of it. Jacqui Hames’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry yesterday strongly suggests a link between the murder of Daniel Morgan in 1987 and an apparent involvement of News of the World resources to intimidate the detective investigating the case.
But today, regardless of these scandals, the First Minister of Scotland met with Rupert Murdoch and Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of News International, at Bute House, to discuss
the potential for further investment within the country.
“Mr Murdoch was keen to express his view that the current debate on Scotland’s constitutional future continued to make Scotland an attractive place for inward investment.”
If Scotland votes yes in autumn 2014, among the community property that needs to be divided up is the BBC. If there is one institution that Rupert Murdoch sees as his enemy in the UK, it’s not Parliament – no matter what individual MPs may do or say; it’s not the Guardian, even though they have been carrying out some splendid investigative journalism into News International malpractice since 2006; it’s the BBC.
As tomorrow’s Business Spectator points out:
News Corp has signalled that it’s still very much interested in expanding its international television footprint while James Murdoch it seems is now unlikely to succeed his father Rupert Murdoch as chief executive of the family media company. Last night, News Corp said James would be stepping down as News International executive chairman – the branch that’s been responsible for all the phone hacking controversies – to concentrate on expanding News Corp’s international TV division.
Murdoch’s eyes are on running our TV after independence. He would love Salmond to carve him up a dish of BBC. And damn right, that is a reason to vote no in autumn 2014. Rupert Murdoch’s will to power – and James Murdoch may have resigned from his British post, but he hasn’t gone from the Murdoch empire – is a horrific prospect. I was asked why don’t I trust the SNP’s policies and Salmond’s vision, and never mind his dallying with Murdoch?
Yes, some people are starting to pay attention, but I would say my problem, as well as that of independent journalists, is we’re stuck in the progressive ghetto. We’re still sequestered within the electronic Berlin Wall with this information. It’s still not making the big nightly news — just little bits are glimmering through here and there. But in terms of the fact that there is a huge public reaction of some people who do get the information that I have, it’s because I’m trying to give them the kind of stories that people always suspected were happening — the greed, the corruption, all of it.
But give Americans credit. Do you realize that if you turn on Fox News or CBS News, which is Fox News with an eyeball on it, or NBC News, which is Fox News with a peacock on it — I mean, it’s all Fox News. I’m surprised that the presidential race is a dead heat.
You think it couldn’t happen in Scotland? It would be nice to think we’re better than that. It would be nice to think that the Scottish police and the Scottish media not featuring in the Leveson inquiry is because of superior Scottish virtue and not because, until independence, there was no particular reason for News International to care all that much about Scotland. But Murdoch has his hungry eyes fixed on us now, and if you’re not worried by that, I am.
These are Murdoch’s values in the US:
From distance, Santorum doing great.Values really do count in America, and not sneered at as in parts of Europe. Win Michigan game over.
— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) February 20, 2012
I could have done with a little more vim from Rennie and Sarwar, but they are fundamentally right:
Opposition politicians condemned the meeting, with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie saying: “Many people will be perplexed that the first minister can have such a close association with the troubled media tycoon. We need to know that he argued with force that News International must clean up its act. Passing reference to the Leveson inquiry would be insufficient. The people of Scotland would expect more from their first minister.”
Anas Sarwar, the deputy leader of Scottish Labour, said: “Given the ongoing revelations at the Leveson inquiry and the row over the referendum date this week, this was an inappropriate and ill-advised meeting for the first minister to take.
“The scandal that has engulfed News International and caused them to shut down one of their leading newspapers has shocked the public and the thought of the first minister enjoying a cosy cup of tea with Rupert Murdoch will not be well understood.” (Guardian, 29th February 2012)
The argument which some have made to me – here or on Twitter – that Alex Salmond must deal with Murdoch because otherwise the News International papers will attack the SNP and independence, is itself indicative of amnesia. This was the cover story of the Scottish Sun on the election day for the third Scottish Parliament in 2007: