The Media on Murdoch…

Below are some, more or less random, samples from the mainstream media’s coverage of the Murdoch empire’s activities, mostly related to phone-hacking.  The quotation comes first with the citation afterwards as a link.  The selections will be added to as events transpire.  But first some observations about David Cameron’s position on Andy Coulson.

What is David Cameron’s position on why he hired Andy Coulson, and what is his position on whether he discussed the News Corp. BSkyB deal, whereby Rupert Murdoch’s family clan would largely take over the UK media with interested parties?  The short answer is: completely untenable and/or most likely a pack of lies concocted to cover himself.

Yes unbelievable eh? a politician being economical with the actualité.  According to Cameron, Andy Coulson’s connections to Murdoch were not why he hired him; or so he would have us believe.  Similarly, Cameron tells us, unlike the rest of the UK, he made no reference to the Murdoch deal, at any time: even when he spent Christmas with the key players in the deal (and indeed media take-overs was his speciality area in his previous PR work).  The biggest deal in town just simply didn’t interest the PM and his friends, he is above such things and so are they.  Or so we are led to believe.

The truth might be that Coulson was (let us say) ‘recommended ‘ possibly by Cameron’s mutual, ‘conspiratorial’ and ‘strategic’ friend Rebekah Wade.  So it might be Cameron had no need to enter into much of a discussion, having been told what to do.  It might be charitable to suggest it had been previously agreed via the law of reciprocal back-scratching: but politicians are as hard to hire as a taxi.  Yet in Cameron’s account Cameron is not wooing Rupert Murdoch and not indebted to his (back door) support.  He was oblivious to the suspicions everyone else had about Coulson’s appointment: he was just giving police-paying Coulson a second chance.  Unlike Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Cameron would have us believe he is above such pandering to the powerful, and is unfathomably loyal to his expendable employees— something of a experimental novelty in a PM. But who is stupid enough to believe any of this?

So what drew Cameron to Coulson?  We do not really know: all the logical reasons have been dispensed with.  If it was not the Murdoch connection and being adept at the ‘black arts,’  and if the appointment was not put off by Coulson’s testimony that he had paid the police, Cameron must have been convinced of something or acquiesced to something.  Was it that Coulson had been involved in hacking the Royal’s phones: law & order and the Royal Family have always been a big part of Conservatism but maybe Cameron is different here, or maybe he was forced into such a ridiculous stance.  So let’s have a look at Coulson’s career and try to see what else (other than the Murdoch connection) would have attracted Cameron’s eye.

Coulson was the former ‘show biz’ editor at the Sun, replacing Piers Morgan (who’s evidence at the Levenson Enquiry was received with a great deal of scorn and counter evidence) ,and largely carrying on in his footsteps.  Was it the mysteriously obtained tales of star-obsessed hyper-trivia that, with Coulson’s ‘Bizarre’ column that was largely the product of insider deals between publicists, press agents and the paper — indeed leading to the initial celebrity phone hacking concerns?  Was it that?  Coulson’s period as one of Murdoch’s editors coincided with such spectacular qualifications for the job of representing the PM as the persecution of Stephen Gately and being pictured with Madonna. Fair enough, since the politicians have just about nothing to offer, perhaps being pictured alongside celebrities, and the fact that Coulson would have contact numbers (and indeed PIN) caught Cameron’s eye.  To be fair, Coulson’s activities here did also include a mild hostility to Labour.  But who doesn’t have that? But Coulson was thought to be somewhat apolitcal.  Perhaps it was Coulson’s introduction of that aroused the PM’s interest — maybe Andy has good contacts in the world of topless modeling and so on.  Coulson didn’t do interviews that would reveal the hidden nature of his personality, but he did lead the way with the tabloid’s ‘Naming and Shaming’ campaign of others not to the paper’s liking.  Now that would attract a politician if it played with the ordinary punter’s stereotypes. Coulson’s career was devoted to persecution and attempts to destroy popular figures and ruin their lives: Kylie, Prince William (even ignoring and overturning the rules that barred snooping on the Princes after the death of their mother).  Would that talent and obsession attract a Conservative leader?  ‘You betcha!’ as Sarah Palin would say.  Coulson’s paper persecuted Kimberly Quinn and David Blunkett, but it was more noted for its focus on celebrities such as David Beckham, and remarkably  few questions asked about sources and intelligence-gathering techniques, before Coulson’s resignation in January 2007 (yes its taken about 4 years for this to unravel).  But we can also point to his previous roles in running the George Osborne-Prostitute-Cocaine allegations and the Boris Johnson-Anna Fazackerley tales, although in the snake pit of Tory politics there is no reason to think that such ability would put Cameron off Coulson.  This might be what warmed him to him.

It would seem that Coulson was not Cameron’s first choice.  We know that there were many objections and warnings (including by Max Clifford who said it would haunt the Tories) but in a few months after packing it in Coulson would get the job as director of Communications in June 2007, to the amazement of the UK public.   How would Coulson brief in the lobby?  Wouldn’t people say ‘hey aren’t you the guy who…?’

One reason that the press and wider commentary offers for Coulson getting the job was a crazy effort to get the support of Murdoch even while the Clive Goodman case put a nail in Coulson’s coffin.  That level of incompetence in high level government is a lot more easy to believe.  We now know that some unusual activity does seem to have taken place in vetting Coulson.  Just because they sat on the committee investigating the Murdoch case, Louise Mensch and Tom Watson seemed to have been the subject of a more thorough ‘vetting,’ than that given to someone probably handling or hearing national security sensitive information.  Speculation has suggested that part of Cameron’s odd support for Coulson, included letting him be passed over for a full vetting because it would find fault with the phone hacking.  The truth is that everyone involved is telling lies.  But it’s all water under the bridge: Cameron won’t be testifying on why he hired him and Coulson well… who knows what surprises may be in store for us now that Murdoch is not picking up his legal expenses.

LONDON (Reuters)- Scotland Yard investigators have cryptic financial records corroborating suspicions that former News of the World editor Andy Coulson knew about illegal payments to police officers, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The cash records tally with payments suggested in an email discussion between Coulson and the newspaper’s disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.

Cash and email records were part of a dossier compiled by a London law firm which News International, parent company of Rupert Murdoch’s London newspaper holdings, hired four years ago to look into allegations of phone hacking by News of the World journalists. The inquiry was launched after Goodman and a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, were arrested and convicted for hacking into the voicemails of aides to members of Britain’s royal Family. The two were jailed for several months for conspiracy to access phone messages.

After conducting its review, the law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, told the company it had found no evidence of hacking by other News of the World journalists. But James Murdoch, who until earlier this year ran News International, told parliament earlier this week that top company officials did not examine all the documentation until after civil lawsuits from alleged hacking victims began to gather steam late last year.

Phone hacking: missing News of the World executive Greg Miskiw to fly to UK for police talks

Greg Miskiw, a former news editor at the News of the World who left the UK after being alleged to have repeatedly authorised illegal voicemail hacking, is to return to Britain to face questioning by police.

But the one which seems to be exciting journalists today is the question of what vetting procedures Andy Coulson went through when he moved with Mr Cameron from  opposition to government. I fear there could be some unravelling ahead with regard to the current official line that Mr Coulson did not go through developed vetting because he did not need to attend key meetings and he did not need to see sensitive and secret material.

I am sure that when Mr Cameron became PM, the expectation among the waiting civil service would have been that the key people around him would have had access to key meetings and papers. So either someone – Mr Cameron or Mr Coulson— decided that the communications director should not be on that list of new faces to be put through developed vetting. It would be good, if this were so, to know the reasons. Or, the civil service – possibly encouraged by the Palace – decided that Mr Coulson should not have the access predecessors in the role had done.

Whichever it is, there was something very odd going on here. It would be wrong to say it would be impossible to do the job without access to sensitive material for which DV status is required. But it would certainly be a lot harder.

I suspect that in coming days journalists will quite easily be able to ferret out information to the effect that Mr Coulson had been at meetings and seen papers he was not, apparently, cleared to see.

In five hours of hearings before a parliamentary committee today, witnesses Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, and Rebekah Brooks attempted to convince the world that they have been framed by their former News of the World employees.

The trio never accused anybody by name, but they repeatedly portrayed themselves as victims of phone-hacking underlings. They knew nothing of the practice, they claimed, until their reporter Clive Goodman of News of the World and private detective Glenn Mulcaire were charged and went to jail in 2007 for hacking the phones of “royal” family staffers. As Brooks explained, she wasn’t aware that current News of the World staffers were still hacking until actor Sienna Miller filed a civil suit against the paper and she saw the documents in December.

When asked which senior staffers had lied to her about phone-hacking practices, Brooks retreated.

“Unfortunately, because of the criminal procedure, I’m not sure that it’s possible to infer guilt until those criminal procedures have taken place,” she said.

James Murdoch appears to have given misleading parliamentary testimony about a key phone-hacking cover-up, according to evidence obtained by the Guardian.

Rupert Murdoch’s son sought to deny that “astronomic sums” had been secretly paid out to a hacking victim as hush-money. He told MPs the company’s legal advice was that the likely award of damages was £250,000, and that this explained the size of a confidential payout he agreed could be paid in 2008 to hacking victim Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the footballers’ union the PFA.

But full details of the legal negotiations obtained by the Guardian show that in fact Murdoch’s company executives paid far more than that to buy Taylor’s silence. After consulting James Murdoch, they eventually agreed to pay £425,000 damages, almost twice as much as the alleged likely award.

With Taylor’s legal costs at £220,000, and their own solicitors’ fees of some £300,000, the total cost to the News of the World to keep the case out of court amounted to almost £1m.

Halfway through my time as his political secretary, Tony Blair offered me some excellent advice: “You only have to break one of their legs, John.” In vain did I protest that I had never broken a single leg, let alone both. The point Blair was making was that political operatives need to be either feared or respected.

The truth, exposed horrendously over the past fortnight, is that David Cameron’s current operation in Downing Street is neither.

The issue here is not that Ed Miliband has made the political weather – though he has. It is that the Government’s response has been supine. In a crisis, what is required from the centre is “grip”: a tightly controlled and clearly visible strategy that reframes the problem and creates the political space for you to move on. None of that has been apparent.

What should Downing Street have done? Well, the first rule of crisis management is that you need to understand the full dimensions of the problem. That means assembling all the facts: getting everyone together, collecting all the data, making sure that you know exactly what happened and when. Above all, it requires you to ask all the questions that you know will be put to you, especially the ones that you fear the most. This has clearly not been done.

7.25pm: James Murdoch stands by what he told the select committee about the Gordon Taylor settlement, according to a statement by News Corp.

7.15pm:John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons select committee, has told my colleague Patrick Wintour that he will be asking James Murdoch to explain the statement issued tonight by Colin Myler and Tom Crone.

Whittingdale said:

We as a committee regarded the For Neville email as one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry. We will be asking James Murdoch to respond and ask him to clarify.

“Police have been in touch and have asked for the passwords,” Wilson said. “Charlie was hoping it would be returned before now but he is adamant that … it is his computer and that there is nothing on it that is Rebekah’s and nothing that has anything to do with the [phone-hacking] case.

“He hopes it will all be returned without much more delay. It is in their [the police’s] hands now but Charlie is confident they will return it in the fullness of time.”

Police are understood to be checking CCTV footage at the garage to establish who left the bag, found in a bin in the car park. Brooks has said the bag was dropped by a friend who was trying to return it to him but accidently left it in the wrong part of the garage. “The suggestion is that a cleaner thought it was rubbish and put it in the bin,” Wilson said.

Brooks has said that by the time he discovered the bag was missing and traced it down to the security guard the police had already been called.

Rebekah Brooks was arrested on Sunday under suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and of corrupting police officers. She was questioned for 12 hours before being released.

See also the Guardian’s timeline:

In their statement, Myler and Crone challenged this: “Just by way of clarification relating to Tuesday’s Culture, Media Select Committee hearing, we would like to point out that James Murdoch’s recollection of what he was told when agreeing to settle the Gordon Taylor litigation was mistaken.

“In fact, we did inform him of the ‘for Neville’ email which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor’s lawyers.”

John Whittingdale, the chairman of the culture, sport and media select committee, said: “We as a committee regarded the ‘for Neville’ email as one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry. We will be asking James Murdoch to respond and ask him to clarify.”

He added that “it was seen as one of the few available pieces of evidence showing that this activity was not confined just to Clive Goodman”, the only journalist on the paper to have been prosecuted – and jailed – in relation to phone hacking so far.

The email is believed to have been critical in News International’s decision to pay Taylor such a large sum of money.


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