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The British Watergate: A Backgrounder on the Murdoch Hacking Scandal

Web ExclusiveJuly 21, 2011
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The London-based journalist Richard Gizbert, host of the Al Jazeera program The Listening Post, chronicles how the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal has shaken the British government, media system and public. A must-watch interview on how the scandal has unfolded and what it means for people in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Richard Gizbert. He is the host of The Listening Post, which is the media watch program for Al Jazeera English. Before that, he was a correspondent for ABC News in Britain for some 11 years; before that, with Canadian television.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Richard.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s great to have you on this side of the pond talking about what’s going on over there, talking about the biggest story in Britain right now. And it is the—well, who knows what it’s going to mean for the Murdoch empire? But the British empire is also reeling. Tell us the significance of this story. Give us the media landscape in Britain.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, I think—I think when all is said and done, if this story is fully investigated—and I think that’s a very big “if” because there are a lot of powerful people who have got reason not to want to see this thing investigated—I think if you take it and compare it to Watergate in the U.S.—granted, London is not Washington, but Watergate—I think this is bigger in the U.K. than Watergate ever was in the U.S., if it’s fully investigated. And the reason I say that is that Watergate—Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee took down an administration, and some people went with that administration—Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, those people. But then the Ford administration came in, and a lot of the cabinet members stayed the same. So there was a change at the very, very top and amongst some cabinet members, but apart from that, it was business as usual in Washington, a slight change of culture.

If this thing is fully investigated, I think what we will see is that Nick Davies, the lead reporter on this for _The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, who is the Ben Bradlee in this story, is the editor of The Guardian, I think there’s a real possibility that they can significantly reshape the British political establishment as it has existed over the last quarter-century—the relationship between News Corp., Murdoch, that runs through Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and now Cameron, with implications for Parliament, because parliamentarians were afraid to ask about this because they fear the investigative powers of News Corp., with investigations for the cabinet—with implications for the cabinet, and also with implications, significant implications, for British policing, and, by extension, the justice system. I think it’s a mega-story. It is difficult to overstate the implications.

AMY GOODMAN: This story has just exploded now, but it has been going on for a very long time, as you pointed out. And The Guardian has been exposing what’s been going on. It’s a matter of when it got picked up. Parliament has been involved. Explain what has been known over the years and what was covered up.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, initially, in 2005, 2006, the way the story broke was that it was established that there was phone hacking of some celebrities and some members of the royal family. The first reporter to go down was Clive Goodman, who was the News of the World’s royal correspondent, as well as—

AMY GOODMAN: No connection, no relation.

RICHARD GIZBERT: No, no, none that we know of. Again, if fully investigated. Also Glenn Mulcaire, who was a private investigator, was paid $100,000—100,000 pounds a year by the News of the World. So that story—

AMY GOODMAN: And who is he, that police detective?

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, he was a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, and he was—you know, he was paid—and News of the World has this culture where they would hire private investigators, routinely, to go slightly beyond where journalists were supposed to tread. Those two were convicted. They both did jail time in 2006. Andy Coulson, who was the editor of the News of the World at that time, denied that he even knew about this but still resigned, under that scandal cloud.

And what’s interesting about this is I’ve spoken to people who work at News of the World and The Sun. It is routine that any expense over a thousand pounds goes to the editor, anything, whether it’s a trip, clothes, entertainment, hospitality, what have you. Andy Coulson left there, basically saying that there was 100,000 pounds a year going out the door of the News of the World, and he didn’t know what he was getting for his money, which is utterly implausible. Fast-forward to 2009, and The Guardian is on the story with Nick Davies. And then he does a piece that says that the Murdoch’s News Corporation have paid out a million pounds in hush money, including one case, 700,000 pounds to a man named Gordon Taylor.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us who Gordon Taylor is.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Gordon Taylor runs the Professional Footballers’ Association there. It’s like the National Football League union or—it’s a sports union of these—


RICHARD GIZBERT: Soccer, sorry. And this case, which is very intricate, it was the biggest payment. Seven hundred thousand pounds of the hush money went to him. And that’s where The Guardian took that story at that time. But what’s very interesting—

AMY GOODMAN: Can you just tell me what it was that happened with him? What—

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, this is a great story, and it’s not been published over there. But the way the News of the World, their modus operandi with phone hacking—and a lot of people think it’s high tech. It’s not that high tech. When you get a phone, there’s a default access code for your voicemail. It might be 4-4-4-4. And if you, Amy Goodman, do not change that code and personalize it, anybody can get at your voicemail. So it’s not high tech. They were just finding out who your service provider was, finding out and guessing which kind of phone you were issued with. They would then guess at the—your phone code. And bingo, they were getting your voicemails.

Now, in certain cases—the first cases involved the royals. And either Harry had left a message for William, or Prince William had left a message for Harry, and they referred to a knee operation that one of them would have to come—would have to have imminently. The details of that ended up in the News of the World. And the Princess said there’s only one place they could have got it. So that’s why the royal correspondent went down, because he was attached to that story. But then, that went away.

Gordon Taylor ended up—the News of the World was chasing him, because he was allegedly having an affair with a staff member. And this is the only case where the News of the World actually published what was on the tape. Typically what they would do is they would use that for intelligence, and they would find out a story, but they would never reveal that that’s where they got it, because they didn’t want people to see the smoking gun. They’d put a photographer outside someone’s house, see somebody coming out of someone’s house the morning after, some kind of liaison, and boom, it’s in the paper. In this case, they published that this woman had left a message on Gordon Taylor’s phone that said, “You were amazing last night.” They drew their own conclusions as to what that was. They went with that, and they put it in the paper. They put “You were amazing last night” in the paper. And what they did not know is that three days prior to that, the woman’s father had passed away. Gordon Taylor had delivered the eulogy the night before. It was that to which she was referring. That put the Taylor case in a completely different category. News of the World wanted to hush that up. They spent 700,000 pounds to do it. And that is the gist of The Guardian story that was published in July of 2009. But what’s interesting is that other newspapers were not following up on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Were talking about that he was paid more than a million dollars.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Yeah, but other newspapers were not following up on that. And there are a lot of theories as to why that is. News of the World and The Sun, the Murdoch tabloids, are not the only tabloids in the U.K. There are others. There are suspicions that those others, and there’s been talk, that they’ve also been doing some of this, obviously—I think it’s obvious to most people—not on this industrial scale.

AMY GOODMAN: Because we’re talking how many phones hacked?

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, between 4,000 and 6,000 now. And, you know, you’ve got to remember, initially, the News of the World said this was one rogue reporter and very few cases, up to possibly six cases. We know that there were all kinds of celebrities involved, as well. So that’s where it was initially.

But other newspapers weren’t following up on it, I think some of them because they were afraid of what it would reveal about their own practices. I think others were afraid of News Corp. and its investigative powers, which is a big part of this story. They didn’t want to be investigated and have their phones hacked. And I think the third thing was that a lot of people just saw this as The Guardian or slightly lefty newspaper going after the right-wing Murdoch empire. And what I think is interesting is, I think, as a journalist, when you speak to someone, you interview them. One of the things you consider is what is motivating this person. Then you look at what they’re saying. And I think when people consume media, they kind of do the same thing in the U.K. They’re very wary about whether this is a left-wing paper or a right-wing paper, and I think they kind of got stuck on The Guardian's motivations, possible ideological motivations. And they weren't looking at what The Guardian was actually producing in the way of evidence, which was extraordinary. And they were moving the story along, and other newspapers weren’t really following it up—until Milly Dowler.

AMY GOODMAN: And Milly Dowler, again, for people who aren’t following this story?

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, this would be about two weeks ago now, where Milly Dowler was a young British teenager, age 12 or 13, who was abducted in 2002. And she would eventually be found murdered. But during the investigation while she was still missing, the police were accessing her voicemail, trying to find out whether people were leaving certain messages and trying to find evidence. As it turns out, the News of the World was also accessing, hacking into the voicemail, and not just listening to those messages, but more importantly, when her voicemail box filled up and couldn’t take any more messages, the News of the World then deleted some messages from her voicemail box.

This did two things. According to the police, it meant that some valuable evidence may have been lost, destroyed by the News of the World deletions, because oftentimes people who actually abduct a victim will then call that person’s phone and try to appear to be concerned for that person, if the person—if the two know each other. But secondly—and this was, I just think, horrifying—was that the family felt that because messages were being deleted from the little girl’s phone, they thought that she was the one deleting the messages. This gave them false cause for hope. And they were sitting in an interview with the News of the World, telling the News of the World reporter that “one of the reasons that we have hope that our baby is still alive is because these deletions have occurred.” And the News of the World reporter probably knew that there was no hope, or that if there was hope, it wasn’t for that reason.

AMY GOODMAN: They knew that they were deleting the voicemail.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Yeah. And then it went—from there, it went on to the—some families of victims of the 7-7 bombings in London. Their phones were hacked. Families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, their phones were hacked. And I think this is crucial, because the Murdoch press, like much of the right-wing press in the U.K., likes to ally itself with soldiers, with the victims of terror. And we all have suspected that, you know, there’s some opportunism there. But what this revealed was that they would victimize the people that they claimed to support. And that’s why it was so damaging.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard, talk about what Parliament knew all of these years.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, I don’t think Parliament knew that much, because Parliament wasn’t that interested. I mean, there were really two MPs on the Labour side—Chris Bryant and Tom Watson—who were quite courageous in going after the Murdochs. And I think a lot of this comes down to—the reason that people were silenced or stifled was because they feared the investigative powers of News Corp., News International and its papers. And these MPs—I mean, think about it. You’re a member of Parliament. You don’t like the coverage of this story by News Corp. You don’t like what they’re doing to your democracy. You don’t like the way they destroy people’s lives by hacking into people’s phones. But are your expenses in order? Are you having an affair, extramarital? Is there something that you’re doing that you don’t want revealed? And I think a lot of parliamentarians were simply cowered into silence over this.

And I also think that on the policing side of this story, that will be revealed eventually to be the reason that the police really didn’t investigate this as hard as they should have. People have said, well, you know, there are all these bribes paid to police officers, and people were on retainer to feed information, a revolving door between News International and the police forces. I don’t think the money was the thing. I think that there is nobody—well, first of all, we know that two senior police officers, senior officers at the London Metropolitan Police, had their phones hacked. But nobody, Amy, is more aware of the investigative powers of a news organization than people who investigate people for a living. And I think that is—that will eventually—again, if it’s fully investigated, I think that will be proven to be the fundamental reason why the police did not want to investigate News International, News of the World, The Sun and the others, is because they feared being investigated themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have Chris Bryant, who takes them on in a big way. Explain what happened, what information, the kind of questioning he was doing, and then what happened to him, the British MP.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, again, he was trying to—I mean, I’m not sure of the latter details of the Bryant story, but when Bryant would try to go out and ask questions and just try to get Parliament to deal with it and to get Commons committees to deal with it, he was also running into all kinds of media opposition. And one of the—I mean, I wish we had the clip to play, but you ought to see the interview that is done with him by Sky News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Now, where the woman is just taking him on, on—I mean, “You just have no evidence. You have no idea how far it goes along.” I mean, and that’s part of the problem here. Murdoch owns 40 percent of the newspapers in that country. He owns the biggest private broadcaster. He owns one of two 24-hour news channels. Bryant and Watson were pushing on this story as hard as they could, taking a lot of heat, and being reported—characterized by these Murdoch newspapers and other newspapers as being sort of members of the looney left.

AMY GOODMAN: But there was testimony that was taken that was very damning.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Yeah, this is extraordinary. This is extraordinary. In 2009—I mean, one of the things you’ve got to look at is the regulatory aspect of this. You know, in Britain, Ofcom is the television regulator. They’ve got some tight rules for television. I’ve got to live with them. But they don’t apply to print.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s our equivalent of the FCC—


AMY GOODMAN: —the Federal Communications Commission?

RICHARD GIZBERT: And they’re much tougher than the FCC. And they have—they still have a Fairness Doctrine, which you no longer have here. But the Press Complaints Commission, the PCC, is the body that putatively regulates the press in the U.K. And this is—

AMY GOODMAN: This is the print press.

RICHARD GIZBERT: It’s the print press. And it’s a toothless tiger. It’s got a political appointee who runs it, but all the members of the board are members of the press, editors of senior newspapers. And they basically—and 40 percent of those are going to be members of the Murdoch press. And they have influence that goes beyond their own newspapers.

So what happened in 2009 is The Guardian goes out, does the story on Gordon Taylor, the 700,000-pound payment to him, the million pounds that have gone out in hush money in 2009, and the Press Complaints Commission, rather than in its annual report at the end of 2009 saying, “Look, we’ve got a problem with the News of the World, and we need to look at it, even if the police aren’t,” instead they criticized The Guardian and warned The Guardian for printing—and this is a quote— “unsubstantiated allegations,” unquote, about the News of the World.

And the other extraordinary thing about that—this, is that the woman who—at the head of the Press Complaints Commission was interviewed on the BBC a couple of weeks ago and said—and was asked, “Why didn’t you do anything about this?” And she said, “Well, we couldn’t, because there was a police investigation,” which we now know was a sham investigation, “and also there was no evidence,” which is untrue, because a lawyer named Mark Lewis, who was representing one of the phone hackees, went before a Commons committee and, under oath, gave what the British call “evidence.” And he said there were up to 4,000—I think he said there were up to 6,000 people whose phones were hacked. And the Press Complaints Commission not only failed to investigate that allegation given under oath, but the head of the Press Complaints Commission, some baroness, criticized him to the extent where she defamed him. She criticized the lawyer who was giving evidence. And at the end of that case, the Press Complaints Commission, whose job it is to investigate the press when someone complains about it, they ended up having to make an out-of-court settlement to one of the people who was providing evidence of the scope of this story. So, that woman, obviously, is in a spot of bother. The Press Complaints Commission, Cameron has basically said, will be abolished and be replaced by some other regulatory mechanism.

And now you’ve got all these people in the U.K. who are saying, “Oh, now we’re going to be regulated to death.” And it’s the News —and they’ve adopted the News of the World argument, which I think is a sham argument, because they seem—they’re just making this slippery-slope argument that there are two worlds: we either have hacking, lawless, scandal-driven journalism, or we have Pravda or Pyongyang, and there’s nothing in between. And you know, watching BBC Newsnight, which is heavily regulated, a great political show—ministers fear going on that program. It is regulated. But there’s this slippery-slope argument going on out there that this is the end of journalism in Britain.

AMY GOODMAN: The pressure the The Guardian was under, and what is The Guardian? It’s different than the others. It is not just a commercial paper, is that right? It’s a nonprofit institution.

RICHARD GIZBERT: It’s run under a trust. I can’t—it’s a paper that originally came out of Manchester and then became a national newspaper. It is too complicated for me to explain to you how they’re owned, because I don’t quite understand it. But The Guardian has become a force in U.K. journalism over the last 10, 15 years. There are a lot of Americans I talk to who used to go to the New York Times first thing in the morning, who post-9/11 now say their first port of call in the news world is The Guardian. They have an amazing comment section. They were the ones who forged that first relationship with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Now, that relationship—

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, it was Nick Davies.

RICHARD GIZBERT: It was Nick Davies who was involved in that. And that relationship then fell apart, and—but—and not only that, when they did the collaboration with WikiLeaks, they provided links back to WikiLeaks’s material. The New York Times never did that, because the New York Times was happy to have the material but didn’t want to be seen to be in bed with WikiLeaks. The Guardian has done amazing work on this story.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, talk about Rebekah Wade, Rebekah Brooks—


AMY GOODMAN: —who is the head of News International. She resigned. Now she’s been arrested. She is out on bail. She testified right after the Murdochs testified before the parliamentary hearing. Her attitude to The Guardian?

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, Rebekah Brooks, the reason she’s been—the reason Rebekah Brooks has been arrested is because, I think, it’s going to go back to, not to her tenure as the head of News International, being in charge of all four British papers since roughly—all four British Murdoch papers roughly since two thousand—

AMY GOODMAN: And they are…?

RICHARD GIZBERT: The Sun, which is the mega-tabloid, biggest paper in the country; the News of the World, which is effectively the Sunday Sun and will eventually come out as the Sunday Sun when it sort of reemerges; The Times, The Times of London; and the Sunday Times. These papers are seen as distinct from one another, the Sunday papers.

But I think the reason she’s been arrested is because she was the editor of the News of the World in 2001 and 2002, when that Milly Dowler case occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: She claimed she heard about it just a few weeks ago.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Again, the News International version of this story has been what the British call a “moveable feast.” They’re all over the shop, insofar as what they knew and when they knew it. But Rebekah Brooks, a couple of years ago, was asked at a party by somebody, “Where does this phone-hacking story end?” And she said, “This story will end with Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, on his knees in front of me, begging for mercy.” It hasn’t worked out that way. But she’s an interesting figure, and a lot of people felt that the Murdochs held onto her too long. The feeling was that they needed a human shield between the story and James Murdoch, and obviously the story and Rupert Murdoch. Eventually, they ended up letting her go.

And what’s interesting about that is that they didn’t give up on her, or she didn’t take the fall, until the day after the Saudi prince, who was the second-biggest shareholder in News Corp., gave an interview to the BBC from his yacht in Cannes, saying that if this goes back to Brooks, then she has to go, and she has to go right away. Within 24 hours, she was gone. Everyone sees Rupert Murdoch as being this omnipotent media figure who answers to no one, you know, and that British prime ministers answer to Rupert Murdoch. And I don’t think—I think half of that is true. I think they have answered to Rupert Murdoch for a long time. But he’s got shareholders. And the biggest shareholder, as soon as he weighs in, Brooks goes down. I interviewed Michael Wolff, who is Murdoch’s biographer, the other day. I said, “What do you think News Corp. will look like when this story is over?” He said, “It’ll still be a mega-corporation, but you won’t have Murdochs in control. They will be pulled out of there.”

And the other thing to remember, too, about this is that 60 percent of News Corp.'s global revenues come from broadcast. Print isn't even the second-biggest component in that. Twenty percent comes from film—Fox Searchlight Pictures, a News Corp. company. Seventeen percent comes from print. And as we all know, print is in big trouble. It’s shrinking, shedding readers by the day. And I think the rest of News Corp.'s shareholders, who have no sentimental attachment to the News of the World, which was the first British newspaper that Murdoch bought in 1968, or The Times, I don't think they’re interested in that. Murdoch was losing 45 million pounds a year on The Times. That was a loss maker for that company. But for that 45 million, he was getting influence, so he wanted to hold onto that. The News Corp. shareholders, the Saudi prince and the rest of them, I think, will shed those and continue to try to make money from broadcast and film, which is where the money is.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was BSkyB so important, and the significance of the Prime Minister being involved with negotiations around British Sky Broadcasting?

RICHARD GIZBERT: BSkyB is a broadcasting behemoth in the U.K. It is—it’s a series of channels. It’s Sky News. It’s Sky Movies. It’s Sky Atlantic, which imports all these, you know, well-received American drama shows. It is Sky Sports, which is premiership football, premiership soccer, which is just the biggest money spinner out there. It was the first satellite broadcaster in the U.K. And it is a huge organization. Everybody in the U.K. who watches television has to pay a hundred pounds a year, about $150 a year, in the BBC license fee. That’s the money that goes into the BBC, and that’s what funds that organization. And that’s a lot of money. As of next year, the revenue forecasts say BSkyB will be a bigger revenue generator in the U.K. than the BBC is through the license fee. That’s how big it is. Murdoch and the others—you know, Murdoch and the others will make sacrifices on the prince side, because BSkyB is where the money is for them, and that’s what’s driving the organization.

AMY GOODMAN: They own 39 percent right now. They wanted to own it wholly.

RICHARD GIZBERT: They’ve owned 39 percent since the organization—since it was first established. They wanted to buy the other 61 percent, and they got the shareholders onside, because it was a good offer. What’s interesting is that initially, every—and this was going through the British cabinet, and then eventually to the regulator, Ofcom, to decide if this was in the interests of the British public. The cabinet approved it. No surprise there. Ofcom, before all this Milly Dowler stuff, the latest phone-hacking stuff, the cabinet—the regulator was expected to approve it, as well, despite serious misgivings on a large part of the British population’s part.

But what’s happened now is they withdrew the bid, the Murdochs, and a lot of people thought they were just shelving it and they wanted to bring that BSkyB bid back when all the dust had settled over phone hacking. But interestingly, Ed Miliband, who is the Labour leader, the opposition leader in Parliament, said over this weekend that the Murdochs shouldn’t even be allowed to keep 39 percent of BSkyB. He wants to take them back to 20 percent. And if that happens, the shareholders at News Corp. will not be happy.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, that’s the chair of the board of Sky.

RICHARD GIZBERT: And he has been exposed in this story. He’s been exposed badly. He was involved in the 2009 payment.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did David Cameron hire Andy Coulson, this very controversial figure, and retain him when he became the prime minister, when he was warned over and over? Among those who warned him was Alan Rusbridger, the head of The Guardian. Now, what does that mean? Why did he hang on to him? How important is Rupert Murdoch in running the government?

RICHARD GIZBERT: Well, I think it’s interesting at times like this to read the Tory press and get beyond The Guardian and the left-wing press and all their theories, even though they’ve done great reporting. But David Cameron, you’ll remember, became leader—I think it was 2006—2006, 2007. And according to Peter Oborne, who is a really good columnist in the Telegraph, Cameron first came in, and he wanted to distance himself from News International. His instinct was “Let’s keep them at bay. Let’s do this without them.” He had people within his shadow cabinet, his team, who said to him, “You can’t do this. No one has for a long, long time.” But that was the way he wanted to go.

Coulson had been hired to be the communications chief of the party at that time, sort of like the communications chief for the Republican National Committee. That’s what it was. They were an opposition party at the time. And what happened was, initially, then Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair. His poll numbers were good initially. People thought that Brown could be reelected, or elected for the first time in his own right. There was talk about a fall election in December 2007. The Tories panicked a little bit. And that’s when Cameron really embraced Coulson, according to Peter Oborne in the Telegraph_. Then they came to power. Then the decision came—you know, they had to make the decision: do we take the guy from—the head of communications from the committee, and do we bring him in to Number Ten Downing Street? According to—according to most reports now, Cameron’s effective deputy, George Osborne, who’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer—he’s like the finance minister—Jeremy Hunt, who’s now the culture minister, and one other MP, they were the pro-_News International people, and they convinced Cameron that you need these guys. And then he brought Coulson into Number Ten, despite his ties to the hacking scandal.

And the real tragedy for David Cameron in this is, I think, here is a politician whose instincts told him, “Let’s stay away from these people. I don’t feel good about this relationship.” And politicians often, in their biographies, will lament the day that they overrode their instincts and listened to somebody else. And I think this is going to be the incident over which David Cameron eventually says that in his memoirs, because he didn’t want to touch Coulson.

AMY GOODMAN: And now Coulson has been arrested.

RICHARD GIZBERT: Coulson has been arrested. Again, his initial story was, we’re paying somebody 100,000 pounds a year, in a news organization whose culture is, everything over a thousand pounds comes to my desk by way of expenses, and I don’t know what I’m getting for the money. There’s been a Sun editor, a former Sun editor, who was at lunch, tells this anecdote. He was at lunch with somebody. Actually, the person he was at lunch with, on a Thursday, he said, “Look, I can’t stay for lunch. I’ve got to go back for the Murdoch call.” And it’s a Thursday, and Rupert Murdoch would call The Sun every Thursday. He’d come in at 9:00 New York time—that is 2:00 p.m. London time—and he would call, and the editor had to be prepared. Murdoch wouldn’t do this all the time, go through the expenses. But anything over a thousand pounds, Rupert Murdoch was known to question. He’s a details guy. He’s a hands-on guy. So Andy Coulson is trying to tell us that as the editor of the News of the World, he didn’t know about phone hacking. Rebekah Brooks, who as the head of News International, which is the umbrella group in Britain, is saying that she didn’t know about the phone hacking. James Murdoch is saying he didn’t know. And Rupert Murdoch, of course, is saying that he didn’t know. But it’s not part of the organization’s culture. And that’s the fun part of this story for me.

But the other thing that I just think is worth mentioning, Amy, and I’m not sure you were going to get to it, is Americans need to understand about the way British newspapers work and the landscape there. These newspapers—this is a country of 60 million people in a relatively small geographical area. And all of these newspapers— The Sun, the News of the World, The Telegraph, The Times —they’re effectively national newspapers. They are what the USA attempts to be and what the New York Times


RICHARD GIZBERT: USA Today attempts to be and what the New York Times attempts to be. These papers aren’t just delivered in Belfast and Glasgow and Liverpool and Manchester and Newcastle. In many cases, they’re printed there. So if you are Rupert Murdoch—and a lot of Americans have been sitting around saying Murdoch’s got too much power in this country because he’s got the Wall Street Journal, he’s got the New York Post, and he’s got Fox News. His influence here is negligible compared to what it is in the U.K. He’s got four national newspapers, 40 percent of a newspaper market that is truly national. On top of that, he’s got BSkyB, which is the 24-hour news channel.

But luckily, the British have what you used to have here in the U.S., which is proper regulation. You used to have a Fairness Doctrine that said, if you want to put this point of view on Fox News, you’ve also got to put this point of view on. And that went away in 19—I guess in the ’80s under Reagan. But the British still have that. And Rupert Murdoch has often said he wishes he could do with Sky News what he did with Fox News, but the British regulator would not allow him to do that. And the Brits are lucky that they still have that.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we just end where we began, which is what this means for Britain, what this means for exposing the corporate-media-government-law-enforcement nexus, the very close collaboration, and if you think the lessons learned here—and maybe we’re not even looking back, because we’re still in the unfolding of this scandal—will extend to the United States?

RICHARD GIZBERT: I think what’s going to happen is, I am hopeful for a—I am hopeful for a full investigation that reveals the extent of News Corp.'s influence in that country, because it is undemocratic. Rupert Murdoch was the first guy into Ten Downing Street during Cameron—the second guy into Ten Downing Street during Cameron's first week of office. They knew it’s a visual problem. He came in the back door. You know, that’s what they do.

AMY GOODMAN: Before that, he was very close to Gordon Brown?

RICHARD GIZBERT: He was—look, he was close to Gordon Brown. Gordon Brown complained about the story that was published about his son being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. He wanted to keep that quiet. He’s complained about it in a subsequent interview on BBC. But four months after that, he was at Rebekah Brooks’s Christmas party, or her summer party. These guys were tied in.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they afraid?

RICHARD GIZBERT: They were absolutely afraid. Tony Blair—you’ve got to remember, Amy, in 1993, John Major won the election. Nobody thought he would. The polls showed that he would lose that election. The Sun supported him. All the Murdoch papers supported him. And The Sun had a famous headline that said, “It Was The Sun What Won It.” In other words, it was The Sun that won it. Some people have disputed, that maybe The Sun was just marketing itself. But for a newspaper to claim that it can win a—that it can win an election for a politician is extraordinary.

And I’m not sure I believe it, but Tony Blair seemed to believe it, because two years later, he was on a plane to a News Corp. conference with two of his staff members, and he flew to Australia to meet with Rupert Murdoch. I mean, Rupert Murdoch did not come to London to meet with Tony Blair. Optics matter in these situations, right? He flies there. Two years later, Murdoch’s papers all support Tony Blair. Tony Blair becomes the first Labour leader elected since Thatcher. People sit in the U.K., and, to this day, they try to figure out, why did Tony Blair go to war in Iraq? Was it some quasi-religious thing as he was converting to Roman Catholicism? Was he dazzled by George Bush in Washington? Did he want to strategically link London and Washington for the next century as the new power axis? I don’t think it’s that complicated. Rupert Murdoch has 172 newspapers. They all supported the Iraq war. He has Fox News. That supported the Iraq war. And I just happen to think that Tony Blair, having been the first Labour prime minister elected in so long, didn’t want to go against Murdoch. I mean, that’s my theory. This investigation probably won’t reveal any of that. That’s just my feeling.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re alleging he wasn’t actually George Bush’s poodle, but Rupert’s poodle?

RICHARD GIZBERT: I mean, I don’t think he ever flew that far to see George Bush. He just flew to Washington. That’s a seven-hour flight. He was on the plane for like 22 hours to go see Rupert Murdoch. And there’s a picture of Tony Blair that has him smiling that Cheshire Cat grin of his with The Sun in front of him, this newspaper, saying that it supports Labour. Job done by Tony Blair. And, I mean, I don’t think it’s a stretch to put a lot of this war and the decision to go to war, you know, not necessarily on the Murdochs, but the Murdochs are not far from the reason why.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Gizbert is the host of The Listening Post, which is a media watch program on Al Jazeera English. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

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ColumnJul 20, 2011“Rupert Murdoch Doesn’t Eat Humble Pie.” By Amy Goodman
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