WHEN Peter Jukes let it be known last year that he was writing a book called The Fall of the House of Murdoch, a senior Sun editor emailed him to say: “Is this a joke?”
But with Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson both now facing charges over phone-hacking, and Rupert Murdoch slowly stepping back from his British newspaper holdings, it looks like a prescient title.
The old adage – “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” – no longer fits. Much ink has been expended on the Australia media baron, from Michael Wolff’s acidic biography to Tom Watson’s plodding account of the phone-hacking scandal. The Fall of the House of Murdoch is refreshing as it examines the ideas that have driven the modern western world to its current crisis.
Referencing widely, from Adam Smith and George Orwell to the author’s mentor, historian Tony Judt, Jukes argues that Murdoch managed to elide two seemingly uncontroversial ideas, those of freedom of the markets and freedom of the press, to toxic effect.
The early signs of his freedom-loving spirit were there in 1969. Just after buying the News of the World, Murdoch printed the diaries of Christine Keeler, the call girl at the centre of the Profumo scandal. It marked out Murdoch as an outsider, happy to push the boundaries, in this case to embarrass the Establishment. With the British elite on the wane by the Eighties, he found another closed shop to take on the print unions – and so became a standard bearer for the neo-liberal agenda of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and, as his international holdings grew, a poster-boy for Tony Blair’s globalisation project.
In an ambitious argument, it is suggested that Murdoch’s brand of news even mirrored the expansion of the financial sector. Stories about politicians and celebrities were akin to derivative markets in which futures could be ramped or dumped for one’s own ends, as John Major s government and stars such as Charlotte Church found to their cost, and David Cameron perhaps to his benefit. (What’s a little phone-hacking and horse-riding to achieve these goals compared with Libor manipulation?)
Capitalism was indulged up until the 2007-8 financial crisis. Murdoch-style journalism took a bit longer to break because, as Jukes puts it neatly, “News International is not only too big to fail but also, with its government connections, too big to jail”.
Many an economic liberal still admires Murdoch’s business style, but this is part of the ideological mist. While he presents himself as a free marketeer, Murdoch’s newspaper and television interests in Britain and Australia have verged on monopolies. And despite his republican stance, Murdoch runs News Corporation as a dynasty, with three children, Lachlan, James and Elisabeth, all at one time groomed as potential successors.
The Fall of the House of Murdoch was written in haste to catch the tail-end of the Leveson Inquiry and, as a result, is a little unpolished. Yet it is an impressive treatise on how media, money and power in the past 30 years became so locked into mutually supporting agendas that they failed to interrogate each other. If that’s not enough, it is worth reading just for Jukes’s account of Rebekah Brooks’s flirtation with him at a party in 2006.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH
by Peter Jukes
Unbound, 224pp, £9.99
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