Thursday, 21 July 2011
Sympathy for the Devil
Earlier this month I wrote about the crisis besetting News International which led to the closure of the News of the World, clearly a cynical exercise in damage limitation which has not limited the damage (The Decline and Fall of the News of the Screws). I think people, particularly British people, are probably sick of this story by now, which looks like running, and running interminably.
The sudden death of Sean Hoare, the journalist who first revealed details of the phone hacking culture on the News of the World, has added to the fevered speculation; oh, sorry, not so much fevered as stupid, the usual evidence-free conspiracy theory that the imaginative love. I met murder on the way – he had a mask like, well, anybody you like really - the Devil, Miss Jones…or Rupert Murdoch.
Things have gone far too far, so much so that I now have to express some sympathy for the Devil, to praise Caesar, not to bury him. I won’t be the first. William Shawcross recently said a word or two in his defence in the Spectator, as did Roger Cohen in the latest issue of Prospect. With the wretched Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, attempting to whip up a lynch mob against Murdoch and all his works, now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the party, to speak of the positive contribution that the old Devil has made to British journalism and broadcasting in general.
My view here was already beginning to alter, especially in the light of Miliband’s clownish antics. But it was Gordon Brown’s intervention against Murdoch in Parliament, an act of unbelievable hypocrisy, that made the alteration all the faster.
Then there is the BBC, which has behaved with a nauseating lack of partiality in reporting this story. Its monopoly was threatened by Murdoch’s bid for a controlling share in British Sky Broadcasting, so all the poisons that lurked in the mud hatched out, one presenter on the Today programme going so far as to describe Murdoch as the “most evil man in the world.”
Let’s have a closer look at the Devil, ‘the most evil man in the world.’ Writing before the current crisis, Simon Jenkins, now a columnist in the ultra-Liberal Guardian, said that Murdoch was the “best thing that ever happened to the British media and they hate him for it.”
Yes, the best think that ever happened, and yes, they really do hate him for it; the socialists, the liberals, the pseudo-journalists, bad writers aplenty. By taking on the antediluvian print unions in the 1980s, wedded to practices that would have been thought too restrictive even by medieval guilds, he breathed fresh life into a medium that was effectively dying. He stood by the Times at the most difficult point in that paper’s history, for which alone he deserves praise, not calumny.
He continues to subsidise this journalistic flagship, subsidising the losses it makes from the profits of the Sun, rather an irony considering the differences between the two publications. Our newspaper industry is better and more diverse because Murdoch was prepared to make the bold moves, the moves Anthony Hopkins said in the movie Nixon that make history. As Shawcross says, if Murdoch’s business is destroyed the diversity of the British media will suffer seriously. We will all be the poorer for that.
The thing I can admire most about Murdoch is that he is a great risk-taker, that he plays the long shots with an almost intuitive understanding of what will work and what will not. So far as this country is concerned he is an outsider, a ‘colonial’, but he represents a buccaneering spirit that took Britain so far in the nineteenth century. He stands, in other words, in the tradition of the great innovators and entrepreneurs, a spirit that has just about been bled out of this land.
So much of the comment being made at present is based on petty-spite and envy, when it is not simply motivated by baser political considerations. Murdoch is a modern Citizen Kane, Cohen says, and resentment follows people like him as closely as success. It will take a lot for News International to withstand the pressures that it is presently under. I sincerely hope it does.
However, in the end, Murdoch may quit this country, now little more than an outpost of his international media empire, may quit the various media and broadcasting interests he now holds. In the end excellent papers like the Times, by far the best for foreign coverage, and the Sunday Times may disappear altogether, either that or they will fall into the hands of some Russian gas giant or other rather like a football club, a prospect I personally do not welcome. If I have to have a Devil I would rather have the Devil I know.