Murdoch’s Frankenstein

The phone hacking scandal has all the usual elements of a media firestorm; the feverish atmosphere, the pace, the stream of allegations, each one worse than the last, and the righteous indignation from politicians and commentators. There’s only one thing missing – the Murdoch papers, for they are now on the other end of it.

When these stories gather such momentum, there comes a point when those facing the allegations are left with few defences. Celebrities in sex scandals, ministers proposing to change sentencing laws or politicians claiming expenses are best advised to keep quiet because anything they say will be drowned out by the chorus of condemnation.

As yet, there is no concrete proof that News International papers illegally obtained Gordon Brown’s son’s medical details or hacked into the phones of 9/11 victims but that doesn’t matter. Over the past 48 hours these allegations have come to be seen as true. The Sun can print its denial but no-one is listening. Look at the comments underneath. People have already made up their minds.

This is the media climate that Rupert Murdoch played no small part in creating. The way these stories are reported, the way they gather momentum, the commentary around them and the disdain for those on the receiving end follows a model largely designed by the Murdoch papers and followed by everyone else.

Just as interesting is the tipping point. Few people cared much about this story until evidence emerged that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. Pressure piled on when police revealed that relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and victims of the 7/7 bombings had been targeted too.

These are all causes that Rupert Murdoch’s papers had made their own. Woe betide any politician who failed to back British troops, or who appeared soft on terrorism, criminals and child abusers. Anyone deviating from the Murdoch line was fair game.

Whether or not the boss or his lieutenants believed in any of these causes is irrelevant. Adopting them was a commercial decision. They are stories that tap into people’s emotions; fear, anger and sympathy for the victims. That sells newspapers. Stoke up those emotions and people become more involved in the story – which makes them buy more papers.

Yet, suddenly, the papers that had moralised about these issues for so long stood accused of hacking the phones of terrorism victims, the families of dead soldiers and, worst of all, a young girl murdered by a paedophile. All the emotions that the Murdoch papers had fed on for years were turned against them, with added rage at their sheer hypocrisy.

And once the public is outraged, the politicians get outraged pretty quickly too. Today, MPs, most of whom wouldn’t have said boo to a Sun reporter two weeks ago, will troop into their lobbies to vote against Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB. It will probably be the closest thing to a unanimous vote in Parliament’s recent history.

The Murdoch press set the standards for media outrage in this country and it fanned the public fear and anger about crime and terrorism. These forces have now been turned against it. The monster that Murdoch helped to create is now taking big lumps out of his organisation. It is a fascinating sight.

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15 Responses to Murdoch’s Frankenstein

  1. Pingback: Murdoch’s Frankenstein - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. Citizen Kane also comes to mind.

  3. Paul Johnston says:

    nice article, rick. and love the blog. Pedantic quibble: frankenstein was the person who created the monster (as in Frankenstein’s Monster). I know that ruins the headline but that’s life :-)

    • Rick says:

      I thought someone would point that out but I couldn’t resist the headline.

      • danthefox says:

        It’s also the name of the novel. As such, it works just fine :-)

      • Cathy Mason says:

        As yet, there is no concrete proof that News International papers illegally obtained Gordon Brown’s son’s medical details . . .

        Not court of law proof but evidence that satisfied UK Guardian’s editors. From the paper:

        Brown was targeted during a period of more than 10 years, both as chancellor of the exchequer and as prime minister. Some of the activity clearly was illegal. Other incidents breached his privacy but not the law. An investigation by the Guardian has found that:

        • Scotland Yard has discovered references to Brown and his wife, Sarah, in paperwork seized from Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who specialised in phone hacking for the News of the World.

        • Abbey National bank found evidence suggesting that a “blagger” acting for the Sunday Times on six occasions posed as Brown and gained details from his account.

        • London lawyers Allen & Overy were tricked into handing over details from his file by a conman working for the Sunday Times.

        • Details from his infant son’s medical records were obtained by the Sun, who published a story about the child’s serious illness.

        Brown joins a long list of Labour politicians who are known to have been targeted by private investigators working for News International, including the former prime minister Tony Blair and his media adviser Alastair Campbell, the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and his political adviser Joan Hammell, Peter Mandelson as trade secretary, Jack Straw and David Blunkett as home secretaries, Tessa Jowell as media secretary and her special adviser Bill Bush, and Chris Bryant as minister for Europe.

      • Rick says:

        Cathy, you’ve just proved my point. The article you posted doesn’t say that NI papers illegally obtained Gordon Brown’s son’s medical details – it just says they were obtained. The Sun claims someone told them (which isn’t illegal) and that’s how they obtained the details.

        I’ve no idea who’s telling the truth but it doesn’t really matter. No-one is interested in what the accused (in this case the Sun) has to say.

  4. Chris Williams says:

    Just assume that the ‘ ‘s ‘ is a contraction of ‘ is ‘ rather than a possessive, and the title is fine.

  5. meg mcqueen says:

    ……..Icarus, who flew too close to the Sun, perhaps?

    Meg

  6. Pingback: Opinion piece in today's 'Independent' - Page 3

  7. Carol Croft says:

    Levi Bellfield known as a serial killler rather than a paedophile.

  8. Kevin Ball says:

    Spot on as usual, Rick.

    An interesting question for me is whether the focus on the prurient and trite that the Murdoch press captured is a reflection of our society’s interests or a leading influence on them? Is Murdoch cause or effect? The probable answer is ‘a bit of both’ but the pathetic band-wagon jumping going on in the House of Commons isn’t that far removed from the man on the Clapham Omnibus tutting into his Daily Mail this week. If Murdoch’s monster has turned around and bitten him, perhaps ours has too.

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