Biographer: Murdoch talked to his editors more than he admits

  • @oliver_wright

Rupert Murdoch had far more frequent and hands-on contact with his London tabloid editors than he admitted in his evidence to MPs last week, his biographer claimed yesterday.

Michael Wolff, who recorded more than 60 hours of interviews with Mr Murdoch for his semi-authorised biography, said the News Corp chairman and chief executive would spend "up to half his day" involved with his newspapers and would speak regularly to London-based editors about stories they were planning to run.

Last week in evidence to Parliament, Mr Murdoch claimed he "very seldom" spoke to his UK editors, adding: "I cannot tell you the multitude of issues I have to handle every day. The News of the World, perhaps I lost sight of, maybe because it was so small in the general frame of our company." But in an interview with The Independent, Mr Wolff, who was granted unprecedented access to the Murdoch family for his 2008 book The Man Who Owns the News, said Mr Murdoch was a far more hands-on proprietor than he was now admitting.

"His involvement with the papers is total," Mr Wolff said. "Rupert sat up there [in front of the committee] and they [his advisers] said, 'You have got to say you are not involved with the newspapers'. And that's what he said and that's a lie."

He added: "I sat with the man for hours. There was not a time when he would not take at least one call, and often many calls, from London. And they were the set of editors – James [Murdoch] and Rebekah [Brooks].

"In my estimation he was spending half of his day involved with the newspapers. This is what he does. He calls up – he wants to know about the headlines. He wants to know what's running. He wants to know where the stories come from. He is very precise in talking about a story, thinking about a story, analysing the substance of the story: whether it is good or weak."

Mr Wolff cast doubt on claims News Corp was not involved in the appointment of Andy Coulson to work for David Cameron. He said he believed it was part of a strategy put together by Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch to get Rupert to back the then-Leader of the Opposition.

"Rupert couldn't stand Cameron during the period in 2007 when I was doing the book," Mr Wolff said. "He was openly disdainful of him. But then it was: 'But my son likes him and I'm going to have to trust what he says. It's going to be my son's decision.'

"Rebekah waged a campaign if not to win Rupert's favour towards Cameron then at least to neutralise his distaste. Part of that was Andy Coulson. There is no doubt in my mind there was a trade. They had to bring Rupert around. She certainly referenced Andy as being part of this."

Mr Wolff, who fell out spectacularly with Rupert Murdoch after the publication of his book, now believes his continuing pivotal role in the company he founded has been fatally undermined.

"We are in an end game now. There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube," he said.

Ministers' meetings...

George Osborne

Two meetings with Rupert Murdoch since the May 2010 election, four with his son James Murdoch, five with Mr Murdoch's former chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks, since arrested as part of the investigation into phone hacking, and one meeting with Elisabeth Murdoch. Invited Elisabeth Murdoch to his birthday party.

Jeremy Hunt

Two meetings in January 2011 with James Murdoch to "set out process around BSkyB merger". Dinner with Rupert Murdoch within days of the general election.

Michael Gove

Rupert Murdoch has had six meals with Michael Gove since the election, more than any other Cabinet minister. Gove met James Murdoch once.

Liam Fox

Three private defence briefings (in August last year and in March and June this year) with News International executives. All of these were attended by Rebekah Brooks, two by James Murdoch and one by his father.