Saturday 2 July 2011
Richard Ingrams: Journalists, as well as politicians, fawn on Murdoch
By the mysterious process which Carl Jung called "synchronicity", a picture of Rupert Murdoch flanked by the journalists Harold Evans and William Rees-Mogg appeared in The Times on Thursday, the very same day that Murdoch's 1981 takeover of The Times was being recalled in a House of Commons debate.
The point at issue was that the editorial independence which Murdoch is currently guaranteeing to Sky News was exactly the same kind of guarantee he had offered The Times and subsequently and swiftly reneged on.
The picture, used to illustrate extracts from Rees-Mogg's newly published memoirs, has always invited a comparison with Munich, with Murdoch playing the part of Hitler, Rees-Mogg as Chamberlain, Harold Evans as Halifax – all very appropriate in view of The Times's famous support for the cause of appeasement during the 1930s.
Journalists have a regrettable tendency to kowtow to big businessmen like Murdoch. I only met Rees-Mogg once when he took me out to lunch about 35 years ago at the famous old French restaurant L'Etoile in Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia. His aim was to impress upon me the merits of my legal opponent at the time, the ruthless and unpleasant tycoon Sir James Goldsmith, whom Rees-Mogg greatly admired and, according to his book, still does.
I can't now remember anything of what he said. All I recall from the occasion is the way the elderly French waiter served coffee by pouring it from an old-fashioned enamel coffee pot through a little sieve. After many years fiddling around with expensive percolators, I have realised that this is much the best and quickest way to make coffee.
One effect of the decline of court reporting
As the controversy about the recent Millie Dowler murder case rolled on, one thing became plain. No one had any proper knowledge of what had been said in the course of the long trial, and therefore no yardstick by which to decide who, if anyone, was to blame for what had gone on in the court. Was it the defence lawyer? Was it the judge?
Very old readers may remember a time when armies of court reporters sat through lengthy murder trials like this, day after day, recording every word of evidence. The Telegraph in particular was famous for devoting sometimes two or three pages to the cross-examination of the witnesses.
They liked to maintain that they were performing some kind of public service. But the real reason was that it was a simple way, in the days when prurience prevailed, of introducing scandalous and very often salacious details into what was otherwise a pretty boring newspaper. There was more than enough material of this kind in the Dowler trial.
Papers no longer keep track of court proceedings any more than they do of parliamentary debates. But the courts and the Houses of Parliament are two places where people can still speak with total freedom and where interesting and important things are likely to be said.
Do we really have to be all in this together?
Politicians are busy nowadays reaching out. It's not enough to cater for the faithful – you have a duty to reach out to those of other faiths. So if you wonder why Ed Milliband, for example, is saying something bland and non-committal, as he did this week apropos the strikes on Thursday, the chances are that he is only reaching out to the Tories and the Lib Dems.
The late Christopher Shale, the chairman of the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association, was also reaching out when he wrote in the memo leaked to the press just before he died at the Glastonbury Festival: "We must look different when we communicate when we're together. We must sound different – in what we say, how we say it, the language we use, our tone of voice. We must behave differently – try to see ourselves as others see us."
But how does Shale's message translate itself into action? Typically, in the Prime Minister's case, by instituting an annual reach-out party at No 10 for the nation's top gays and lesbians. The sad thing is that so many of the nations top gays and lesbians are prepared to jump at the invitation, when all they are doing is helping to make David Cameron look caring and compassionate and ever so different.
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