Terror in Wapping as Murdoch flies in to pick up the pieces


Oliver Wright
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:12

For more than 30 years now there have been two truths about Rupert Murdoch's increasingly infrequent visitations to the British outpost of his media empire.

The first: anyone who is anyone in the world of politics and business angles for (and is delighted by) any kind of audience with the great man.

The second is the chill his visit engenders amongst his senior editors and executives in Wapping.

Yesterday as Mr Murdoch's corporate Boeing 737 jet, complete with a boardroom and double bed, touched down at Luton Airport, it was clear how much has changed in the last week. The chill in Wapping is still there - worse than ever - but the audiences for Mr Murdoch have dried up.

He and his company - feted by David Cameron and Ed Miliband just two weeks ago at the News International Summer Party - have become a political liability. To paraphrase the famous quote: "It was News of the World wot lost it". Yesterday Downing Street made it very clear that Mr Cameron would be neither meeting nor speaking to Mr Murdoch on this visit.

Privately Government sources are blunter. They are incandescent at the political damage done by the phone-hacking scandal and angry that News Corp has not voluntarily suspended its attempted takeover of BSkyB in the wake of the allegations.

They feel they are getting unfairly blamed for not stopping the takeover and the impression is growing that they are still in the pocket of the company. "We always knew we were going to have to eat a shit sandwich over the BSkyB deal," said one. "We didn't know it would turn into a three course dinner."

The man ultimately responsible for this menu was escorted from Luton in a chauffeur-driven red Range Rover to News International's headquarters in Wapping.

Wearing a white panama-style hat, the 80-year-old clutched a copy of the final edition of the News of the World and even wound down his window as he approached the car park, allowing photographers to take a better picture.

Later in the afternoon went back to his London home where he was joined by Rebekah Brooks his embattled chief executive.

The pair later emerged - and in a very public display of support - walked together to a nearby hotel.

Asked by reporters what his priority was Mr Murdoch replied: "This one," gesturing at Brooks.

But that is not entirely true - his agenda in talks with his son James - who used to have a life-sized cardboard cut out of Darth Vader outside his office - is the threat to the BSkyB deal.

There is an increasingly realisation that it is too late for even the great media Svengali to do much to salvage the BSkyB deal in the short term.

This puts him under huge pressure from the company's institutional investors - who saw the deal as vital to News Corp's long-term strategy - and will not look kindly on seeing it sacrificed for what many in New York see as an old man's outdated and sentimental attachment to dubious tabloid print journalism.

Sources in the company said the decision he would have to make some point in the coming hours was whether to concede defeat and announce that News Corp is suspending its take-over - or plough on and fight any suspension in the courts.

Neither is a palatable option.

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