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Tuesday, April 24, 2012 

Hell hath no fury.

And so the vengeance of the Murdochs begins. For those who, like me, imagined that the Leveson session with Murdoch junior would just be a re-hash of his repeated denials that he was ever told anything about any aspect of his job as executive chairman of News International, then I think it's fair to say that we've pleasantly surprised.

First though, the stuff we've already gone over umpteen times. The early stages were dominated by James's insistence that everyone had misinterpreted, misunderstood and misreported the emails (page 27 of his witness statement (PDF)) that looked as though they drop him in it, even though he hadn't read them at the time. You see, the contemporaneous note written by Julian Pike of Farrar & Co wasn't detailing a conversation that Colin Myler had with James at all; it was in fact what Myler had said and Pike was simply noting that Myler had met with Murdoch junior!

Documented in his witness statement is just how unquestioning he was of the reason for having to pay Gordon Taylor £350,000 in damages; he was "content" with what he says Myler and Tom Crone told him, and it was "appropriate" for him to rely on them to deal with it. They didn't tell him that this case didn't involve Clive Goodman, and he didn't ask; he didn't see the "for Neville" email, despite both Myler and Crone saying that they showed him it; he says Crone and Myler were "very keen" to settle yet he didn't inquire any deeper about why they were so desperate beyond the bare minimum that he says they told him. As much as you believe that James couldn't care less about t
he newspapers he was also supposedly in charge of, this hands-off, completely incurious approach just doesn't ring true. Regardless of the company you're running, when underlings come to you and says you've got to settle a legal action for a total sum of just less than a million including costs, the idea that you don't inquire, that you don't ask questions, that you don't read the whole of emails is just completely unbelievable.

Asked by Robert Jay whether he was in effect complicit or incompetent
, he responded that he had been given "repeated assurances" that hacking was in the past and that he only had enough information to settle the Taylor case. Which, as far as it goes, was pretty much admitting to the latter.

Except, as the rest of Murdoch's evidence showed, he simply can't be described as incompetent. For the most part his dropping of Jeremy Hunt into the mire was pitch perfect; it was only when expertly asked by Jay what he thought of Hunt's department's help with the bid for full control of BSkyB that he allowed himself a revealing laugh.

This then is the start of the new Murdoch offensive. Having realised that in the short-term there is no way they'll be able to take full control of Sky, the family and all it controls has decided to take the entire political class down, or at least attempt to. There wasn't just the 163 pages of emails between Frédéric Michel and James Murdoch showcasing the contact between News Corp and Jeremy Hunt's team, making a mockery of the idea that he was in any way operating, as he told the Commons and as Gus O'Donnell ruled, in the "quasi-judicial" manner required of him, there was the revelation that James had personally made his case for the deal going through to David Cameron just three days after Vince Cable had been removed from his role. Add in how Alex Salmond had also apparently said he would be lobbying Hunt to let the Sky deal through, in effective exchange for the continuing positive coverage he was receiving in the Scottish Sun, and the ruling parties north and south of the border are both having their below-the-counter dealings exposed.

Just how much the takeover of BSkyB by News Corp would have changed the game is shown by the name chosen for the project: Rubicon. Had it been crossed, News Corp's domination of the British media would have been complete. As Nick Davies writes, the Murdochs thought they had it all sown up. The Sun's decision to endorse the Conservatives was taken jointly by James, Rebekah Brooks and you suspect with rather less input from Dominic Mohan and Tom Newton Dunn. This was intimated to David Cameron weeks before the paper itself let its readers and the world know. For his part, Cameron had already made clear that if elected he would cut back Ofcom and do the same to the BBC, the pet hates of a certain James Murdoch as made clear in his MacTaggart lecture. Cameron may not have abolished Ofcom as he said would, but he has cut it back, while the licence fee has been frozen. The only problem that remained was that Vince Cable was in charge of the decision over the takeover, and he was minded to send it to the Competition Commission, at the very least delaying it for months. Then the Telegraph had the wizard idea of sending undercover journalists to MP's constituency surgeries, and the Tories had their excuse for handing the decision over to "cheerleader" Hunt.

Rupert Murdoch may well have never warmed to Cameron, but he was increasingly leaving the decisions to James, or being persuaded to give the Conservatives a try by the ever clubbable, networking Rebekah Brooks. Keith has always been an arrogant hypocrite, yet he wouldn't have got where he was if he wasn't a supreme manipulator, and he always has something extra subtle left in reserve if he needs it. He would never have barged into the offices of the Independent and ranted at Simon Kelner for running an incredibly benign advertising campaign stating that he wouldn't be the one deciding the result of the election. That was the absolute height of News International's chutzpah, believing that they were untouchable to the point of rubbing their opponents faces in it. James today said he and Brooks went on their adventure because he was enraged at how Kelner had done it despite receiving "of my family's hospitality for a number of years", something that you can only characterise as resembling the mafia's attitude towards respect and slight.

Tomorrow sees the real Godfather giving evidence, and David Cameron must surely be having a sleepless night.

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Just how much the takeover of BSkyB by News Corp would have changed the game is shown by the name chosen for the project

Financially yes. This was a deal about acquiring a business that was throwing off cash, wasn't correctly valued and could be acquired for substantially less than the time value of its future cash flows.

Politically, whether the Murdoch's absolutely controlled BSkyB or controlled it alongside a shareholders interested solely in financial returns is irrelevant. Whatever fund managers may personally have thought of the Murdoch's control of the British political system owning a piece of the profit centre of that operation is considerably more important than the ethics of the situation.

None of which has been reported a. because our media is financially illiterate and b. it does not help their anti-Murdoch case. And thus after all the detail has been raked over we are presented with a story of political corruption (shock horror) and journalists finally saying what should have been said years ago. That just makes them even more pathetic than they were when they were supine.

FWIW - I am glad that this has all come out in the worst possible way as it may hasten the end of this era of politics and politicians and result in some independents breaking through.

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