"My minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces". So replied Tony Blair at the Leveson Inquiry on 28 May 2012 when questioned about a trip to a Murdoch-sponsored function on Hayman Island in 1995. Blair informed the inquiry that his relationship with Rupert Murdoch since then had been "strategic".
Lord Justice Leveson and Robert Jay QC are clever men. So, why did they fail to squeeze that statement of Blair's for the potential it held for giving the tabloids are real kick? I fantasize the exchange to have gone something like this:
Leveson: "For the Murdoch media to tear Labour to pieces, then you must be saying that the tabloids take a kernel of truth and put such a spin on it that the reader is left with a heavily biased (and thus erroneous) perception, and it was this lying when not appearing to be lying that necessitated you becoming strategic?"
Blair: "Mmmm…aaaaahhh….something like that."
Leveson: "In a democracy each adult has one vote, but if a party is elected to government because the minds of hundreds of thousands of electors are manipulated by a media mogul, then where is the democracy?"
Leveson: "Would it be overly dramatic to say that in the maximizing of its income, the Murdoch empire is exploiting the right to free speech built on the bodies of 450,000 Britons who died in WWll at the hands of aggressors who were determined to censor all speech?"
Leveson and Jay could easily have got the probing to run along this line if they had entered the inquiry with a determination to use it to expose what the tabloids were doing to the social structure of Britain - rather than to merely expose the cozy relationship between politicians and the media. Examples of Murdoch's red banner rags tapping into the dangerous side of the mass culture are too numerous to list. One classic involved a princess.
In 1997 Princess Diana, was killed and millions who had never met her shed a tear because they had lost something that they valued. Why did anybody outside of Diana's friends and family need her? They needed her because the media conditioned their minds to need her.
The mood of the masses in England at the time of Diana's death was such that those who were tempted to remind the public that the adulation of someone who was an obvious neurotic was over the top, sensed the danger and kept their mouths shut. The mood of the masses can be frightening and those objective people who observed the Diana 'phenomenon' for what it was, were reminded of what happened in Germany from 1933 onwards.
The type of mind the tabloids help to nourish is the very mind that can switch rapidly to intolerance - the simplistic goodies v baddies position. So, when her marriage to Charles was in trouble, to maintain her shining white image it was necessary for the media to portray her husband as a buffoon.
On one fateful day, mind-body-spirit convert Charles was overheard talking to his cabbages by a trusted but opportunistic staff member. The words may have been said in a corner in a private garden, but the world soon knew about it. When the buffoon campaign failed to satisfy the media, it was ratcheted up to the attempted destruction of the target. A low-type listened to and recorded a 'dirty' phone conversation to girlfriend Camilla. That one-to-one phone conversation of the most private nature imaginable became public.
Then there was an armed conflict in a distant part of the world that was promoted like a FA final.
The Thatcher government launched the nation into the Falkland Islands' War of Liberation. The government was, with tabloid assistance, able to recruit the working class into its cheer squad. These were the very people whose workplace conditions won by their fathers were under the attack of Thatcherism's 'survival-of-the-fittest' polices,
After a century of horrific conflict, the masses should finally have realised that there is nothing glorious about a war. Nevertheless, there was News of the World's notorious headline: "Gotcha!" - as it celebrated the sinking of the old Argentinean warship General Belgrano which went down with the loss of 323 young lives. To News of the World, the 323 grieving families did not exist. Winners are grinners.
That despicable 'Gotcha' headline was 30 years ago. So, when responsible journalism has counted for little since, why should anybody be shocked by the widespread hacking practices now finally exposed? In keeping with the tabloid's form was the Sarah Ferguson sting in May 2010.
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