Kelvin MacKenzie: “I’m the Only One Who Will Defend Rupert Murdoch”
March 27, 2012, 10:07 pm ET
Described as Rupert Murdoch’s “favorite editor” and known for his controversial headlines, MacKenzie worked for News Corporation for many years, including stints as managing editor of the New York Post [1978-80] and as editor of The Sun [1982-94]. He is currently a columnist for The Daily Mail. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Dec. 17, 2011.
When we walked in the door you said, “I’m the only one who will defend Rupert Murdoch.” Defend him.
I have known him for four decades. He’s written me a paycheck off and on. He’s also been an investor in my own companies off and on. So I am the person who could honestly say from a commercial and journalistic area, I know Rupert Murdoch. I really do.
And the reality is, decent guy, wholly committed to his work. People feel very loyal to him who know him, and because he’s successful and doesn’t take a step backward, people who are by and large unsuccessful, and competitors, dislike him intensely.
If they met him, they were employed by him, which is a bigger test I think, they would really love him and really love it.
The man who ran Hitler’s diaries in his newspapers when he knew they were untrue is someone we would love?
“The most incredible aspect I have seen in my lifetime is the queue of politicians anxious to kiss Rupert’s backside. It’s extraordinary.”
When you say we knew they were untrue, actually, he didn’t know they were untrue, and nor did the editor who decided that The Sunday Times, which is a fantastic newspaper in its own right, they didn’t realize that they were untrue. What happened in the end was the story that they were untrue was actually probably a bigger story than the fact that they were his diaries, so they had to go ahead with [it]. It became a story within a story, and that happens within the media all the time.
You can’t do anything in life — you can’t even make a documentary like this, right, a small documentary going out to a small audience — without making mistakes. Every time you create, every time you manufacture, something is likely to go wrong. So to criticize a guy when in a lifetime he would have done, say, a billion things, and he gets a few of them wrong, so what? There are some people that only do half a dozen things and get five of them wrong.
You know, he hasn’t got a bad track record.
You say you love him. What’s he like?
Very intelligent. … He’s a hardworking person who’s been running a business for six decades. He’s I think naturally cautious, which is actually the opposite to the impression that you’d get. You’d say he’s a frontiersman.
I came up with an idea when I wasn’t working for him, and I put it to him, and he says: “Yeah, well, you might be right. You’re going to be a frontiersman in that.” And I said, “Yeah, probably.” He said, “Well, you know what happens to frontiersmen, don’t you?” I said no. He said, “A lot of them end up with arrows in their back.” …
So when we hear stories that he wanted to change the logo of News Corporation to a pirate ship, that’s not him?
I’m sure it is. I’m sure he is, because he’s a guy with great enthusiasm. So he comes in the morning, [says]: “You know what? We ought to change the whole logo to a pirate ship.” He’s entitled to raise these ideas; he owns X percent of the company. But does it actually happen in the end? Ninety-nine times out of 100 it doesn’t happen.
But he’s got quite a good sense of humor as well. He’s a pretty rounded guy. I mean, compared to a lot of people watching this documentary, he’ll be a lot more rounded than they are, sitting there grinding their teeth and gnashing them.
His butler told us that you were his favorite editor.
Well, I wish the butler had told me that, as I was going in for a pay raise earlier. Is that true?
Yeah, well, that’s very nice of him. I’d like to be the favorite of clever people, you know.
He said he brought you home quite often in the ’80s.
Yeah, I used to have dinner with him, but I was an editor, and it [was] a very successful newspaper, The Sun, and you would expect whenever Rupert is in London, I would hope I would be sitting having dinner with him. I mean, he’s the owner of the paper. What do I do, say, “I’ve got to go to there?” No. So I’d be flattered by that.
By the way, when did you meet him?
I first met him in the late ’70s when I was sitting on something in The Sun called the backbench, which is where the production hub of the newspaper is. And he asked me whether I’d go to New York, and I was delighted. I had a young family, and the idea of Manhattan was massively attractive to me. So I joined the New York Post as sort of the night managing editor.
What kind of instruction did he give you?
Well, just do this newspaper? The New York Post, for instance, changed dramatically when you took over.
Well, it had to change, didn’t it? The thing was going like that, and thanks to Rupert it went like that, you know. The way that Rupert conducts himself in relation to newspapers, he likes the editors to succeed. He likes them to get on and gives them a fair amount of rope until they hang themselves. So the issue would be that he would then conduct the inquest the following day: “I like that. Why are we doing that? Have you tried that? I’ve seen this work in Australia. …
He is a world citizen. And you know, these are commercial judgments based on consumer reaction. So he said: “Why don’t we try this? Why don’t we try that? I don’t like that. Don’t do that again” — that kind of stuff.
Someone mentioned the other day that the New York Post, in that stage when you were there, would do, like, a daily critique of The New York Times, for instance; that there was a way that he felt or pushed it in a direction of the Times is the enemy, or the Times is –
Certainly I never got that. The New York Times represents one aspect of American society, and papers like The Wall Street Journal, and to a lesser extent, the New York Post, represent another aspect. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you know, if you view these daft liberals as the enemy, it gives you something to get up to in the morning, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s quite enjoyable.
I mean, I have the same view about The Guardian. … You know, it’s a generic sort of dislike; it’s not personal.
Not personal. It’s only a newspaper. It’s a competitor. You’re not supposed to like your competitor, you know. You’re not. You’re supposed to compete against them. It’s one of the things that keeps you going.
So The Guardian is your enemy here?
They’re not much of an enemy today, because the circulation is so low that even The Guardian readers have worked out it’s rubbish and that where what they aim for doesn’t really exist, you know, sort of flat-out left-wing approach to life, anti-individual.
So it’s not just news that we’re talking about here. The way you talk, it’s political.
Oh, yes, it is definitely political, yup.
You don’t separate the two.
Well, actually, I didn’t. I’ve noticed that less successful editors who followed me have actually gone down a much more neutral route which I don’t really approve of.
In The Sun, you mean?
Yes. I don’t really approve of that.
Because I think that you’re selling a product, and the product has got to be distinctive. And just putting straightforward vanilla news, if you want vanilla news, don’t buy the paper; go online.
And in fact, therefore I’m more having a pejorative view of the news.
Pejorative view of the news?
Yes. So, for instance, you’ve got to take a view. You’re either pro the pay claim [a demand for an increase in pay by union workers], [or] you’re hostile to the pay claim. The way you reflect that is not necessarily in the reporting of it, which you can do, just simply the way you put the headline.
So the one that comes to mind is if you take war, when Britain was at war with the Argentineans over the Falkland Islands, we sunk a warship that was going to break this circle we put around the island, and so we put up the headline, “Gotcha,” right? Now, of course, lots of people died. But the alternative was lots of us would have died. I mean, that’s the whole point about war. …
Did you have a headline about eating a hamster?
Yeah, we did, yeah.
[Editor's Note: In 1986, The Sun ran the front-page story "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster," which claimed that Starr, an English comedian and former pop star, had eaten the pet hamster of an acquaintance.]
That turned out not to be true.
Well, I think he lived off of it for about 30 years. … I don’t know whether it’s true or not. …
But at the time they said it was true. So, you know, these things change over time.
You know what the criticism is. The criticism is that this isn’t really news; this is entertainment.
I think it’s a mixture. I think when you sell to a broad-based area of life, you are really not just in the news business. You’re in that kind of, I think it’s called entertainment business, you know. You’re not just saying three people died in a car crash. You want three people died in a car crash, you’ve come to the wrong address.
But that means you can’t necessarily trust what you’re reading, right?
Why? You’re getting into a really gray area. I have no idea why you’ve decided to come into this area, but you can trust it. You can trust it. You’re still going to carry, “Three people died in a car crash,” “Teachers put in pay claim,” da da da da da, but you’re not going to do it as perhaps your lead story, and you’re not going to do it in the same manner as a nightly television newscast. You’re going to try and make your paper much more vibrant.
Yeah, completely wrong, actually.
– and he should apologize.
Yeah. That was a very serious error by Mr. Davies, which has had catastrophic consequences. First of all, big front-page story turns up, [Prime Minister] David Cameron says, “Actually, I don’t really care about the show business stars and the phone attacks,” more or less is what he said. But then Milly Dowler happens. Milly Dowler was one of those moments where you just put your head in your hand and you think, how awful is this?
The Guardian reports that a News of the World private investigator appears to have got into a murdered 13-year-old girl’s phone and had deleted messages to allow fresh messages to come in so that he could listen to those messages and then try and commercialize them; i.e., sell what those messages were to The News of the World.
At that, a number of things happened. I mean, Rupert Murdoch presumed that, digs his head in his hands, and he orders the following: He orders the shutdown of The News of the World — therefore, the redundancy of 300 or 400 people, plus all their suppliers and whatever — and eventually writes a check for the thick end of $4 million or $5 million to the Dowlers as a way of saying, “I’m most sorry for what happened.”
And now today we know that it didn’t happen, that those deletions almost certainly took place because there’s an automatic 72-hour deletion process on this phone belonging to Milly Dowler.
And so what did Mr. Davies do? Well, it’s not what did Mr. Davies do — what does his paper do? So when this was published all over the front page, massive consequences. The Leveson inquiry was set up by Cameron. Cameron said, “You know, I may not care about show business stars; I sure as hell care about Milly Dowler,” and he was correctly replicating what the whole nation thought.
So when The Guardian finds out the reality of this situation … in December, … where do they put the story, on Page One, to say the story was totally untrue? No, it’s on Page 10, left-hand page, and written in basically an unintelligible fashion. …
So what has the consequence been? So the reporter, Mr. Davies, there doesn’t seem to be any. As far as I can see, he hasn’t been disciplined, he hasn’t been suspended, and he hasn’t been dismissed. It’s been the biggest story all year, OK, shocking story.
And what has happened to the editor that wrote it? … No emergency board meeting, still in his job making $750,000 a year, and no apology. No suspension, no nothing.
So what does Rupert think about this? He was humiliated on television. He had to do it all in front of the cameras, felt terrible about himself, shut down a paper that was 100 years old and was selling 2.6, 2.7 million every Sunday, for no good reason. Loads of innocent people lost their jobs. What on earth is the penalty for these people?
No, I’m being serious. What is the penalty for them? I mean, you hear a lot about tabloid excesses. A piece of broadsheet crap like The Guardian manages to cost hundreds of people their jobs. Shuts down a perfectly profitable, perhaps even only marginally profitable paper. So what? Who cares, right? What about the people?
Their argument is that their sources at the time, more than one, told them this is what happened.
And their argument is, and their question back to you would be, they did hack the phones of the Dowlers, no?
Do you know what makes me most –
Did your reporters hack phones when you were the editor of The Sun?
No, they didn’t.
Did your reporters, or did you know that people were paying the police for information when you were the editor of The Sun?
As far as I know they weren’t, which is not the same as it wasn’t happening. But there are all kinds of contacts in life and payment to people. I mean, all right, you work for PBS; they probably couldn’t necessarily pay a bus fare. But, you know, somebody turns up to me and says to me that I have proof that the prime minister is circumventing the Cabinet in order to get his way to go to war in Iraq. I have his voice message to Bush saying, “I’m in,” right?
All right. We’re not talking about those kinds of things.
No, but you’d win a Pulitzer Prize, and it’s still part of the argument. You’d win a Pulitzer Prize for doing that, right? You hack my phone, you know, you go to jail for six months.
But they did hack the phone of Milly Dowler.
Yeah, but you’ve got to deal –
No, no, no –
In the sequence of events — and I agree a check should be written. I agree a check should be written.
You’re just saying he shouldn’t have written a 3-million-pound check.
Well, it was written, because of its size, on the basis of a false prospectus, OK. Perhaps there should be a check written; perhaps Rupert wants to write a check. I mean, I know Rupert Murdoch is distinct from the others. I know Rupert Murdoch, right, a) horrified, and b) by the way, personally very –
Did you talk to him about this?
No, I haven’t. I never spoke to him.
Since he appeared –
No, no. I mean, Rupert’s a busy guy. I mean, I don’t work for him, so why would I?
You’re a friend, aren’t you? You like him?
I like him, yes, and that is a rare, a rare area of life for me in relation to man, but I do like him, yeah. I admire him. I admire the guy.
The Guardian’s defense is the phone was hacked, and … no one has yet determined how the deletions took place. And other people’s phones were hacked in similar situations, similar emergencies involving their children. Your phone was hacked. This was a massive operation that was ongoing for many years, right?
I am not defending, in this interview or at any time, mass criminality. And there is a massive price to be paid for everybody involved in this, and we’re only at the beginning of this game.
And The Guardian says, we didn’t order the closing of News of the World. That was determined for whatever business reasons on the part of News Corporation, the cumulative publicity about hacking, bribery and other illegalities.
OK, no, no, I know that argument. Let me deal with it. Let me deal with it.
That’s what they decided.
Right. Let me deal with it. The reason it was shut down is because following Milly Dowler, advertisers started pulling their advertising out of News of the World. And Rupert would have taken that on the chin and just run the paper without ads were there not the sense that because of Milly Dowler, this advertisers’ boycott that is going to spread to his other titles, The Times, The Sunday Times, and probably more importantly The Sun. So something had to be done.
Let me just deal with the defense, the ludicrous defense that The Guardian puts up on this issue. First of all, Davies says that he was only reporting what he was told. Do you know what? I so believe in that argument. People want to tell you the truth; they think they’re telling you the truth; they’re helpful for you to find the truth; and they’re completely wrong. That is called journalism, right? It happens all the time. You see two people report on a car crash. One says X, and the other Z, and the other says, “No, he reversed into him”; “He didn’t.” Things go wrong, right?
That argument that he uses The Guardian uses against popular newspapers day in, day out when they get things wrong. It made me die laughing to see finally some bloody nose in the air, smug, left-wing turd, right, finally embracing the arguments that I have been using all my life and have faced repeated criticism for.
Nobody is trying to get things wrong, but people get things wrong. The consequence of him getting this wrong was catastrophic. Yes, the Dowler phone was hacked by that nutcase [private investigator Glenn] Mulcaire, an oceangoing lunatic who has caused immense problems and who has apologized to everybody for everything. Had it been announced that way round, The News of the World would never have shut down and hundreds of jobs would not be lost. It was an absolute shock.
So this is the issue, Guardian, big Page One story, catastrophic consequences for everybody involved, everybody. Five months later, basically a disguised apology. That apology should have been on Page One, and I blame them for that, and I’d like to see some consequence for action against Davies.
If we were having the same conversation about The Sun, you would be all over me, isn’t it? How do you feel –?
Wait, wait. Have you ever apologized about Elton John?
Yeah, we apologized about Elton John.
[Editor's Note: Elton John won a lawsuit against The Sun for printing false claims about his sex life. The paper was forced to pay 1 million pounds and publish an apology.]
Well, but you’ve waffled.
No, no, I haven’t actually. We had to pay a million quid, and I apologized profusely. We got that completely wrong. But we did pay a million quid, and it hasn’t affected his career, has it, as distinct from the lifetime effect that The Guardian’s wrong story will have on hundreds of innocent people.
It took Rupert Murdoch calling you to get you to apologize to the queen, right?
[Editor's Note: The Sun was forced to apologize to the queen and donate 200 pounds to charity after breaking an embargo and printing her annual Christmas message two days early.]
There was an aspect of that, but that was because — now, this is it, you see. Rupert gets the bad press all the time. It’s not Rupert who does it, you know. A) It’s his idiot employees like me, you know.
His favorite editor.
Well, for periods of time. There were difficult moments. I don’t blame Rupert. My personality, you know, there’s going to be good times and bad times.
So you’ve got to look at the personalities you employ as well. He employs tens of thousands of people, you know. You can’t be right and wrong all the time, you know.
You’re the person who, if you will, hounded [Labor Party leader] Mr. [Neil] Kinnock, right?
No, I didn’t hound Mr. Kinnock.
Ran a light bulb –
Yeah, it was a, yeah? You should get the Page One. You should stick it on there, make the documentary more interesting. …
Kinnock was going to be a disaster for our country, or I thought he would be. So what we did was I took basically an old gag — I got a light bulb, stuck Kinnock in the middle of it, and the headline simply said, “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?”
It was a bit of fun, and fortunately, the good people of Britain agreed with me and, surprisingly, kept [Prime Minister John] Major in office, which turned out to be not necessarily the great triumph that it might have been, but it had been a damn sight better than Kinnock getting it.
And my point about that, if I played any role — Kinnock gives me the credit for doing it. Fantastic. I don’t often get credit. I have never received any kind of gong or preferment on the basis of keeping Kinnock out, which is a great shame. Most of the people I know have become Lord this or Sir that, and I’ve had nothing. Not an OBE, nothing. …
[Former editor of The Sunday Times and former chair of Sky TV] Andrew Neil, whom you know, says that the biggest –
Andrew’s description of Rupert, his is different from mine, isn’t it?
He says that the culture you lived in, the two of you lived in at the same time, the culture was trying to predict what Rupert wanted, trying to be one step ahead, so that when he called, you could report something that he would like.
Do you know what? I quite understand why Andrew would say that. That is completely not my case. Do you know what? Rupert would have had a far calmer Sun, I think more considered, less sensational than the one I delivered. And you know, I got very close to getting the push on a number of occasions, and I wouldn’t have blamed Rupert if he had done, to be truthful.
So if there was a blame, it’s not Rupert’s; it’s mine, actually. So if the line is there, he would have me [on] this side of the line, and I used to go the other side.
I wasn’t in the Rupert-prediction business; I genuinely wasn’t. So he gets a load of the blames. … [But] he’s never going to be sitting there reflecting on somebody being critical of him when you think what is written every day about Rupert.
What do you think his e-mail site would look like? You know, stuff written about Rupert every day, I’m surprised Google can collate it all. The idea that some piece of criticism from somebody that doesn’t know, is never watched, hardly ever heard of, why would he feel that?
Well, he has to take responsibility, obviously, for the money he’s making, right? And if you’re making a lot of money for him for running his newspaper, and it’s successful, and it’s selling, right? And one of the reasons it’s successful and it’s selling is it’s got topless women on the third page — your innovation, right?
No, not my innovation actually.
Whose innovation was it?
That was the founding editor, the very good guy, Larry Lamb, yeah.
But one that you —
Yeah, I embraced, yeah. In fact, it was my job. The only enjoyment, real enjoyment I ever had in that job was choosing the Page 3 girl every day, and after that it was all downhill. …
When you were editor of The Sun, you would get sued for libel, or you’d get demands, right?
Yeah, on a fairly regular basis.
Something like Elton John — serious matter, large numbers are involved, right?
Yeah, yeah. A million pounds.
You settled some cases, right?
We’ve settled most. I’d say most cases were settled before they got to court.
So when the number got big in the settlement, did you have to inform corporate headquarters or people above you?
Well, it wasn’t Rupert. I mean, Rupert’s based in Manhattan, or based in New York, and, you know, he employs I think 55,000 people across five continents. There was the chief executive in London, and, you know, I used to get myself into trouble, you know. Let’s just be honest about it.
But sometimes you pay out on libel cases because the guy who had told you or the woman who had told you that X was happening, suddenly you get a letter from the attorney of the alleged libel victim, and you go back to the person and say, “Look, they’re saying this; will you appear in court for us?,” and they say, “Oh, no, I had no idea; oh, no, I can’t do that; I’m very sorry.” So your case collapses.
Now, that’s because I was stupid relying on that kind of area, but the “victim,” they receive X amount of money, and they get the day on the courts, and they’re able to say it’s not true, whether it’s true or not true.
So if you were to settle a case, you would have to get approval from above, right?
Strangely enough, the way it sort of worked, depending on what level it was, it used to be a discussion between you and the legal director. But obviously, the legal director reports into the chief executive, so there is no way that a large amount of money could be written without some oversight from the senior management company.
Remember, an editor is not in the senior management of the company. It’s more like church and state. Now, at the end of it, you report to him. Don’t start getting so carried away; you haven’t got your own private army, OK. But actually, you are separate; that’s for sure.
So when you heard about [News of the World lawyer] Mr. [Tom] Crone and [News of the World editor] Mr. [Colin] Myler going to James Murdoch to get approval, whose version of events do you believe? … Do you believe that James Murdoch signed the check and didn’t read the e-mails?
I believe he didn’t read the e-mails. Actually, he didn’t sign the check either.
Well, you know what I mean.
Look, he definitely didn’t read the e-mails. I don’t know about you. I don’t know about you. Do you read down e-mails? And the other argument I didn’t like about this, the argument I didn’t like about that was the suggestion that because it’s an important e-mail, that they should have [been] alerted to it.
But let’s be honest about it. You’re chief executive and you’re chairman of Sky; you run Europe, which is both Sky Italia and the German pay network, and you’ve also got that whole of Asia. Do you know there would never be an e-mail which says, “Do you fancy coming around for a cup of tea?” All of them have a massive problem to them.
Do you think that Mr. Crone and Mr. Myler are making up the idea that they briefed James Murdoch on the details of this? The money involved from everyone we’ve talked to is a record sum for a story that’s never been published on a privacy issue.
To be truthful, I have no idea where the truth lies. I have no idea, and I’m not going to start speculating on such a dangerous legal area, not even for the viewers of such a startlingly good documentary. …
There are three people who do know the answer, which is James Murdoch, Tom Crone and Colin Myler. But I don’t. I wasn’t in the room, and so I don’t know what was said.
You know all three of them?
I know all of them, yeah. In fact, I like all three of them. The terrible thing is I feel as though I am in a real-life, hour-to-hour drama, because I have either employed all these people or been employed by them. This is my whole life now being played out. It is extraordinary. … I’ve been around these people for 20, 30 years. Yeah, I’ve worked with Rupert Murdoch. I’ve worked for Rupert Murdoch one way or another up until recently for four decades. I’ve known James Murdoch since he was probably, I don’t know, 16, 15 — what is he now, maybe 25 years? I know all his family. …
Understood. … And you don’t want to take sides.
I’m not taking sides because I don’t know what the evidence is and I wasn’t there.
But in your judgment, these are all intelligent people.
Yeah, this is the problem. The problem is that they are, when I looked around at it all, if I had to define everybody, I would say none of them come into my area of what I would describe as a criminal, none of them, OK? I don’t know whether they’ve made mistakes. Some of them certainly did, but they’re not criminals. I know it’s difficult to define that, but that’s the way I feel.
So if you were covering this story now, what would the headline be?
Which aspect of it? You see, the truth is, if this were happening –
Intelligent people are stupid?
Yeah, can be. Intelligent people are stupid. And the other thing is, if it was happening at The Daily Mirror and I was at The Sun, I couldn’t get a big enough bucket to pour all over them. Every single day, let you know, da, da, da, da, da.
So I can understand what is a curious aspect of all this now — probably not surprisingly – is that it is your competitor that is reporting on your travails, and therefore it has an added bite to it. So you can hear the sound of the sharpening of the knives. So they’re doing it for more than one reason, aren’t they?
I mean, if you look at The Guardian, The Guardian going bust, you know, sales basically blow, are around 200,000, and they’re wondering where their future is as they report one of the big scandals to hit our country. I mean, it’s a worldwide story; that’s why you guys are here. But sometimes I feel that when we’re reporting it, there is a sort of a political aspect to it which can’t be ignored either.
They enjoy putting a successful competitor to the sword, and when you’re an unsuccessful competitor, you know, it’s good to get back sometimes.
That was a nice, cute way not to answer the question.
I’m not going to answer that question. I have no idea who is telling the truth.
Your phone was hacked.
Yeah, my phone was hacked six times. The organization[s] that are investigating this operation, I went to see them.
That’s the Metropolitan police.
Sorry, I went to see the Scotland Yard detectives, a detective chief superintendent and a detective’s sergeant. I’m astonished. Six separate phone calls, six voicemails were hacked, most of them for like, only about 15 or 30 seconds, one of them about for a minute and a half. I must say — well, the curious aspects of that, you’ve got to understand, if you’ve been in business all your life or journalism, or your relative papers, you’re as tough as old boots, you know; nobody can say anything to upset you anymore. Your stomach is just lined with concrete, to be honest.
I was quite — not quite upset, but I felt strangely, partially violated by discovering, when they opened up the case file and showed me the times and the dates and the number of the person who had hacked me, I felt strangely violated by it. I know it’s odd, and it didn’t last for very long, but I did think, you know, if I was somebody more sensitive than me, and especially somebody who perhaps was in the show business community of some kind, who had a rather sort of fluffier view of life, I would have thought they’d feel quite disturbed by it all.
Mm-hmm. I think they probably would, and they’d be right to. So I have no criticism of them. I mean, I don’t like watching the grandstanding of the Hugh Grants and the Steve Coogans, you know, who got religion on the matter, you know. I suppose if you had the worldwide humiliation of being caught with a hooker on the West Coast, … I can understand that you’re probably not too pleased toward life.
But nevertheless, I did feel uneasy at the very minimum about the hacking, for myself. But, you know, it’s just one of those things.
You got a sense of what it’s like to have your privacy violated?
Yes. I mean, there have been other things in my life in which my privacy may have been violated, but it’s part of what goes with the territory, so I don’t really mind.
The Leveson inquiry — important?
Yes, I think the Leveson inquiry was set up on a forced bill of goods. It was set up following Milly Dowler and has gone off into a load of minor show business figures bitching about stuff that was written about them. …
Whole loads of evidence is being given with two kinds — one that is never contested, and the other is of what I think is a dangerous aspect to some of the people that have been arrested, is that their opportunity of getting a fair trial when the juries vaguely remember all this, that and the other, if they were ever charged in the future, which I expect many of them to be, will say, “I think they’re all actually criminals.”
And the other aspect I don’t like about Leveson — and it’s a good job I don’t either own a paper or edit a paper, because I’d be giving it to him every day for this, and this alone — he said when witnesses give their evidence, we don’t want newspapers the following day pouring buckets over their evidence, analyzing it and tearing it apart.
Tell me this, to the North American audience of this documentary: How would they feel about that, the judge saying that you’re not allowed — not allowed — to contest evidence, or to put a different slant on that evidence?
It’s absolutely wrong. Leveson has gone nuts. I’m hostile to the inquiry. I have no idea what’s going to come out of it. Following Milly Dowler, there’s no reason to have had it, right? We have a criminal justice system in this country of which we are rightly proud. Those people who did wrong should go to jail.
It’s the equivalent of your running a small little engineering business in the Midwest, and two of the accounts clerks get together and siphon off hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? What are you going to do, have a new way of accounting? You’re not going to have a new way of accounting; you’re going to send the accounts clerks to jail. These guys are going to jail. Terrible that that is, but that is the correct procedure. Leveson is not the correct procedure.
And they’re going to jail because elements of the press other than News International followed this story, your competitors, The Guardian, etc., and got the authorities to focus on that.
Well, you should blame the cops. Blame the cops by all means. Why didn’t the cops do what The Guardian had done?
And you blame, by the way, as I understand it, Mr. Cameron and [former Prime Minister] Mr. [Tony] Blair and so on –
Yeah, I do.
– for sucking up to Rupert Murdoch.
It’s incredible. The most incredible aspect I have seen in my lifetime is the queue of politicians anxious to kiss Rupert’s backside. It’s extraordinary. I mean, it’s extraordinary. Actually [Margaret] Thatcher wasn’t like that. Yes, she would entertain him on the basis that he was a very clever guy who created tens of thousands of jobs in our country and supported my politics. There’s no ass-kissing from her. But Tony Blair started taking it to a new high, you know. …
Whenever Rupert either held a party at Christmas or in July in the open air, you’ll see, just analyze all the politicians there. It is fantastic.
Now, that was all going rather well. Rupert, I think they made a terrible error. I’ve said this loads of times. Well, I haven’t said it loads of times, but News International made a terrible error when they took the endorsement of the Conservative Party in the October ahead of the May election and dropped it right into the middle of a Labor Party conference, blowing up the prime minister’s speech, Gordon Brown’s speech. Nobody was interested in that. All they were interested in was the endorsement of The Sun.
They should never, never have done that, because the effects of that was they were firmly in politics now. Normally, when I ran the papers, in come round the election about six weeks beforehand, you’d start saying, “This is the way we’re going to vote”; pour a bit of a bucket on people; pour a bucket on Kinnock or whoever, and that was it.
And I tell you why you didn’t do it. You didn’t do it because the sale of the papers falls through the floor when you start handing out endorsements. So the sale of the paper on the day that The Sun said we’re going from Labor after however many years it was, 12 years or 13 years, we’re going from Labor to Conservative, the sale of the paper fell 40,000. So it wasn’t in the paper’s commercial interest to have done it, and it also enraged the prime minister. And so you talk about go get, Brown has been quietly in the background loading the guns which people like Tom Watson and company have been firing.
By the way, for the record, you never ordered any private investigators to follow any members of Parliament.
No, no, I didn’t no. I think this is a comparatively new phenomenon, to be honest, and I think it was confined to The News of the World. I haven’t heard of anybody of The Sun. I mean, I’m friendly with The Sun guys now, and I’ll ask them, and they’ll say no. This is something that seemed to exist solely in that area, although it must be said that David Leigh of The Guardian, when he gave his evidence at Leveson, said, “Yes, I can see times that I would use phone hacking to get a story.”
So, you see, you would approve — some people would approve if you could find out something that you thought was public interest, right, this sort of defining area of life. What is public interest I have no idea. But on the stories that I might approve, you would say, “How disgusting.”
So your definition of newspapers doesn’t include public interest in what these papers should and shouldn’t do.
No, I don’t think so. I mean, I know at least two incredible stories now which I won’t be able to publish. And they’re not being published because they involve famous-ish people, and they feel that the atmosphere currently that exists would lead to a backlash against the publisher.
So quite right, because I know it comes as a surprise to people, but newspapers are commercial animals. They’re supposed to make money. I know The Guardian has invented a new way of doing it, and we’ll see how well they’ll prosper and see if we can have the same interview in five years’ time.
So I am pondering whether actually there should a website which publishes those stories, right, a not-for-profit website that publishes those stories which newspapers won’t publish, giving newspapers the opportunity then to publish on the following day so the story gets out.
I want to get this accurately now. Explain dwarfs doing the weather, naked people reading the stock prices.
Yeah, that’s right. Tiffany’s Big City Tips, yeah.
What other innovations have you brought?
Right. So you should go online and get all this stuff online actually, I think. So I started a cable TV channel called Live TV, and we had some very successful ideas. One of them was News Bunny, which was guys dressed up in a rabbit suit who, when people did the news, would either go like that or like that.
So, for instance, if he said, “Neil Kinnock is going to run for office for a second time,” or something, they’ll go like that, or said, “They’ll let it go right by that,” or said, “They’re cutting” — this never happens, but “They’re cutting the price of alcohol.”
Then we had the Bounciest Weather dwarf, who was a dwarf that bounced on a trampoline and tried to reach various cities in the United Kingdom, giving the weather in each one. Now, he could get to Brighton, he could get to the Midlands, but he never, ever managed to get to Scotland. So there was never any weather from Scotland.
And we also had something called Tiffany’s Big City Tips in which, depending on [whether] the share index went up or down, she [model Tiffany Banister] took off clothes or put them back on again. We decided that the putting back on of the clothes didn’t really work, so whether the shares went up or down, she took her clothes off, and that seemed to cheer up the audience.
So after the police showed you what had happened to your phones, what did you do when you got home?
Well, I thought it would be a good bit of fun if I changed my voice message, so the message I put on was, “I’m not here right now, but please leave a message, and Rebekah will get back to you.” This of course was referring to Rebekah Brooks, who was the CEO of News International.
The message simply said, “I’m not here right now, but please leave a message, and Rebekah will get back to you,” which actually I found very funny, but I know Rebekah got very irritated by it, so I took it off after a couple days.
Well, she got irritated for good reason. She’s facing –
Yeah, it’s serious. Yeah, Rebekah has been arrested, and that is very serious, and I’ve been friendly and around Rebekah for a couple of decades, and it is just a juvenile prank. But I found it funny, and so did a lot of friends.
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