Whatever your opinion on Rupert Murdoch , it would be ridiculous to deny that he – or the people advising him – made a very smart move this week. The Sunday Times ‘sting’ on Peter Cruddas, in which the Conservative Party chairman offered undercover journalists, posing as business representatives, a private dinner with David Cameron for 250 grand and the opportunity to ‘feed into’ the policy process, works on two levels for Murdoch and News Corp.
1) The sting was a textbook example of Fourth Estate journalism, holding those in power to account and uncovering corruption; the type of reporting so often cited when making the case for a press free from government interference. With the Leveson inquiry in full flow Murdoch is sending a clear message to the public that: a) politicians are not to be trusted and b) the press is one of the few institutions with the resources to expose those in the upper eschelons of government.
2) While making his point about the need for a free press, Mudoch and News Corp. get to stick two fingers up at Cameron and his inner circle. Icing on the cake for Murdoch, it could be argued, after Cameron okayed the Leveson inquiry to go ahead. A tweet from Rupert Murdoch indicates he’s keen to see Cameron put through the ringer just as he has been.
Make no mistake about it, this is a power play by Murdoch. No doubt in the coming weeks and months of the Leveson inquiry The Sunday Times sting will be brought back up by those in favour of laissez-faire press regulation. Of course, the press should not be overly regulated but this one example should not distract from the illegality that was widespread at the top of News Corp and most likely other news organisations too.
There is also a third level to the sting story, and perhaps it is the most ironic level of all. The Sunday Times sting exposed that fact that wealthy people can apparently buy a chance to influence those at the top of our representative democracy. But of course the Sunday Times has for many years been a loss leader for News Corp. In effect, Murdoch pays out money to subsidise The Times as it buys him political clout, which he has used to maximum effect here by exposing the fact that people can do more directly what he has done indirectly for years.
Image via 38 Degrees