OFF THE GRID

Will Murdoch Lose Britain?

Apr 22, 10 | 7:55 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Several years ago, Rebekah Wade (now Rebekah Brooks), then the editor of Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid, started trying to convince Murdoch that his newspapers should support David Cameron, the Conservative party candidate for prime minister.

This took some doing because Murdoch had become a good friend and pretty loyal supporter of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. What’s more, Murdoch’s wife, Wendi, is a great buddy of Brown’s wife, Sarah. But Wade/Brooks is persistent and, in Murdoch’s words, “knows how to work my family.” She convinced Murdoch’s son, James, that Cameron was the certain future. James then went to work on his father, and a reluctant Murdoch—telling everyone who would listen that Cameron was too slick by half—sourly went along.

Now, Murdoch likes winners, even more than he likes Conservatives. One of the most famous headlines of his career appeared in the Sun after the Conservative victory in Britain 1992: “It's The Sun Wot Won It.” Murdoch is still stewing over an ill-timed and inept endorsement of John McCain over Barack Obama (again, against his better judgment—Murdoch likes Obama and was convinced to back McCain by Roger Ailes and New York Post editor Col Allen).

And now, David Cameron’s not-that-long-ago-all-but-certain-looking bid for prime minister is faltering. In fact, after Murdoch’s endorsement, the Financial Times began running a graph charting Cameron’s downward movement under the headline “It’s The Sun Wot Lost it.” Last week, the Lib-Dem candidate Nick Clegg—the third party candidate in the race—did so well in a television debate that he began to emerge as the logical alternative to Labor. This has caused the Murdoch papers to unleash a full-scale attack on Clegg—with hardly any pretense other than to help Cameron—now known as the “Kill Klegg” campaign.

In turn, the Independent newspaper ran a front pager yesterday with the headline “Rupert Murdoch will not decide the outcome of the election. You will,” challenging the Murdoch coverage of the race.

Later in the afternoon, in a coming-apart-at-the-seams scenario, Rebekah Wade/Brooks and Murdoch’s son, James—who will both face the wrath of Murdoch senior if they don’t produce a winner—stormed over to the Independent, breached its security systems, barged into the offices of the Independent’s editor-in-chief and top executive, Simon Kelner, and commenced, in Brit-speak, a giant row. Their point was that newspaper publishers don’t slag off other newspaper publishers in polite Britain, but also the point was to remind Kelner that he wasn’t just slagging off another publisher, he was slagging off the Murdochs, damn it. Indeed, the high point of the screaming match was Wade/Brooks, in a fit of apoplexy and high drama, neck muscles straining, saying to Kelner: “And I invited you to Blenheim in the first place!” Blenheim being the Murdoch family retreat and the highest social destination for all Murdoch loyalists and ambitious Brits in the media.

This is one way for empires to end.

Anyway, Murdoch’s Sky television airs the second debate with Cameron, Brown, and Clegg tonight.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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