OFF THE GRID

Rupertgate: The Loyalists Bark Back

Sep 14, 10 | 7:53 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I’m sorry, as you might have noticed, I just can’t get enough of the U.K.-Murdoch phone hacking story.

For one thing, Rupert Murdoch is as up against it as he ever has been, save for the moment in the early 1990s when he almost went broke. For another, it touches that most sensitive spot of any UK politician or journalist, many of whom I’m pleased to call my friends: just what exactly they owe Murdoch or fear about him. Nobody for so long has so much pervaded and colored and upended the media and politics of Britain as has Murdoch. In politics and media and Britain, Murdoch is your wife—hated, loved, or tolerated.

My friend and colleague Matthew D’Ancona (he’s published pieces of mine in the Spectator, which he edited for several years) has written what, genre-wise, would be called a full-throttled defense of Andy Coulson. Coulson is the prime minister’s chief communications aide, and the former editor of Murdoch’s News of the World, who resigned from the paper over the hacking charges. He has continued to maintain that he did not condone or know about the practice and was subsequently hired to work on the campaign of the future prime minister. (Being without political bias in the UK context, I can easily say I know and like Andy, too.)

D’Ancona, a former Murdoch journalist often mentioned as a possible editor of Murdoch’s Times of London, and perhaps the UK journalist closest to Prime Minister David Cameron (whose election was supported by the Murdoch papers), is frothing at the mouth. Out of the box, he takes a swipe at homosexuality (suggesting that Labour communications directors are limp-wristed, and that Tory press secretaries are made of sterner stuff), before mounting an ad hominem attack on each of the Labour MPs leading the charge for Coulson’s scalp.

His point is that Coulson himself is being pursued for reasons that have nothing to do with how he has performed his present job (D’Ancona says Cameron believes Coulson is a “genius,” which might be just a tad overboard). This is true. On the other hand, the charge, and reasonable assumption, is that Coulson directed the eavesdropping on almost every person of significance in the UK power structure with a cell phone save for Murdoch himself (who doesn’t, in fact, know how to use his cell phone). So D’Ancona’s umbrage about this having no bearing on his present position is, to say the least, a little bit theatrical.

The shadow point is about defending Murdoch himself—and Cameron’s close involvement with someone so tangled in Murdoch politics. D’Ancona does this by suggesting Labour’s preoccupation with Murdoch is hopelessly left-wing. “The insinuation of dark conspiracies involving the police and the Murdoch media empire is distinctly retro,” says D’Ancona.

To state the obvious: You don’t mount or encourage a proxy attack like this unless you’re in the corner. Matthew D’Ancona is under no greater illusion about Andy Coulson’s prospects than anybody else.

You push back, just to see if, God willing, you can—and how grateful the Tory party and Rupert Murdoch will be.

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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