Murdochs: how can two communication leaders be such poor communicators?

Tom Watson was a better questioner than some
Tom Watson was a better questioner than some

Having myself been subject to select committee interrogation amid a media firestorm, I developed a low opinion of the format. During the David Kelly affair the Foreign Affairs Committee, under a Labour toady chairman, Donald Anderson (since rewarded with a peerage), allowed itself to become Alastair Campbell’s tool in attempting to hound David and discredit my story. The questioning was low-grade, unfocused and grandstanding. Typically, they would suggest some phrase they had dreamed up to get a soundbite on the news and invite you to agree with it.

Today, however, the questioning is much better – mostly sensible and specific. And what has been striking has been the poor performance of those being questioned. Rupert Murdoch’s hesitations, and his clear (and probably genuine) difficulties of recall must mark the final end of his authority. James has been better, but still not terribly clear. What strikes me is how two men at the helm of one of the world’s greatest communication empires can be such poor communicators.

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Ken Livingstone and Rupert Murdoch: it really was love

Ken’s attempts to make political capital out of Boris Johnson’s supposed “links” to the evil Murdoch empire are starting to look ridiculous as further evidence emerges that his links to News International were far closer than Boris’s have ever been.

I pointed out last week that Ken has twice had spells as a paid columnist for that great flagship of Murdochian progressive values, The Sun: the second spell came months after the hacking scandal had  well and truly broken. But I forgot to mention that, after his defeat in 2008, he also had a regular column in Murdoch’s unmourned featherweight freesheet, the London Paper.

While he was still Mayor, Ken loved the London Paper, because it was (a) not the hated Evening Standard and (b) never did any actual journalism about him (or anything else.) In the small gaps between items about Amy Winehouse it did, however, run regular pat-ball interviews with Ken and was duly rewarded with vast amounts of advertising by the mayor’s agencies, mostly Transport for London. Some days TfL had three full-page ads in the paper; it seems likely that it only stayed afloat as long as it did through massive injections of City Hall (ie our) money. Just over a year after Ken lost his job, it went the way of the News of the World.

On that sad day, Ken’s chief of staff and campaign manager, Simon Fletcher – by far his closest and longest-serving aide – described Murdoch and his paper as “a good thing for London.” He was undoubtedly a good thing for Ken – but despite what all too many of Livingstone’s supporters think, Ken and London are not quite the same.

One of Ken’s attacks on Boris was that he had had (horrors!) a number of meals with James Murdoch and other News International executives. The brazen hypocrisy of this charge has now been exposed by the Spectator’s David Blackburn, who has gone back through City Hall records to reveal that Ken… had meals with James Murdoch. And the editor of the London Paper, Stefano Hatfield. And attended Rupert’s summer party. And paid Murdoch’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud, £350,000 a year for PR, despite having his own massive in-house PR department (this contract was cancelled by Boris, to Freud’s fury – more about that, perhaps, at a later date.)

As I’ve said before, political claims don’t have to be true – but they do have to be credible. Ken’s claim to be a hammer of Murdoch is about as credible as his claim to be a foe of the bankers, or a holder-down of Tube fares.