Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Murdoch’

The Hitler Diaries – the farce of the century

February 6, 2016
The Observer Magazine cover shows Alexei Sayle as the Hitler diaries forger in the 1991 TV series Selling Hitler

The Observer Magazine cover shows Alexei Sayle as the Hitler diaries forger in the 1991 TV series Selling Hitler

I mentioned the farce of the Hitler diaries the other day, and how in 1983 the German news magazine Stern, Newsweek in the US and the Sunday Times were duped into paying a fortune for the rights to publish what was supposed to be the find of the century – Adolf Hitler’s personal diaries. The Observer, a rival Sunday paper, must have great fun running this cover on its supplement about the 1991 TV series – Selling Hitler – made about the fiasco.

The cover shows Alexei Sayle as Hitler fanatic Konrad Kujau, the forger who called himself Peter Fischer; Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), who authenticated the diaries for the Sunday Times, and Barry Humphries (best known as Dame Edna Everadge) as Rupert Murdoch. The choice of such comic-leaning actors shows how the programme took a mocking line.

The series was based on Robert Harris’s book Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries. This is a brilliant exposé of how Kujau touted the diaries to veteran Stern reporter Gert Heideman (played by Jonathan Pryce), who believes he has stumbled on the literary find of the century. The managers at Stern try to pull off a scoop – paying $5 million in secret over months for the 60 volumes of diaries, which Kujau can hardly make up fast enough. However, they ignore tell-tale pointers that the diaries are crude forgeries because they are blinded by greed.

The scandal has become a Fleet Street legend and made the Sunday Times and Times the butt of many a joke in the 1980s and since. It is often referred to – as in the example below. During the bitter battle between Robert Maxwell and Private Eye magazine in 1986, the thieving newspaper owner bought out a spoof satirical magazine showing Hitler with Eye editor Richard Ingrams as Göring.  Note the strapline: ‘Definitely authentic’ – Lord Dacre.

Maxwell's Not Private Eye: note the strap 'Definitely authentic' - Lord Dacre'

Maxwell’s Not Private Eye. Note the strap: ‘Definitely authentic – Lord Dacre’

See more on: UK newspapers

Not Private Eye

A newspaper’s last big story

February 6, 2016
The last edition of London's Evening News on 31 October 1980

The last edition of London’s Evening News on 31 October 1980

As this splash on London’s Evening News demonstrates, a newspaper’s last big story is its own demise. This front page was 31 October 1980. That day, the copytaster – the person who watches the news agency wires to spot any stories the paper should be carrying – was Robin Elias, and he was the first of the staff to know of the closure. It must have been particularly galling for a paper in its 99th year. Luckily for him, he got a job as night editor on ITV’s News at Ten and went on to become managing editor there.

It was a surprise reading that your paper would be closing from the Press Association! Yet, that may well be the situation many journalists are expecting at the moment as cost-cutting proprietors wind down their print editions in favour of digital.

Last issue of US picture weekly Life (29 December 1972)

Last issue of US picture weekly Life (29 December 1972)

The US picture weekly Life took a different tack to the Evening News, with no mention of the closure on the cover of its last issue (29 December 1972). However, this may well be because the cover was ready before the closure was announced by its owners, Time Inc. Instead, editor Hedley Donovan carried a full-page editorial on the weekly magazine’s closure on the first inside page.

Editor Hedley Donovan's final editorial on Life magazine's closure

Editor Hedley Donovan’s final editorial on Life magazine’s closure

As he says readers have reminded him, the magazine had not failed. It had, after all, lasted almost 40 years and been one of the biggest-selling titles in the US for that time.

Last issue of Rupert Murdoch's Today newspaper (17 November 1995) 

Last issue of Rupert Murdoch’s Today newspaper (17 November 1995)

Today took a similar tack to the Evening News with its closure in 1995. This would have been less unexpected, given that it had outlived its usefulness to Rupert Murdoch in helping him break out of hot metal in Fleet Street and into the electronic makeup era at Wapping. It was a paper with a short history – having been launched by Eddie Shah on 4 March 1986. Shah had won a vicious industrial relations battle against the NGA, the print union, in his Warrington freesheet newspaper group and then launched Today as a national colour tabloid using new technology. It had a target sale of 1.2 million copies, but rarely exceeded a third of this figure. One editor, David Montgomery, resigned after printing an apology to readers for the poor quality of the paper.

Promotional copy of the Sun inside the final issue of Today - with a message from Tony Blair

Promotional copy of the Sun inside the final issue of Today – with a message from Tony Blair

Murdoch wasn’t going to lose Today’s readers easily though and inside was a promotional copy of the Sun – complete with a top-of-the-page story written by Tony Blair and headlined ‘Why Labour readers are turning to the Sun‘. Today had taken a leftish editorial stance, while the Sun was traditionally rightwing, but switched allegiance when Blair established a rapport with Murdoch.

>>>UK newspapers

 

Murdoch’s News of the World legacy

July 8, 2011
Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch on Guardian website

What will be Rupert Murdoch’s legacy in terms of newspapers in Britain? With the Sun, Times, Sunday Times and News of the World he had the most powerful newspaper group in Britain. He’s a throwback to the great twentieth century Fleet St barons – I’ve read of Northcliffe describing the young Murdoch as his favourite newspaperman.

He fought off Robert Maxwell to win control of News of the World and use it as the international stepping stone to form the world’s first global media group. His reputation for media innovation is unrivalled. However, today’s Machiavellian decision to close the News of the World throws a 168-year history, 200 journalists – and some legendary campaigning journalism – on the scrapheap.

Yet, even though Murdoch has acted with unprecedented speed to try to halt the damage, more is undoubtedly still to come. The fallout – a Rupertgate or Jamesgate – could leave the Murdoch name lying alongside those of Maxwell and a corrupt media mogul of the early 1900s, Horatio Bottomley.

Britain's most famous front page - the Sun's Gotcha

Britain’s most famous front page – the Sun’s Gotcha

But Rupert brought us the topless redtop style of the Sun with its Page 3, along with Kelvin MacKenzie, and headlines such as ‘Gotcha’ and ‘Freddie Starr: I ate my hamster’ – as well as the later ‘Freddie Starr: I ‘ate my wife’ . And England team manager Graham Taylor as a turnip. How many other front or back pages are as well known? But that paper also plumbed the depths with its Hillsborough coverage – an example of falling in with the police – and is still paying the price in terms of its sales on Merseyside.

Murdoch took over the Times (on a Friday, the 13th), and took it downmarket, shafting Harry Evans in the process, though he has bankrolled it to the tune of tens of millions a year for a while now.

His papers helped to turn round the fortunes of Margaret Thatcher when she was unpopular in her first years in power. The Sunday Times was hagiographic here, portraying her on the front of its magazine as Joan of Arc. Murdoch’s HarperCollins book arm later published Thatcher’s memoirs. And the Sun is seen as having saved John Major from electoral defeat in 1992 with its vitriolic campaign against Neil Kinnock – ‘If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights’ ran the front page on polling day.

Andrew Neil, looking on BBC TV these days as if his whole body is on botox, was working for Murdoch when he bought us never-mind-the-quality-feel-the-width journalism at the Sunday Times and adverts to recruit reporters who could write at length on any topic. That has certainly done journalism no good. As Matthew Engel writes in the British Journalism Review, ‘Over the past ten years the quantity has remained relatively stable,’ but ‘what worries me now is the quality.’ He was writing about newspaper sports pages in general, but it’s an argument that can be made for the rest of the Sunday Times.

Mirabelle launch cover

Mirabelle launch cover

Murdoch failed to make much headway in magazines (remember the embarrassing Mirabelle?), but brought us Sky TV and the Simpsons – though ruined the game of football in the process.

He is also one of the world’s most successful tax avoiders, managing to make billions in profits but using complex offshore company structures to avoid paying tax.

But the activities at the News of the World take us back to Hillsborough in terms of awfulness. For the editor and executives to say they did not know what was going on is no defence. They should have known. The paper was, as Rosie Boycott said on Newsnight, ‘200 miles into illegality’.  To be paying £100K to private eye Glen Mulcaire and not know what he was doing just beggars belief.  Phone-hacking comes under the RIPA Act – Regulation of Investigatory Powers 2000.  It’s what was used to jail News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and Mulcaire.

Boards of directors are paid to be responsible and ignorance is no defence under the law. It’s difficult to see Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson going quietly. Bigger fish than Mulcaire and Goodman are going to come into the frame.