Isn’t it just grand that older folk have embraced the Internet with such gusto? Why, Gramps and Granny can now Skype with the far-flung grandkids, and bitter octogenarian megalomanic billionaires can tweet about all the “toffs”, the “scumbags”, and the “lying” who’ve tried to bring their media empires down.
Bitter octogenarian megalomanic billionaires like, well, Rupert Murdoch.
He’s had a Twitter account since December 2011. And, what fun, he’s amassed 342,000 followers since then, tweeting on all manner of topics. But he reserves particular venom for those he perceives as enemies, traitors and anyone who stand in his way: the BBC, The New York Times, Australia’s Fairfax, Hugh Grant and other phone-hacking victims, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Obama administration, China.
He’s even deployed Twitter to have a crack at those News Corporation shareholders demanding better standards of morality and governance within the Murdoch fief, tweeting last Thursday that, “any shareholders with complaints should take profits and sell!”
Many of his 583 tweets seem to reveal more about the world’s most powerful media mogul than any number of biographies penned about his controversial career.
On one October weekend, he took aim at the “lying” White House, Vice-President Joe Biden and Washington’s UN ambassador Susan Rice, a China apparently “in crisis”, “scumbag celebrities” and David Cameron, and the BBC, while taking a glancing swipe at “millennials” — younger Generation-Y types “who don’t read or watch established media”.
In a flood of tweets over the weekend, did the cranky Murdoch have a good word to say about anyone? Yes, about the Afghan-Australian media tyro Saad Mohseni, for organising Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban soccer competition in Kabul. Mohseni is a Murdoch business partner.
It’s instructive to deconstruct some more of Murdoch’s recent tweets, like this one, sent in the midst of Uncle Rupert’s Excellent Trolling Weekend.
The “scumbag celebrities” that a graceless Murdoch refers to are all victims of News’s phone hacking — the actor Hugh Grant; the Welsh singer Charlotte Church (who sang, unpaid, at Murdoch’s 1999 wedding to Wendi Deng) and the British ex-policewoman, now crime TV presenter, Jacqui Hames.
The reference to toffs seems another barb aimed at David Cameron, Prime Minister and Old Etonian, and the clubby Oxbridge types that populate the British establishment.
Murdoch has long riffed on “toffs” in the class-encrusted UK — playing that he and his papers are at one with the downtrodden underdog, champions of the working class. Which is curious when you’re a billionaire named Rupert who was schooled at Australia’s Eton — Geelong Grammar — before reading PPE at Worcester College, Oxford, and then inheriting a newspaper.
Murdoch blames Cameron for needlessly advancing the Leveson inquiry into press standards — primarily an inquiry into News International — and the various criminal investigations targeting News.
Murdoch loves that London Mayor Boris Johnson seems to be angling for Cameron’s job as Tory leader and PM. No matter that Johnson is another Old Etonian/Oxonian who exudes even more entitled privilege than Cameron, the mayor and his office have dismissed the News phone-hacking “hysteria” as “codswallop” and weren’t afraid to host the pariah Murdoch at the Olympic pool in August.
As you do, Rupert paid Boris’s hospitality back with a tweet:
Murdoch has taken any opportunity to tweet revenge on Cameron, be it highlighting corruption in his party last March or his repeated support for Scottish independence and Edinburgh’s First Minister Alex Salmond — another of the rare politicians who’s happy to meet with Murdoch — and get his endorsement.
Murdoch can only be taking the proverbial when he cautions that “transparency [is] under attack”.
It’s true that the British media and its role as the fourth estate is threatened by proposals that could wind back freedoms once regarded as sacrosanct. But the reason why that’s happening stems largely from the unethical practices at the Murdoch newspapers in Britain, practices that have resulted in criminal charges.
Had there been no phone hacking, effectively sanctioned at News, there’d be no national revulsion over Milly Dowler, there’d be no Leveson and there’d be little need for Murdoch’s “scumbag celebrities” to meet the Prime Minister urging him to legislate for press reform.
Murdoch’s weekend hypocrisy so enraged Neil Morrison, a British expatriate language teacher in Japan, who follows Murdoch’s Twitter account, that he tweeted the following back at Murdoch:
Told UK’s Cameron receiving scumbag celebrities pushing for even more privacy laws. Trust the toffs! Transparency under attack. Bad.
@rupertmurdoch “scumbags”? And your journalists and executives are what? You are abso;utely fucking pathetic.
Morrison told The Global Mail, “it just pissed me off. I mean Murdoch is the real scumbag here.”
To Morrison’s surprise, Murdoch responded to his tweet:
At this point, it’s perhaps useful to be reminded of the remark Murdoch made in some dudgeon to the Leveson inquiry, about the culture of lying. It was during an exchange with the inquiry’s lead counsel, Robert Jay QC, who quizzed Murdoch about the “perception” that he misuses his influence as a media baron in his dealings with politicians.
That was a myth, Murdoch snorted, telling Jay, “You know, after a while, if these lies are repeated again and again, they sort of catch on, and particularly if we’re successful, it sort of — you know, there are people who are a little resentful and grab on to them. But they just aren’t true.”
Knowing chortles ricocheted around the chattering classes. As prominent media commentator Roy Greenslade pointed out, “Isn’t this just what Murdoch’s newspapers have done to people down the years — perpetuating untruths through drip-drip-drip repetition and thus creating myths?”
Return to last weekend’s Twitter-fest, and Murdoch’s tweet to Morrison seems to reference both Hugh Grant’s 1995 dalliance with the Hollywood prostitute Estella Thompson, aka Divine Brown, and that Grant became a father last year.
The problem with Murdoch’s tweet is that it is wrong. Rupert’s mindset, revealed at Leveson — “after a while if these lies are repeated again and again, they sort of catch on” — seems to betray his Twitter tactics.
The fact is that Grant — another posh Oxonian, usefully for Murdoch’s anti-toff riff — wasn’t, as Rupert exclaimed, “arrested for indecency” by LA police on “major LA highways”. He was arrested in his car, in flagrante delicto certainly, while parked at the corner of Hawthorne and Curson Avenues, one of the quietest and least trafficked residential neighbourhoods of West Hollywood.
Notwithstanding what transpired in Grant’s car between consenting, single adults, the police version — also known as the truth — is a very different account than the titillating version the well-followed Rupert put about on Twitter last Sunday.
As an LA police statement of the day described it, Grant had picked Brown up on Sunset Boulevard and “they drove a short distance to a residential street and engaged in an act of lewd conduct. Vice officers walked up to the car and observed the act.”
Maybe Rupert is still grumpy about the fuss Grant’s actions caused at the time. When Grant had his proverbial collar felt, he was in LA promoting the only movie he’s ever made for Murdoch’s Fox Studios — the eminently forgettable Nine Months.
As for Murdoch’s suggestion that Grant is a deadbeat dad abandoning his “love child’s”, (sic), well, that’s not true either.
Grant has admitted he had a fleeting affair with Chinese actress Tinglan Hong, which resulted in the unplanned birth last year of baby Tabitha. But, until Rupert’s weekend tweet, no-one had suggested that Grant has been anything other than a supportive and happy father.
His publicist said the day after Tabitha’s birth, “I can confirm that Hugh Grant is the delighted father of a baby girl. He and the mother had a fleeting affair and while this was not planned, Hugh could not be happier or more supportive.”
As Grant himself told The Guardian last March, “I’m absolutely thrilled to have had her, I really am. And I feel a better person.” And to the US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres a month later, “Now that I have a child, it is life changing. I recommend it!”
Doubtless Rupert would be the first to insist that words and facts are important, so let’s look at some of Murdoch’s other tweets to see what sort of example this powerful media mogul sets for his 50,000-plus staff.
There’s his weekend take on the BBC, long Murdoch’s Enemy Number One in Britain:
Murdoch is referencing the scandal now engulfing the BBC: the appalling evidence of paedophilia and molestation by one of its most popular presenters, the late Jimmy Savile. British police are pursuing 340 lines of inquiry as new victims reveal daily how they were abused by the predatory Savile.
The revelations about the once-loved Savile have shocked the nation, prompting prominent media lawyer Mark Stephens to tweet:
For Murdoch, Savile presents a rich seam to mine via Twitter. Mark Thompson recently became chief executive of another of Murdoch’s great nemeses, The New York Times, after eight years as BBC director-general in London. Like the string of BBC bosses before him, Thompson claims to have known nothing of Savile’s evils, committed at the enterprise Britons like to call ‘Auntie’.
Murdoch’s already had a little crack at Thompson-NYT over Twitter:
But as for Murdoch’s description of the BBC as the “biggest, most powerful organization” in Britain, that’s not true either.
There’s the government, the Trades Union Congress, the Anglican Church — all way bigger and, arguably, more powerful than the BBC. In fact, the BBC is a relative minnow when compared to, well, News Corporation. The BBC has 22,000 employees and operates on revenues of just over £4 billion. News Corporation has more than 50,000 staff and last year generated revenues of £20.99 billion — which makes it around five times the size of the BBC. Yes, the BBC is watched by more Britons than Murdoch’s BSkyB’s 11 million subscribers, but the BBC doesn’t also own near 40 per cent of Britain’s newspaper market.
There’s another area in which News outstrips the BBC; in former staff arrested for phone hacking and bribing police — more than 40 at last count, including its former chief executive in Britain and two former editors. That compares with none at the BBC.
From the thumbs of another person, Murdoch’s tweets might be ignorable hyperbole, lost among the 400 million tweets made each day.
But it’s not another person, it’s Rupert Murdoch, whose clan and camp followers have waged a relentless, bitter war against the mostly license-funded BBC, its imitators (such as Australia’s ABC) and supporters. They’d like nothing more than for the BBC and its culture to be broken up, providing clear air for further BSkyB expansion and influence.
When Murdoch slags the BBC, he seems to be implying that the “big and powerful” BBC will get through the Savile saga legally and politically unscathed. But the Savile saga is barely a week old and, as the BBC hierarchy painfully examines itself to discover how and why a Jimmy Savile was able to operate there, undetected, for 40 years, it’s far too early to make any judgment as to its outcome. Yet, almost dog-whistling, Murdoch’s tweets echo the victim culture cultivated by News in relation to the phone-hacking drama — that he’s hardly done by, whereas the well-connected toffs will get off scot-free.
When Murdoch and son James appeared before British parliamentarians investigating phone hacking in July last year, he started proceedings by claiming it was the “most humble day of my life”. Notwithstanding the persuasion of lawyers seated behind him, he seemed sincere. And many of us even felt sympathy for Murdoch Sr when that idiot cream-pied him.
That was then. It seems that Rupert’s humility, if it were ever thus, only lasted as long as it took him to start a Twitter account.