LONDON -- Gordon Brown seems unbalanced. David Cameron is a “good family man.” Alex Salmond is amusing.
Those are media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s judgments of three of Britain’s most senior politicians -- a former prime minister, the current one and Scotland’s top leader, respectively -- delivered Wednesday during testimony before a British judicial investigation into media ethics.
Murdoch spent about four hours being quizzed on his role as one of Britain’s biggest newspaper proprietors and the power that comes with the job. Despite hobnobbing with prime ministers who crave endorsement from newspapers like the mass-market Sun, Murdoch stated with no apparent irony that he had never wielded any supposed influence in any way to benefit himself or his commercial interests.
“That is a complete myth, that I used the influence of the Sun or supposed political power to get favorable treatment,” he testified, dismissing plenty of indications and reams of criticism to the contrary.
The head of media giant News Corp. did, however, acknowledge that he has met with virtually every British premier of the last 30 years. He professed to be an admirer of Margaret Thatcher (who approved his bid to buy the Times of London) and to have spoken on many occasions with Tony Blair (whose participation in the invasion of Iraq he heartily supported).
Blair flew halfway around the world to try to win Murdoch’s backing for his Labor Party before elections in 1997 -- successfully, it turned out. Cameron, too, flew out to meet Murdoch and ingratiate himself.
Murdoch said he once met Cameron at a social gathering, where he noticed approvingly that Cameron took good care of his young son. About Cameron’s predecessor, Brown, he was less flattering, describing the former prime minister as an ill-tempered, unbalanced man who pledged “to make war” on News Corp. when Murdoch said his papers would call for a change of government at the next election.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry about that, Gordon, thank you for calling.’ End of subject,” Murdoch told the court.
Murdoch is to take the stand again Thursday. The examining lawyer is expected ask him about the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked his media empire and that sparked the judicial inquiry now underway.
Murdoch is also expected to face questions about News Corp.’s controversial bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting. Evidence that emerged at the inquiry Tuesday has caused a political furor over possibly improper conduct by the government minister in charge of deciding whether the bid was permissible under anti-monopoly rules. The minister, Jeremy Hunt, was supposed to be impartial but is now accused of secretly siding with Murdoch.
-- Henry Chu