Rupert Murdoch’s Watergate

By Alexander Cockburn

What began in Britain in 2005 as “a third-rate burglary” of voicemails, supposedly limited to a criminal invasion of privacy by a News of the World reporter and a private investigator, has flowered beautifully into a Level 7 scandal that threatens the careers of two of Rupert Murdoch’s top executives, not to mention the heir apparent to the News Corp. empire, James Murdoch. It even laps at the ankles of the 80-year-old magnate, threatening the final financial triumph that was scheduled to usher him into Valhalla.

In late April Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary in the coalition government led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, will rule on whether News Corp.’s bid for full control of the enormously profitable BSkyB network (News Corp. holds about 40 percent) merits a full inquiry by the Competition Commission.

In years gone by Murdoch used his newspaper empire as a bludgeon to crush regulatory obstructions. He has forged strategic alliances with Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Republican administrations on this side of the Atlantic. Rebekah Brooks, editor of News of the World between 2000 and 2003 and now chief executive of News Corp. subsidiary News International, is a regular informal visitor to Cameron at Chequers, the official country residence of Britain’s prime ministers.

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