A New Sun Rises, Greek Debt and My Brush with a Private Detective

By Wilby, Peter | New Statesman (1996), February 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

A New Sun Rises, Greek Debt and My Brush with a Private Detective


Wilby, Peter, New Statesman (1996)


When in trouble, Rupert Murdoch's instinct is to spring a surprise on his critics and rivals. The launch of the Sun on Sunday shows that even as an octogenarian he retains, to quote his biographer Michael Wolff, the "strange combination of lack of doubt, impulsiveness, high-risk behaviour ... that makes him the central, even heroic, presence in his newsrooms". Equally his email to News International staff- "we will turn over [to the police] every piece of evidence we find [on illegal activities] ... because it is the-right thing to do" - shows how he takes the moral high ground when he needs to. It reminds me of how he received a journalists' delegation, which I led, after he moved his papers to Wapping. As sacked printers howled outside, Andrew Neil, then editor of the Sunday Times, was shouting at beleaguered hacks and rewriting their copy. We complained. With straight face and hand on heart, Murdoch said: "Editors should never interfere with journalists' copy."

The latest developments do not change my view that a sale of Murdoch's UK newspapers is the almost certain end of this drama. His email promises he will stay "with you all, in London, for the next several weeks", but nothing more. Any longer commitment would have alienated his shareholders and most of his News Corporation executives. A successful launch of the Sun on Sunday ensures a higher sale price.

Zero sum

Sadly, it seems that I am of no interest to the Murdoch papers and therefore unable to claim a lump sum from the great man for having my phone hacked. However, a source - not a police officer - reports that a private detective invoiced the Daily Express [pounds sterling]863.50 for information about me in September 2007 when, in a Guardian column, I disobligingly described the Express as "a hopeless newspaper that couldn't tell you the time of day" (sorry, chaps, only joking). Nothing, so far as I can discover, was published. Given that the detective, according to my source, may have provided nothing more than my telephone number - which ' is in the directory--I am reluctant to capitalise on my new status as a "victim".

History lesson

As Greece struggles to meet the terms of its rescue package, German ministers might adopt a gentler attitude if they were to think of its debt repayments as reparations. Germany was required to pay reparations after the First World War as compensation for war damage. They were never fully nor even largely paid, and they were finally written off in 1932 after 13 years of wrangling. The Germans hardly suffered at all because they borrowed far more on the private markets in the 1920s - which they didn't repay either - than they paid out. But they resented the imposition and, for many years, blamed every misfortune on the burden of reparations and other provisions of the Treaty of Versailles 1919. We all know how that ended.

In a Branson pickle

Tories, and particularly Etonians, once disapproved of upstarts. …

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