Years Ago, Murdoch Said That "You Tell These Bloody Politicians Whatever They Want to Hear" and Afterwards "You Don't Worry about It." (Media Magnate Rupert Murdoch)(Column)

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Rupert Murdoch's bid for Manchester United brings to mind the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Eddie Spearitt and his son Adam, aged 14, were there. "At first we were so excited to have got in," Eddie told me recently. "Then I realised we couldn't get out." They were crushed in each other's arms. Adam was one of 96 fans who died in Hillsborough stadium that day, the direct consequence, said the official inquiry, of "overcrowding . . . and the lack of police control".

Murdoch's poltroons were having none of that. By the following Tuesday the editor of the Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, was at his desk designing yet another witty front page. He scribbled, "THE TRUTH" in huge letters. Beneath it he wrote: "Some fans picked pockets of victims . . . some fans urinated on the brave cops [and] viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims."

None of it was true. "As I lay in my hospital bed," Eddie said, "the nurses kept the Sun away from me. It's bad enough when you lose your 14-year-old son because you're treating him to a football match. But since then, I've had to defend him against all the lies printed by Murdoch." When a boycott of the Sun caused a 40 per cent drop in Murdoch's revenue on Merseyside, he ordered MacKenzie to make a public apology. This he did on Radio 4, mysteriously dropping his "sarf London" accent. In 1996 he retracted it.

Rupert Murdoch's ethos was demonstrated early in his career. In 1964 his Australian tabloid, the Sydney Daily Mirror, published the diary of a 14-year-old schoolgirl under the headline, "WE HAVE SCHOOLGIRL'S ORGY DIARY". A 13-year-old boy, who was identified, was expelled from the same school. Shortly afterwards, he hanged himself from his mother's clothes line. The girl was subsequently examined by a doctor from the Child Welfare Department and found to be a virgin. The "diary" was the product of a fertile adolescent imagination.

Richard Neville, the counterculture writer, went to see the boy's family and was moved and angered by their grief. "It seemed," he wrote in his autobiography, "[that some] publishers could get away with murder ... or almost." Neville decided to confront Murdoch, who told him, "Everybody makes mistakes."

Murdoch's apologies are similar to his "guarantees", one of which an American BSkyB minion gave last week. There would be no conflict of interest, he "assured" football fans, between Murdoch's control of the only company with the rights to televise Premiership football in England and his ownership of the country's most powerful and influential football club.

Some years ago Murdoch told his American biographer Thomas Kiernan: "One thing you must understand, Tom. You tell these bloody politicians whatever they want to hear, and once the deal is done, you don't worry about it. …