It was 1968 and I was a very young press secretary to the then Deputy Prime Minister “Black Jack” McEwen.
Rupert was about to make his first newspaper purchase overseas and he sought McEwen’s help to navigate his way through some financial regulations that would permit him to transfer the necessary funds to complete the deal.
I have been vividly reminded of the occasion because the paper in question is the one that has brought his vast media empire into such bad odour and may well bring it all tumbling down: “The News of the World”.
Murdoch sat with me at my desk while waiting to see the boss. And he was all smiles and bonhomie. He was even happier after their meeting when McEwen agreed to clear the way for the purchase and enlisted Prime Minister John Gorton in the cause.
At the time, I must say, I wondered why he’d want to buy such an awful rag. Even then it was the least reputable of all the UK papers. It lived on a diet of scandalous divorces and disgraced vicars. But the decision was actually quite revealing of a strain in the Murdoch character. He has always been attracted to grubbiness.
His first editor of “The Australian”, for example, was the notoriously foul-mouthed alcoholic, Maxwell Newton who later became a professional pornographer. And under Murdoch’s stewardship his London tabloids led the way ever downwards from genuine newspapers to the sexploitation rags they have now become.
His activities in America have been just as reprehensible. They are a more puritanical bunch than the Brits, so his race to the bottom there has taken a different path, if no less obscene. His Fox News scrapes the bottom of the political barrel with its perfervid promotion of the right wing reactionaries that people the Republican Party these days. Their ignorance and bigotry make Australia’s shock jocks seem almost civilised by comparison… almost.
His Australian tabloids are marginally more presentable than, say, his “New York Post”. However, beneath the facade they are just as virulent in their hate campaigns against their perceived political enemies, particularly Julia Gillard and her ministerial colleagues.
Indeed, they are the more dangerous simply because of their cosmetic credibility. And this applies even more pertinently to the broadsheet “The Australian” where the reporting of the regular Newspoll, for example, is invariably slanted to put Gillard and Co in the worst possible light.
So, will it all come crashing down in a journalistic replay of Richard Nixon’s Watergate calamity? Certainly the parallels are intriguing as the villain at the top jettisons those closest to him in a vain attempt to ensure his own survival.
Much will depend on the investigations now underway in America. If the FBI finds that News International committed criminal acts overseas, he could be in real trouble. But in the end, I suspect, it’s his shareholders who will have the final say.
One can but hope.