Some people are surprised that Rupert Murdoch sat in secretly on Michael Goveâs interview with/colonoscopy of Donald Trump. But if you look closely at the photo at the end of The Shining, youâll see Murdoch was sitting in at the Overlook Hotelâs July 4th Ball in 1921.
Earlier historical appearances of the News Corp boss include the anamorphic deathâs head in Hans Holbeinâs The Ambassadors, while Hieronymus Boschâs The Garden of Earthly Delights was essentially a game of Whereâs Uncle Rupert? in the nursery of whichever inbred and porphyrically homicidal European royal house commissioned it.
Elsewhere, Murdochâs wifeâs ex depicted him in song decades before they even met. As Rupert whispered in Jerry Hallâs ear when he finally pulled on this thread and drew her into his orbit: âPlease allow me to introduce myself â¦ Iâm a man of wealth and taste. Iâve been around for a long, long year; stole many a manâs soul and his faith.â
For all the finesse of Rupertâs surprise manifestations, though, perhaps his greatest trick has always been convincing people he didnât need to appear. Having supported his bid for the Times and the Sunday Times in exchange for a cheerleader, Margaret Thatcher came to treat him as a Reagan-esque friend, inviting him several times to Chequers for family Christmas. Despite all this, would you believe that she never mentioned him once in her memoirs?
And so with Gove, whose 1,800-word behind-the-scenes account of his Trump interview [paywall] failed to mention a certain someone. Not that he denied us a few deathless observations. For instance: âMy colleague Kai Diekmann, of the German newspaper Bild, and I were whisked up to the president-electâs office in a lift plated with reflective golden panels and operated by an immensely dignified African-American attendant kitted out in frock coat and white cotton gloves.â
Yowch. We now know that if reflective walls could talk â indeed, if âimmensely dignifiedâ African Americans could â weâd be adding another name to the liftâs passenger manifest. And if the CSI guys enhanced the notorious picture of Gove and Trump doing a thumbs-up, youâd probably see Murdochâs face in the glass of the Playboy cover showing the future president and a Playmate he didnât cursorily grope when the shoot was over.
Still, now that Murdoch is reported as the one who orchestrated the interview, certain things make more sense. Goveâs description of Diekmann as âmy colleagueâ felt odd, considering they work for newspapers owned by different proprietors â but weâll now assume they are colleagues in what may be euphemised as âa larger enterpriseâ. I canât work out which colleague comes off worse from the various sins of omission. Is it Diekmann, who didnât do the thumbs-up, but turns out to sit on the board set up in 1981 to keep the Times free from proprietorial interference? He seems to have decided that the best way to keep someone at armâs length is to quietly accept scoop favours from them.
Or it is Gove? Back in the day, he was once described as a wholly owned subsidiary of David Cameron and George Osborne, he now feels like a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch. There was, you may recall, an intervening period of six mad days, during which he imagined himself a wholly self-owned big man. This period is known as the Cuban Heel Crisis, and was mercifully brought to a peaceful resolution by a disgusted Conservative party.
As for Murdoch hanging around while Gove performed the arse-lick on Trump, I guess the boss likes to watch. In Julie Burchillâs novel Ambition, the newspaper magnate is a voyeur who arranges for his editorial protege to get fucked by a cavalcade of unsuitables in various international locations while he spectates. There is certainly something of that ambitious surrender to Goveâs interviewing style, which by the sixth paragraph I could only hear as a panted, âUse me! Oh God â¦ USE ME!â
Whichever way you slice it, Murdoch is back â having never, of course, gone away. At the time of the phone-hacking scandal and its fallout, it was amazing how many people declared that his dark magic had somehow been vanquished. Back then, I lost count of all the think-pieces about Murdochâs influence asserting that âthe spell is brokenâ, written by people who apparently thought we were dealing with Paul Daniels.
A few days ago, an analysis revealed that senior executives from Murdochâs companies met the prime minister or chancellor 10 times in the year to last September. Still, we must wish Ed Miliband luck with his call for Ofcom to launch an inquiry into Rupertâs bid for full ownership of Sky.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times revealed this week that Ivanka Trump had until very recently served as a trustee for Fox and News Corp shares owned by Murdochâs youngest two daughters â and it is reported that the once-hostile Murdoch now speaks with Trump two or three times a week. Awwww! He has his first president.
Heâs had prime ministers before, obviously; our lot have all rolled over for him, and he has consequently always regarded their comings and goings as the shuffling of junior personnel. But a president is definite escalation.
When Trump-hostile Fox anchor Megyn Kelly departed for NBC, Murdoch personally selected her pro-Trump replacement, Tucker Carlson. Editors, sweetly, are less dictated to â but then, Murdochâs lieutenants tend to anticipate his needs. Maybe itâs why a story about the QuÃ©bec City mosque attack was not described as terrorism on the Times front page, which headlined the story âStudent who trolled refugees is charged over mosque murdersâ.
Maybe itâs why the Wall Street Journal editor banned reporters from describing Trumpâs immigration ban as relating to âMuslim-majorityâ nations, relenting only after widespread criticism. And maybe that in turn is why the WSJ is never described as âfailing!â by Trump, even though it is laying off staff, while the âfailing!â New York Times and Washington Post have seen huge subscriber increases and are actively hiring.
Still, please donât be left with the impression that Rupertâs dutiful second guessers are always sweating the small stuff, like wars and takeovers and whatnot. When I worked at the Sun, I once had an anodyne diary item about Barbra Streisand pulled, on the basis that one executive had â only once, and some years previously â spotted a Streisand CD on one of Murdochâs desks. Better safe than sorry, and all that.