This city has been the November host of a global tyrant, on whose rampages the sun never sets. His name is not George Bush but Rupert Murdoch.
Bush, acknowledged as their legitimately elected leader by at least some of his fellow citizens, presents so frail a political physique that it seems faintly ludicrous to impose on him even the conventional honorific “leader of the free world,” let alone the robust dignity of “tyrant.”
The President’s arrival in the United Kingdom was preceded by interviews with British newspapers in which he paid humble respect to those democratic traditions permitting Britons to assemble in vast numbers and to cover him with ridicule and abuse. He allowed himself to be scheduled for a possibly humiliating session with relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq.
The entire state visit, the first by a US President since Woodrow Wilson visited these shores in 1918, has been depicted in virtually every newspaper as a political embarrassment to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who issued the invitation many months ago, when he supposed that the two could preen over a successful operation in Iraq. It most certainly represents a low point in esteem here for the United States, at least as a nation led by a man regarded by a third of all Britons as perilously ignorant, running neck and neck with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il as a threat to world peace.
How different has been the brief tour of his British assets by Rupert Murdoch, on hand to crush a rising by some shareholders in British Sky Broadcasting, who claim the company is being run by Murdoch as a private fiefdom in a manner injurious to their interests.
At BSkyB’s annual general meeting on November 14, Murdoch conducted himself in a manner that would have won the approval of Vlad the Impaler, snarling at one dissident that if he didn’t like it he should sell his shares, and bickering openly with BSkyB’s chief executive, his son James. Investors, irked by a share price dead in the water for six years and virtually nothing offered in the way of dividends, did make their views clear. Murdoch was quoted by the Independent‘s Jeremy Warner as complaining to his wife at the end of the session that some had been “bloody insulting” and “seriously nasty,” but he carried the day, at least for now.
The global tyrant still had time that day to grant an interview to the BBC in which he placed Tony Blair on notice that the loyalty of Murdoch’s newspapers was not to be taken for granted. Referring to himself respectfully in the first person plural, Murdoch was kind enough to intimate that “we will not quickly forget the courage of Tony Blair” but then made haste to emphasize that he also enjoys friendly relations with the new Tory leader, Michael Howard.
On the mind of the global pirate is a topic one would have thought he’d have scant interest in, namely national sovereignty. Murdoch professed himself exercised by the matter of the EU Constitution. Slipping on the mantle of Britishness, Murdoch pronounced, “I don’t like the idea of any more abdication of our sovereignty in economic affairs or anything else.”