Image for The pervasive power of Rupert Murdoch. The Bullying and Hypocrisy of Andy Coulson

In this first extract from his new book, the reporter who broke the phone hacking story looks at Rebekah Brooks’s 2009 wedding – and how it was a perfect display of the nature of Rupert Murdoch’s hold on British life

On a bright Saturday afternoon in the middle of June 2009, in the rolling green downland of west Oxfordshire, there is a wedding party. Several hundred men and women are gathered by the side of a great lake, 350 metres long, crowned at the far end with an 18th-century boathouse disguised as a Doric temple. The sun pours down. The guests sparkle like the champagne in their gleaming flute glasses. The bride arrives to the sound of Handel’s “Rejoice!”, written for the arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Among the onlookers, two men lean their heads towards each other.

“So what do you make of all this?” one asks quietly.

“It is a statement,” says the other, in an equally discreet whisper, “of power.”

The man who wants to know what he should make of all this is a senior member of Gordon Brown’s Labour government, one of a small group of ministers scattered through the gathering. Alongside them is a group of other senior politicians from the Conservative opposition, including its leader, David Cameron. The other man in the whispered conversation is a famously aggressive national newspaper editor, a creator of storms, a destroyer of reputations – and just one of a substantial collection of editors, former editors, political editors, political consultants, newspaper executives, TV presenters, political lobbyists, political PR specialists and political correspondents, all now pressed together by the lakeside. This is a gathering of the country’s power elite, and yet the power that is being stated here is not that of the guests.

As the Christian wedding blessing begins, there is an extraordinary interruption. A large car with dark windows arrives at the top of the slope that leads down through the trees to the lake and, instead of halting there with all of the Bentleys and Mercedes (and the chauffeurs slowly baking in the sun), it ploughs on down the hill, its engine horribly loud, its presence horribly wrong, and when several hundred heads turn to understand the commotion, they see the doors of the intruding vehicle open to reveal the familiar form of the prime minister, Gordon Brown, arriving late.

Brown starts to move among the guests, but his body language screams his discomfort ...

A further teaser ...

Murdoch creates media triangles. Country by country, he has bought a downmarket tabloid (the Sun in the UK, the New York Post in the US, the Herald Sun and the Telegraph in Australia); then he has found himself a quality title (the London Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Australian); and alongside them, he has locked in a TV network (BSkyB, Fox in the US, Foxtel in Australia). Each triangle in its own way is the foundation of great wealth and political power.

News Corp’s reach is enormous. Through News International, it owns the four titles that together capture 37% of Britain’s newspaper readers; plus 39.1% of the BSkyB satellite TV business, beaming movies and sports and the Sky News channel into 10m homes in the UK and Ireland. It supplies 60% of Australia’s daily papers and 70% on Sundays. Its TV holdings have spread across Europe (west and east), across southern Africa and into Latin America. Its Asian TV network, Star, reaches all of India and China, most of the rest of Asia and now, through Star Select, the Middle East, too. News Corp’s TV channels broadcast movies made by its own studios and then reviewed by its own journalists in any of its hundreds of magazines. News Corp broadcasts sports whose rights it owns, played by sportsmen whose teams it owns, in games whose results are published by newspapers it owns.

Seeing how Murdoch has hoarded media outlets like a miser gathers gold, outsiders often imagine that he behaves like a caricature media boss, who jabs a finger in the face of the dependent politician and dictates “how things are gonna be if they wanna stay healthy”. In this version of events, the mogul forces the government to cut a deal. He agrees not to attack the government’s policies (and not to expose the grubby personal secrets of its members); in return, the government agrees to reshape its policies to suit the mogul’s ideology; the mogul then whips his compliant reporters into line, and they produce the political propaganda he requires; the government rewards the mogul with lucrative favours for his business.

And yet government ministers, special advisers and civil servants who have dealt with Murdoch, and executives, editors and journalists who have worked for him, tell a different story. The difference between the two stories is itself a clue to one part of the mogul’s method.

But above all, the fear is generated by the people he hires to work for him. “He loves thugs,” as one of his senior executives puts it. Roger Ailes at Fox TV; Kelvin MacKenzie at the Sun; Col Allan at the New York Post; Sam Chisholm at Sky TV: they all came out of the same box, marked “bully”. And when Murdoch’s men bully, their victims really feel it. All these members of the power elite have seen what Murdoch’s news outlets can do, using their stories in the same way muggers in back alleys use their boots, to kick a victim to pulp. “Monstering”, they call it – a savage and prolonged public attack on a target’s life, often aimed at the most private and sensitive part of their existence, their sexual behaviour, inflicting maximum pain and maximum humiliation.

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Nick Davies’ Second Extract: Bullying and hypocrisy – Andy Coulson’s reign at the News of the World