Neville Thurlbeck says Rupert Murdoch spiked stories that upset his friends
NEVILLE Thurlbeck, former News of the World Chief Reporter and News Editor, writes on his blog:
When Rupert Spiked the Splash
THERE has been a request on the blog for examples of stories where a lot of time and money was spent getting nowhere. Examples are rare but I can think of a couple.
The problem here of course is because the stories didn’t go through our rigorous legal process, it would be fatal to name the stars involved.
Oooooh! Go on…
The celebrities will sue and yours truly will be forced out of his ‘umble ‘ovel in the ‘ills and into the workhouse.
Publish and be damned. Or use twitter.
In September 2005, I was dispatched to Austria to prove an A list celebrity was conducting an extra-marital affair with a beautiful young socialite.
Because of the nature of the investigation, I had to stay in the Hotel Schloss Pichlarn in Irdning – for five weeks. It was a five star hotel and not inexpensive.
Photographs were taken and affidavits sought and obtained from several witnesses including a taxi driver. A tape recorded interview was obtained from a police officer who had moonlighted as a body guard. The girl was traced and she was persuaded to come on side.
She was interviewed and every minute piece of proof was combed over.
Then more pictures of the girl with make-up artists flown out to give her a final bit of polish.
Girl. Why do tabloid writers call gown women girls? Or is Thurbeck talking about Roman Polanski? In which case, as you were…
Finally, a lawyer was sent from London to handle the swearing of the affidavits in case an Austrian lawyer blabbed and leaked our big scoop. And all of the above had to be translated into English!
Crr. So. What happened?
The celebrity in question was in litigation with us on another matter. It was entering delicate stages and we didn’t want to damage the resolution process.
What about blackmail? Ye, it is illegal but so is phone hacking. In for a penny…
But this pales into insignificance compared to the experience of Phil Taylor, my former colleague and good friend. In 2002, Phil’s mission was to prove that the wife of one of the most famous celebrities on the planet had a secret past as a high class prostitute.
Princess Diana? David Furnish? What a magical mystery, eh, readers?
Phil, one of the best reporters I’ve come across, spent months travelling all over the world using his considerable skills persuading and cajoling her former mesdames, clients and friends to help him prove his story.
It was a daunting task. But he succeeded. The story was certain to land him Scoop of the Year. Phil was writing up his story in the office when the editor Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, went out for lunch with Rupert Murdoch. She returned with a face like a double bass.
Well, she did once front the Wonder Stuff. Music is in her being:
Phil was summoned to Rebekah’s office. The story was being spiked and she was extremely sorry but she couldn’t explain why. As a consolation, he was told he could take a holiday anywhere in the world with his family at the company’s expense… Rebekah was as devastated as Phil. But she kept her word and never revealed why she pulled the story…
A senior executive later told me that Rupert had asked her not to run it.
At the Leveson Inquiry into media standard, Sun editor Domonic Mohan said he “wanted to distance The Sun from its past ‘anything goes’ attitude”.
Rupert Murdoch’s reputation as a forceful, hands-on proprietor is undeserved, the editors of The Times and The Sunday Times said yesterday, telling the Leveson Inquiry he rarely called and had no influence over their decisions.
Years beforehand in the early 1990s when Rupert was launching Sky, he was hemorrhaging cash left, right and centre as the infant satellite broadcaster barely spluttered into life. Rupert had staked his family fortune on the venture and for a period, it looked like he might go under. Hard to believe now, but for those of us at News International at the time, we feared he might. The multi-millionaire celebrity in question injected much needed cash. Rupert never forgot it and the story was pulled.
Should we criticise him for it?
Unconditional loyalty to friends and those who give you a hand up when you are down is a priceless human virtue.
Oh. It’s rhetorical:
It shows the common humanity of the man. It’s what always set Rupert Murdoch apart from Robert Maxwell.
That and the Military Cross.
PS – wasn’t it Greg Miskiw, the assistant editor (news), who said in 2002:“…that is what we do – we go out and destroy other people’s lives”?