The stresses and strains at the top of NewsCorp are beginning to look like King Lear in slow motion. When will ageing
King Rupert let go the reins of power and who will be best placed to benefit? The tension burst into view when the heir-presumptive James Murdoch and News International’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks invaded the offices of The Independent to complain in person to Editor-in Chief Simon Kelner about a recent front page knocking Murdoch.
This episode is a symptom of two shifts, quite apart from what it reveals about the politicking at court of King Rupert. This is the first British election in which newspaper endorsements are being openly discussed as ineffectual. The decline in their importance has been going on for some time, but this is the first time that they are being so openly discounted and even reckoned to be negative, at least in the case of The Sun’s backing for David Cameron. I’ve read that the FT has a mischevous graph charting Cameron’s poll drift since that loyalty switch (but I can’t find it – is it an urban myth? Please send link). All this reflects the shrinking clout of printed daily papers.
The second shift is one of the factors behind the startling surge of the Liberal Democrats in the polls. Gordon Brown and David Cameron are both seen as members of a discredited political class. Nick Clegg isn’t. (The hammering Clegg is getting from Tory-inclined papers strengthen the persona he wants to project as an insurgent outsider.) Newspapers are lumped into this political nomenklatura viewed as closed, manipulative and concerned with the preservation of its own priviledges and power. New media aren’t seen inside that elite and they don’t do old-fashioned pompous stuff like formal endorsements. Disenchantment with politicians and papers is always around. Only sometimes does this resentment peak to become vocal and active. This is one of those moments. The alarm being shown by James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks over the clear signs that Cameron’s moment may slip away illustrates that there are plenty of influential people who don’t yet quite get it.
I’m not endorsing this anti-politics feeling, just underlining its importance this time round. New media isn’t more accurate or reliable than legacy media. To consider Nick Clegg, the only party leader who has done nothing in his career outside politics, as an “outsider” makes no sense. He’s surfing the zeitgeist is all.