The legendary American journalist Jack Germond once compared writing a newspaper editorial to pissing in a dark-blue suit: “It gives you a nice warm feeling, but nobody notices.”
Well, perhaps. But what if you write 175 of them?
It’s one of the more remarkable statistics from the Iraq invasion, that in the weeks leading up to the greatest foreign policy debacle in modern times, all 175 Murdoch papers serendipitously decided that war would be rather a good thing.
To explain how the Borg suddenly became involved in journalism, you need look no further than Rupert Murdoch’s own public statements. At that time, he explained to the Daily Telegraph: “We can’t back down now, where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam… I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly…”
When the organ grinds, the monkeys dance. Or, rather, they type, sitting down at their word processors to tap out the requisite falsehoods about WMDs and al-Qaeda links and the rest of it.
Incidentally, Brendan Nelson wasn’t the first to inadvertently blurt out the centrality of oil to the Iraq adventure. Though the Murdoch editorialists chose not to pursue the theme, Rupert explained the blood/oil connection back in 2003.
“The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy,” he announced, “would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country.”
That’s all by the way of backdrop to the report in Britain’s Independent today, which notes that Tony Blair spoke to Rupert Murdoch three times in the nine days before the invasion. We don’t know what they said but the editorials in the British Sun – one of the biggest selling newspaper in the world – provide something of a hint.
The PM and the magnate chatted on 11 March. The following day, the Sun explained that: “Like a cheap tart who puts price before principle, money before honour, Jacques Chirac struts the streets of shame. The French President’s vow to veto the second resolution [on Iraq] at the United Nations – whatever it says – puts him right in the gutter.”
Tony gave Rupert another tingle on 13 March.
On 14 March, the Sun continued: “Charlatan Jacques Chirac is basking in cheap applause for his ‘Save Saddam’ campaign – but his treachery will cost his people dear. This grandstanding egomaniac has inflicted irreparable damage on some of the most important yet fragile structures of international order.”
On 19 March, Tony was back on the blower. The next morning, the Sun told its three million readers:
Time has run out for Saddam Hussein. His day of reckoning is at hand. The war on Iraq has begun… The courage and resilience of Tony Blair and George Bush will now be put to the ultimate test.
What conversations did Rupert have with John Howard at that time? We don’t know. But, given the polls, perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, in April this year, Murdoch met with Kevin Rudd and declared that he’d make a fine PM. Presumably, they exchanged phone numbers.