By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, Associated Press
The phone hacking scandal roiling Britain has cast a fresh light on the cozy ties and outsized political clout of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of the sprawling News Corp. empire, which includes extensive media properties in Britain, the United States and other countries.
Murdoch, 81, has for decades enjoyed friendly relations with a succession of British leaders. Here's a look at the connections between Murdoch — sometimes referred to as Britain's permanent Cabinet member — and British political leaders of all stripes.
It was Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who in the 1980s allowed Murdoch to add The Times and The Sunday Times to his stable of media companies, which including The Sun and the News of the World. Murdoch has denied making any special agreements, but his papers strongly backed her conservative, anti-union policies.
Murdoch's The Sun tabloid was credited by many with helping Thatcher's Conservative successor, John Major, and his party win the 1992 parliamentary elections. When it looked like Major would lose to Labour's Neil Kinnock, The Sun published a bold front-page headline: "If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights."
Murdoch told Britain's judge-led inquiry into media ethics Wednesday that he regards former Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labour Party as a personal friend. When he was in power, Blair telephoned Murdoch repeatedly before committing UK troops to the Iraq war in 2003 — a decision strongly endorsed by Murdoch's papers. Blair also reportedly was on good terms with Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch's former News of the World editor and his News International chief executive who resigned amid the scandal. Blair is also godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch's daughters.
Murdoch says he felt a "personal connection" with Brown, Blair's successor as prime minister, and holds him in "high personal esteem." But Murdoch admitted to the Leveson inquiry that his relationship with Brown suffered after The Sun switched its support from Brown's Labour Party to the Conservatives in September 2009. Brown had initially resisted Murdoch's influence, but later attended the wedding of Murdoch executive Brooks.
Murdoch's ties to Cameron, Britain's current Conservative prime minister, have been well-documented — from meetings at Downing Street to social engagements. Murdoch visited Cameron shortly after he took office in May 2010 — the only formal meeting Cameron held at Downing Street that month aside from those with foreign dignitaries. Government records show that Murdoch executives have held 26 meetings with Cameron since he was elected and were also invited to his country retreat. Cameron also is chummy with Brooks and has gone horseback riding with Brooks' husband. Rupert Murdoch's son James, Brooks and ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson were all guests at the prime minister's country house, Chequers.
Emails surfaced this week showing that government minister Jeremy Hunt may have gone out of his way to secretly back Murdoch's multibillion-pound (dollar) bid for full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. This occurred when Hunt was supposed to be neutral. Emails also appeared to capture Hunt's office providing Murdoch with sensitive intelligence on his political opponents and offering advice on how best to present his bid, which ultimately failed.
Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, resigned from the Murdoch tabloid in 2007 when a reporter was convicted of phone hacking. He then became Cameron's communications chief until a new wave of phone-hacking allegations emerged and he had to resign in early 2011. Still, Coulson stayed at Cameron's country estate two months after he resigned.
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