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11/07/11

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How Rupert Murdoch is drawing Michael Gove into the News International phone hacking scandal

For decades, Rupert Murdoch has dominated British public life to such an extent that politicians treated him with deference and fear, conscious that his News Corp and News International media organizations could make or break careers and even manipulate election victory via the support of The Sun and the News of the World.

Thanks to the brilliant campaigning journalist Nick Davies at The Guardian, which exposed the phone hacking scandal and cover-up involving politicians, the press and the police, Murdoch’s control of politics and public life in this country is now unravelling. Fighting for survival, and seeing himself persona non grata by the very politicians who until very recently were still queuing up to curry favour, Murdoch and his executives have become as toxic a brand as the News of the World became, shunned by advertisers and reviled by the public.

George Osborne persuaded David Cameron to import the ex-NoW editor Andy Coulson deep into the inner sanctum of No. 10, despite the questions hanging over him, following his resignation from the Murdoch empire after royal reporter Clive Goodman was sentenced to jail for phone hacking. But through Coulson, NI had a say in Conservative Party decision-making and in 2010, the support of The Sun delivered the ultimate prize to Cameron.

At his recent press conference, the Prime Minister failed to take the vital steps needed to extricate himself from the sordid alliance. But there may be complicated reasons for his inaction. There are a number of pro-News International members in the government. Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, now dithering over the sale of BSkyB; Ed Vaizey, his deputy; Andrew Cooper, Director of Strategy at No. 10, George Osborne and Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Will Michael Gove also be drawn into the sleaze? In 2009, the Conservatives published a list of shadow cabinet ministers outside interests. News International were very generous to him, paying £5,000 a month for his services as journalist for one hour a week. That’s £1,250 a week. Contrast this with the £250 he received from Scotland on Sunday.

Gove and News Corp also share a common admiration of Joel Klein. Klein was the controversial New York Chancellor for Education between 2002 and 2010, when he implemented a series of reforms, closing down schools, opening up Charter Schools and implementing a standardized test-based formula to measure not just student’s progress, but teachers’ performance. Gove and his policy adviser-in-opposition-turned-civil-servant Sam Freedman have openly applauded Klein’s achievements in New York City.

A few weeks ago, Freedman drew positive attention to what Klein’s detractors would call a cynical and self-serving article he wrote for The Atlantic, justifying the decisions he made in New York. Klein was subsequently praised by Gove in one of his speeches on schools reform here. Just last week, Freedman stated that the Free School policy used NYC Charter schools as its model. Perhaps he was reluctant to state the government took inspiration from the Charter School model as a whole, since research has revealed that it is not the miraculous success Obama, the school reformers such as Klein and Michelle Rhee and Gove himself would claim it to be.

Joel Klein left his job as Chancellor of New York City Schools, to take up positions as Executive Vice-President in the office of the chairman and CEO of News Corp’s Education Division, apparently to develop software and other educational tools that would lead to a “huge transformation in the field of education”, bringing the Murdoch empire at the forefront of using technology to deliver instruction. His critics claim that more teaching will be computer based and that teachers will become more and more redundant in this landscape. Although there is no evidence for this, other detractors wonder if this is beginning of Murdoch establishing a Chain of Charter Schools, especially since he had made a huge philanthropic contribution to the Leadership Academy in New York, one of Klein’s signal pet projects.

But the news last week that Murdoch has appointed Klein to “provide important oversight and guidance” as his company “fully cooperate with the police in all investigations”, puts him firmly into the centre of the phone hacking scandal that has already led to numerous arrests, claimed the careers of several high profile individuals and highlighted the cosy relationship between News Corp and government ministers, including Michael Gove, pro-News International and until recently on its payroll.

His admiration of Murdoch man Joel Klein – either as school reformer or effective cleaner up of Murdoch/government sleaze – could be put under scrutiny and to the test in the months or years to come.

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  1. Neville Austin says:

    “News International were very generous to him, paying £5,000 a month for his services as journalist for one hour a week. ” For how long did this go on? Why has it not been widely headlined in the press?

    • James Hall says:

      Why has it not been widely headlined?? Ha Ha. Of course it was headlined every week: it was a by-lined column….Duh!

  2. An interesting addendum to this story.

    Back in June, the New York Daily News
    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/education/2011/06/09/2011-06-09_new_york_state_department_of_education_awards_news_corp_company_27m_nobid_contra.html reported that the State Education Department could be awarding a $27 million no-bid contract to a company Joel Klein oversees. The money – part of the state’s $700 million in Race to the Top winnings – will go to Wireless Generation, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to develop software to track student test scores, among other things. Wireless Generation helped build a similar system in the city called Achievement Reporting and Innovation Systems, or ARIS, that has been widely criticized in the city.

    This could mean that taxpayer’s money will go to News Corp. to develop information technology products which will be used to replace teachers. Computer software does not need pensions, health care, maternity leave, holiday pay. News Corp will then own the proprietary rights to the products they develop with tax payers money. After they develop their products, they will then market them back to the Department of Education for millions of dollars in sales and service fees. The profits will then be passed on to the shareholders of News Corp.

    It will be very interesting to see if Klein’s supporters in the DfE would be keen to help him develop Murdoch’s interests across the Education Chain businesses once, or if, cleans up the sleaze engulfing News International.

  3. Thanks for this very interesting information. I’ve used it as the basis for a blog post of my own: http://blog.literaryconnections.co.uk/?p=920. A friend has already made a comment very much on the lines of Neville Austin’s above: ‘This needs distributing to a wider audience’… Well, I’m not sure my blog counts, but perhaps it’s a start…

  4. Janet Downs says:

    Tom – thanks to the link to your blog. I’ve read some of your other posts and will always be grateful to you for providing a link to that wonderful Guardian cartoon. I’ve now got a copy on my noticeboard so when I feel like crying in frustration over Gove’s policies I can now cry with laughter:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cartoon/2011/jun/28/steve-bell-michael-gove-cartoon

  5. And don’t forget the Gove household income is bolstered by his Mrs.’ columns in The Times…..

  6. “Although there is no evidence for this, other detractors wonder if this is beginning of Murdoch establishing a Chain of Charter Schools”

    This reads like something out of Brass Eye. You’re trying to build a conspiracy out of nothing very much.

    So, Gove was paid £5k a month for “an hour a week”? Depends really on how long it took to write the articles he wrote but it doesn’t sound all that different from the going rate for Polly Toynbee writing in the much lower circulation Guardian.

    So, he praised Klein, who was responsible for school reforms in NY because they were similar to the ones that he himself was proposing and hasn’t done the “right thing” in denouncing all of Klein’s career because he has since taken a job working for News Corporation?

    If you want to make a conspiracy out of this you really need to show some causation rather than ex post facto correlation. I can quite believe that Murdoch liked having Gove writing for his papers because he agreed with him. I can quite believe that Murdoch appointed Klein because Klein had done things that he approved of and wanted him to carry that on. You need to prove, or at least go a bit further than “there’s nothing to support this but some believe it anyway” in suggesting that Gove’s proposals are being driven by Murdoch or that Klein’s were before he was employed by Murdoch.

    Being bribed by Murdoch to divert policy in his direction – that would be appalling. Happening to agree independently with his opinion on something? How can that be a problem?

    • A couple of year ago, News International and even the police were reassuring the British public that phone hacking was an isolated incident involving a rogue reporter. Given the unprecedented scale of the scandal and the number of dead bodies strewn on the Murdoch stage, from NI executives, editors, News of the World Staff to police commissioners and criminal investigations being held on both sides of the Atlantic, it is no wonder that people are deeply suspicious of the motives behind any links between powerful individuals or commercial enterprises and the Murdoch Empire. News Corp, Klein and Gove are trapped in the same net. The question is how long will it be before politicians contemplate their own resignations.

  7. Over the years we will undoubtedly see the wheels within wheels with these new edu-entrepreneurs. Some do have philanthropic motives but it is also clear that there are opportunities opening up for sub-contracting work to private sector companies in which these same people can have an interest.

  8. The News International phone hacking scandal may well scupper the no-bid $27m contract granted by the New York State Education Department to Wireless Generation, an education company acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp just two weeks after Joel Klein left his job as the city’s Chancellor for Education to join News Corp as CEO of its Education Division.

    The New York Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/education/2011/07/14/2011-07-14_murdochaffiliated_firm_wireless_generation_may_lose_27_million_contract_from_sta.html last week reported that parents are disturbed that a company currently being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic for illegal phone hacking and other corrupt practices should have access to information on students from across New York as part of a project to track test scores and other data.

    City Education Department officials have noted that the company would be breaking the law if it used private information – including students’ name, ethnicity, test scores, age and home addresses – for its own purposes and a spokesman for New York State Controller Thomas DiNapoli, acknowledged yesterday that the hacking scandal engulfing News Corp.-owned British tabloids could factor in the state review process for the Wireless Generation contract.

    For the moment, it seems as if News Corp Education Division will also halt its other acquisitions plans as its CEO and News Corp Board member Joel Klein oversees the committee which will focus on the police investigation and News International’s involvement in phone hacking.

    Klein was a Speaker at the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education held at Wellington College and is a favourite of former News International employee Michael Gove, who praised Klein in his speech http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a0077948/michael-goves-speech-to-the-policy-exchange-on-free-schools to the Policy Exchange on Free Schools last month. Curiously, Gove refers to Klein still as New York’s Education Chancellor, even though he had resigned last November to join the News Corp board and even though the News of the World scandal had yet to re-ignite so dramatically as it did in the past week or so.

    The truth is, Klein has been responsible for pursuing business opportunities in the education marketplace for the past 8 months and Wireless Generation is the city Education Department’s leading partner in School of One, a pilot program that tracks student progress and tailors individual lesson plans based on the results — an approach that Mr. Klein said allowed learning “in a way no classroom can.”
    Josh Reibel, president and chief operating officer of Wireless Generation, would not disclose how the company and News Corporation came together but both parties have key business relationships with Klein.

    Klein was a controversial figure during his tenure in the State Education Department and, to his critics, his move to Murdoch’s Empire is evidence that his Charter School reforms were always motivated by opening up state education to profit making enterprises at the expense of caring about the value of real learning, as opposed to using test data to measure schools and teachers’ performances.
    It remains to be seen how efficiently and cleanly Klein will deal with the investigations threatening News Corp’s global interests, educational or otherwise. He has been an official Murdoch insider for only a matter of months, so it is unlikely that he will join the many victims that this scandal has already claimed from within the Empire itself and now the police. But the scandal is escalating and David Cameron is looking increasingly vulnerable and under threat as both he and some of his cabinet member’ flirtations and alleged collusions with News International Executives come under closer scrutiny. For Gove, Klein ought to be a little too close for comfort now but perhaps he is hoping that education is just under the radar for too many people to notice that he might have attended the odd Chipping Norton party or two recently.

  9. Joel Klein sat right behind James Murdoch this afternoon as he gave evidence to the parliamentary committee. Not sure whether he looked angry, bored or worried. He stood up abruptly though when Wendi Deng socked one at the man in the checked shirt who custard pied her husband

  10. Here is amusing story from The Financial Times http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2011/07/ed-miliband-ends-the-baldwin-controversy/#axzz1Seq4FDwP

    Every time Labour raises the issue of Andy Coulson during a debate on phone hacking, someone from the Tory benches (usually Graham Stuart, for some reason) gets up to ask about his press chief, Tom Baldwin, the former Times journalist.

    Baldwin has been attacked by the prominent Tory funder Lord Ashcroft for an investigation he carried out into Ashcroft’s finances, and been accused of illegally accessing his bank details.

    Labour have pointed out that no wrongdoing has ever been found, and that his investigation was more clearly in the public interest than hacking into phones of celebrities and missing children. But to no avail – the questions about Baldwin persist.

    Now Ed Miliband appears to have killed it, with one line: “Tom Baldwin’s line manager at the time was the current education secretary.” While at the Times Gove went out on the airwaves to defend Tom Baldwin over his investigation into Michael Ashcroft. He had since realised that Ashcroft did not have a financial hold over the Conservatives..

    Now any time a Tory MP wants to raise the issue, they may end up finding themselves discussing Michael Gove instead.

    Here is must a sample of Gove’s prose back in 1999, long before he was Tory education secretary – referring to both Ashcroft and Lord Archer:

    “Rich men need playthings. Whether they are performance-enhanced cars or surgically-enhanced women, goods of ostentation help stimulate capitalism. But there are limits. I hope it’s not puritan to believe that political parties should not become millionaires’ pets. Yet that is the position the Tory party finds itself in – recumbent on the chaise-longue, a glass of Krug in one hand while it tickles the plutocrats’ fancy with the other. The role of kept woman is never dignified but the Tory party is playing particularly fast and loose in its choice of sugar daddy.”

  11. To all you wonderful people, Murdoch’s dastardly tentacles are firmly folded around what used to be Crown Land, acca the old Sydney Agricultural Showground, in NSW, Australia…..luckily for him he demanded that in order to turn a dollar, the Federal and State Government had to remove all regulatory, planning and environmental laws, acts and legislation…..why so he could operate his Heavy Industrial Factory site with its sub-tenants with impunity …….had he followed the true regulations he would be charged, allegedly, with breaking the law………as a British National with permanent residency…have been working for some ten years to bring it to the attention of overseas media….six schools surround the perimeter as well as six creches…..see http://www.foxandchickens.org/hetty/index.html click onto all headings and where it says factory site click onto buildings and then listen to 2gb interview……even safe removal of asbestos is exempted………..Josephine

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