As the United States honored war veterans on Memorial Day May 28, an investigating committee in the United Kingdom questioned former Prime Minister Tony Blair about suspicions that media mogul Rupert Murdoch corruptly influenced his decision-making.
Blair denied to the Leveson Inquiry any improper conduct during his decade as Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007, which encompassed Blair’s support for the Iraq War favored by both Murdock and U.S. President Bush, shown at left awarding Blair the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a 2004 ceremony at the White House.
Coverage by columnist Michael Collins of the Blair testimony is excerpted below, drawn from his column, Rupert Watch: Tony Blair Lying at the Leveson Inquiry. Collins, at right, began this way about Blair, leader of the traditionally left Labour Party and thus a seemingly unlikely ally for either Murdoch or Bush:
He [Blair] retains that familiar fatuous exuberance for failed policies and continues to deny the deadly lies he told in over a decade as Prime Minister. He was, as always, quite literally unbearable.
President George W. Bush had major problems selling his disastrous invasion plans for Iraq. The public smelled a rat. Strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans opposed a preemptive invasion without confirmation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by UN inspectors. That was during December 2002 and January 2003. Bush needed something special to push his diabolic plan over the top.
The Leveson Inquiry focuses on “The relationship between press and politicians” in the wake of an electronic surveillance (“hacking”) scandal by which Murdoch’s minions at leading newspapers illegally wiretapped celebrities, politicians and other news-makers. Evidence has shown that the goals included inside tips on news stories, and also political blackmail to advance policies and appointees Murdoch’s staff endorsed. Murdoch has blamed underlings, not himself as arrests have mounted and embarrased teh Conservative administration of Blair’s successor David Cameron, like Blair, a Murdoch favorite.
Blair’s position is especially interesting in that his political “Third Way” seemed initially popular as a centrist political strategy. But Blair’s war and other policies aroused suspicions he was using his powers to curry favor with the powerful and position himself for riches after his political career closed. Collins, a U.S.-based commentator on cutting-edge issues, continued his coverage:
Blair and Murdoch worked together to provide Bush with the credibility to tell the most disastrous lie ever told by a president: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 29, 2003. Tony Blair is guilty of the very same crimes as Bush: murder, assault, and fraud by lying to the people to justify a preemptive attack that resulted in deaths and injuries, traumas and displacements, with a total cost that has helped ruin the U.S. economy — $3.0 trillion. Rupert Murdoch and his minions share that guilt as the public relations shop for the road to perdition.
Blair’s government released two fraudulent intelligence papers during the critical period just before the March 2003 Iraq invasion, the September 2002 report and the Iraq or Dodgy Dossier in early February 2003. Rupert Murdoch’s media cartel led the charge for war. He headlined stories about both bogus reports including the outrageous claim that Iraq could launch chemical weapons at the invaders within 45 minutes of an attack and the big lie about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons..
During the morning hearing, Collins wrote, Blair was questioned by Queen’s Counsel (QC) Robert Jay, who carefully laid the foundation for key questions while “Blair also began laying his own foundation, a staccato mantra of answers to questions not asked.”
Blair emphasized the rationale for his overall media policy on at least three, perhaps more, occasions. He had no objection to foreign ownership (read Murdoch) of British media properties. He was inclined to be a free marketer on media and thus not in favor of tight regulation. Blair argued that the “culture and rules under which people play” were the most important factors in a positive media policy.
The former Prime Minister repeated several times that he was unwilling to risk the New Labour agenda over a fight to tighten the Communications Act given the relentless attacks he could anticipate from the tabloid press.
As Prime Minister at age 43, Blair became his country’s youngest to hold the office since 1812. With victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005, Blair was the Labour Party’s longest-serving prime minister, and the only person to lead the party to three consecutive general election victories. Blair remained an at times popular and at times polarizing figure after leaving office. His 2010 memoir became the fastest selling of its kind in the nation’s history. Blair announced he would donate royalties to a sports center for wounded veterans. At the same time, others accuse him selling out his constituency and veterans by conspiring with Murdoch and Bush to conduct a needless war, including war crimes.
Collins continued in that vein:
Jay raised questions about the period between September 15, 1994 and May 1, 1997. The QC referenced a private meeting that Blair had Murdoch lobbyist Gus Fisher in 1994. Blair was clear that a Labour government would not have major concerns regarding cross-media ownership (e.g., television, newspapers, etc.). QC Jay also pointed to the extraordinary effort Blair made to attend and speak at a News Corp conference in Australia. Blair presented the meeting with his overall views on media ownership. Jay asked Blair if the meeting was used to “curry favor” with Murdoch. Blair demurred and then denied that this was the case.
Jay inquired about three calls Blair took from Rupert Murdoch just before the Iraq invasion on March 11, 13, and 19. What were he and Murdoch talking about, the counsel wondered? Blair said that this was “normal” when facing such a big issue (normal talking to Murdoch?). He also noted that Murdoch had as good a read on “what was going on in the United States” as any expert he’d asked.
QC Jay then asked if there was any connection between the call with Murdoch on March 13 and the incredibly vicious personal attacks on French President Jacque Chirac the next day in Murdoch’s Sun newspaper. Chirac had refused to become part of the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq. There were rumors that Chirac was considering a UN Security Council veto of the vote that could be construed as legitimizing war. Blair denied any part in encouraging or even knowing of the Murdoch hatchet job.
A heckler breached security and interrupted the hearing, much as another one did last summer when Murdoch testified. Collins described the scene as follows:
Just before the lunch break, a man burst through the door behind Lord Justice Leveson, grabbed the judge’s table, and began shouting that Blair committed a war crime by helping JP Morgan steal $20 billion from the Bank of Iraq three months after the invasion. As the man was hauled out through the same hallway, he shouted [at Blair], “The man is a war criminal.”
This was the most direct expression of truth so far in the Leveson Inquiry. (Blair has been a consultant for JPMorgan since leaving office.)