There’s some contradictory evidence from the Leveson Inquiry and the Phone Hacking trial about just how much Rupert Murdoch was interested in his best selling Sunday Tabloid. Before Lord Justice Leveson in 2012, the chair of News Corp said the Sun was his major UK interest and he rarely concerned himself with NOTW, but earlier this year both Brooks and Coulson at the phone hacking trial gave evidence of weekly calls from Murdoch, throughout their editorships.
This snippet, from Piers Morgan‘s autobiography, shows that – at least on one occasion – Murdoch knew more than his editors. Concerned about a Princess Diana ‘phone pest’ story (allegedly sourced illegally through a police file) the then editor is reassured first by his news editor, Alex Marunchak, and then by Murdoch himself, that the story would stand up.
BUT DIANA immediately denied the story — and the next day, Monday, the Daily Mail published a long interview with her.“I feel I am being destroyed,” she said.“There is absolutely no truth in it.”
An anxious Piers Morgan was up early that day and, having read the Daily Mail interview, rang news editor Alex Marunchak at seven in the morning.Marunchak tried to calm his worried editor:
“We’ve had the report read to us: she’s lying.”
But Morgan remained concerned.He wrote in his diary:“we can’t reveal this fact without potentially exposing our source, so where does that leave us?” “And what if the report is a forgery?”
“I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.”“I couldn’t eat or even drink a cup of tea. It was hellish.” The News of the World was already getting calls from other newspapers asking if Morgan was going to resign.
But there was to be an extraordinary intervention.
Morgan was in the shower later that morning when his wife told him Rupert Murdoch was on the phone.Morgan thought he was going to be fired.
RUPERT MURDOCH RANG HIS worried editor from the United States and told him the Princess Diana story was true. Just how he knew has never been revealed … but likely candidates include Number 10, the Home Office or the Metropolitan Police
Hi Piers,” said Murdoch, “I can’t really talk for long but I just wanted you to know that your story is one hundred per cent bang on.”
“Can’t tell you how I know, but I just know.”
“So get on TV and tell the world she’s a liar.”“Then say we’re running another great load of great stuff about it next week. OK?”
A relieved Morgan told him they didn’t have anything else on the story.
It should be pointed out, however, that this was back in 1994. Given his growing global commercial interests, Murdoch’s engagement in the nitty gritty of News of the World stories may well have declined.