Alastair Campbell, the chief press officer for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, said there’s no evidence News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch pressed the British premier on behalf of U.S. Republicans to join a war in Iraq.
Campbell, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 today, contradicted a report by the Guardian newspaper that Campbell’s recently published diary from that period shows Murdoch pressed Blair in a 2003 phone call to speed up the U.K.’s involvement in Iraq before a “crucial” vote in Parliament.
“There was nothing inappropriate in him saying what he did,” Campbell said of Murdoch in the BBC interview. Murdoch was “echoing” statements from Republicans and “pressing on the timings of any actions that might be taken.”
The revelation in Cambpell’s diary may also contradict Murdoch’s testimony to a media-ethics inquiry in April, in which he said he never asked a prime minister for anything, the Guardian reported. The inquiry, triggered by the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp. (NWSA:US)’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, is compiling evidence on Murdoch’s ties to politicians since he entered the U.K. market in the 1960s.
“It is complete rubbish to suggest that Rupert Murdoch lobbied Mr. Blair over the Iraq war on behalf of the U.S. Republicans,” Miranda Higham, a spokeswoman for New York-based News Corp., said in an e-mailed statement. “Furthermore, there isn’t even any evidence in Alastair Campbell’s diaries to support such a ridiculous claim.”
Campbell, in a related posting on his blog today, quoted an excerpt of the diary entry that dealt with the disputed phone call, the Iraq War and support from Murdoch’s U.K. unit, News International, which published the News of the World and still publishes the Sun daily tabloid.
Blair “took a call from Murdoch who was pressing on timings, saying how News International would support us etc. Both TB and I felt it was prompted by Washington and another example of their over-crude diplomacy. Murdoch was pushing all the Republican buttons, how the longer we waited the harder it got,” Campbell wrote in the diary, according to his blog post.
Murdoch was one of Blair’s few supporters when he decided to go to war in Iraq and the men spoke about it on the phone three times in the days before the invasion, Campbell told the inquiry in May. Blair felt he had to deal with a “right-wing” Murdoch to get his message to the public, Campbell said.
The Guardian story is “evidence of the extraordinary topicality and controversy of the Murdoch brand that out of 700 pages of a book covering the momentous period from Sept. 11 to the Iraq War, the Guardian should lead their coverage on a very short entry about this phone call,” Campbell said in the blog posting.
The inquiry, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron last year, is hearing from members of the former ruling Labour Party as well as his own Conservatives about their ties to Murdoch. Blair told the inquiry last month his personal contacts with Murdoch evolved from a “working relationship” to becoming a godfather to one of Murdoch’s children after he left office.
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