International Papers

Murdoch and Gays

If you missed the most recent installments of this column, here they are: posted Friday, Nov. 6, and Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Britain’s biggest circulation newspaper, Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid the Sun, asked on its front page Monday, “Are we being run by a gay Mafia?” This was a comment on the fact that Tony Blair’s 21 member Cabinet until lately contained four known homosexuals. One of them, Culture Secretary Chris Smith, has been openly gay for many years. Welsh Secretary Ron Davies recently had to resign after an encounter in a well-known gay haunt in south London, which led to him being mugged. Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson, the architect of Blair’s election victory last year, was “outed” last week on television, and Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown outed himself on the weekend after a former gay lover tried to sell the story of their relationship to Murdoch’s Sunday paper, the News of the World.

In its front-page editorial, the Sun, which used to have a homophobic reputation, claimed that the Brown affair had “set alarm bells ringing”–”[n]ot because people despise gays, or fear them, or wish to pillory them,” but because “the public has a right to know how many homosexuals occupy positions of high power.” It went on, “Their sexuality is not the problem. … The worry is their membership of a closed world of men with a mutual self-interest … there are widespread fears that Members of Parliament, even ministers, are beholden to others for reasons other than politics.”

The paper also announced a “hotline” for gay MPs to phone. “Do you want to come out?” it asked:

Are you a gay MP who’d like to come out? The Sun has set up a hotline on 0171 782 4105 for ministers and MPs who are secretly homosexual. Don’t worry about the cost, we’ll ring you back.

I called several times, but the line was always busy.

Murdoch’s upscale newspaper, the Times, welcomed what it saw as a new public tolerance in the generally favorable response to Brown’s admission of his homosexuality and said Monday that “the media appear to be lagging behind the electorate whose mores reflect a more forgiving view of what they expect of their MPs. … American politics appear to be undergoing a similar transformation.” “Last week’s elections suggest that American voters either did not care about President Clinton’s private life, or saw it as irrelevant to their political choices.”

The liberal Guardian accused Murdoch of playing a double game by allowing one of his British tabloids effectively to “out” a Cabinet minister and another to announce “that homosexuality is a state of being so unremarkable that it is astonishing that people still think it worthy of comment.” Asking how Murdoch would justify the News of the World’s outing of Brown, the Guardian said in an editorial Monday: “It is, of course, a futile question. Mr Murdoch lives in America and can never be held accountable for the effects his British papers have on our culture. He cosies up to politicians or parties he thinks might be useful to the promotion of his business interests. He berates them or threatens to withdraw his affections when they do not jump with sufficient alacrity to his orders.” Of Blair, who has enjoyed close relations with Murdoch, the paper said, “With every passing day he has a clearer idea of Mr Murdoch and his true nature. He should sup with a long spoon.”

In Israel, the liberal Ha’aretz led its front page Monday with a report that political pressure at Cabinet level was preventing the army from taking action against at least five new hilltop outposts that settlers have built in the West Bank since the Wye agreement was signed two weeks ago. “Other than confiscating a single tractor last week–returned to its owner yesterday–the army has taken no action to stop the construction,” the paper said. On Sunday, Ha’aretz urged the Israeli government to ratify the Wye agreement soon, despite the renewal of suicide attacks against Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. It said in an editorial, “A diplomatic policy of vengeance–a vicious circle of terrorism and settlement–would not only disrupt implementation of the Wye accord, it would also steer Israeli-Palestinian relations away from the path of accord, perhaps irrevocably.”

In the conservative Jerusalem Post, Professor Efraim Inbar of Bar-Ilan University said in an op-ed piece Monday that Israelis were now more interested in their personal security than in the security of their country. “The new notion of personal security has eclipsed the traditional Israeli preoccupation with assuring the security of the Jewish state and its society in the midst of a hostile environment,” he wrote. But he warned against this tendency, saying that Israeli society’s “unwillingness to sacrifice some of its standard of living to acquire better defenses against less concrete and immediate threats could be destructive.”