While Fox News tried to downplay the impact of the coronavirus, Rupert Murdoch is said to have fears about his own health. TIM WALKER reports.
Just as Fox News was last month downplaying the threat coronavirus posed to the world, Rupert Murdoch, the station’s owner, discreetly called off a party he’d been planning at his estate in Bel Air, California, to celebrate his 89th birthday. Mandrake hears that the media tycoon is, in common with so many others, feeling increasingly aware of his own mortality, and, what’s more, how he will be remembered when he departs this mortal coil.
Mandrake hears that Simon Pearson, the obituaries editor of the Times and the former husband of the Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, is discreetly turning his attentions to his elderly proprietor’s obituary. He can’t of course comment on a matter that’s quite so sensitive, but I’m reliably informed Murdoch has decreed that his magisterial eulogy – revised and updated almost continually in recent years – should occupy up to three full pages in what he still quaintly regards as the world’s greatest journal of record.
Even Pearson is unlikely, however, to have been privy to the final hallowed text as I well remember one of his predecessors, the late Anthony Howard, confiding in me that when he’d been appointed the paper’s obituaries editor in 1993, he’d asked to see what had been prepared for Murdoch, but been told it was a matter for a higher authority. ‘I said to Peter Stothard, the editor at the time, that I clearly needed to be sure we had one ready as the old boy was clearly getting on a bit,’ Howard told me. ‘Peter told me it was kept in a safe within the building and I got the impression even he hadn’t been allowed to see it. All he’d say was that it was all in hand and I wasn’t to worry. When I asked about pictures, he said they’d all been chosen, presumably by Murdoch himself.’
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There have been so many leaks about Michael Gove to the Sunday Times’ political editor Tim Shipman lately that it’s surely time to set up an inquiry. It is simply not fair on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that so much information about him – admittedly uniformly positive – is getting into the public domain.
Over the weekend, Shipman disclosed that during a highly confidential video call, involving ministers and civil servants immediately after Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation, Gove magnanimously chipped in: ‘I think I speak for everyone when I say our thoughts and prayers are with the prime minister.’
The preceding week, the same journalist retailed another privileged snippet: ‘Matt Hancock has clashed repeatedly with Gove, who is said to have ‘humiliated’ him in a cabinet committee discussion on ventilators. ‘Michael knew the detail and Matt didn’t,’ a source said.’ Shipman also revealed: ‘Some ministers are lobbying to see Gove take charge if Johnson is incapacitated with Covid-19, or if he takes paternity leave…’
One could go on, but you get the picture. It’s high time Gove was relieved of this troublesome informer.
MEN OF PARTS
Boris Johnson has taken on another part-timer in Isaac Levido, his former election chief now charged with ‘sharpening’ his coronavirus messaging. Like Dominic Cummings – whom I revealed still runs a company called Dynamic Maps, an ‘information technology company’ – Levido is continuing to act as a director for Fleetwood Strategy, a market research and opinion polling’ outfit he set up in January. Luckily for the pair, there are no rules banning such continuing appointments.
When Seumas Milne finally quit the Guardian more than three years ago after a long period on unpaid leave to focus exclusively on being Jeremy Corbyn’s communications chief, Katharine Viner, the newspaper’s editor, wished him well and expressed the hope that he would one day return.
Viner goes back a long way with Milne, but she knows that hiring Corbyn’s right-hand man now that the new Labour leader Keir Starmer has dispensed with his services would be hugely unpopular among staff. ‘After the row over Suzanne Moore and the issue of transphobia, it’s the last thing Kath needs,’ one Guardian staffer tells me. ‘Milne was always something of an acquired taste here at the best of times – that booming Wykehamist voice of his didn’t help – and a lot of us will never forgive him for his part in the whole disastrous Corbyn experiment. It’s just I can’t see what else Milne can do…’