Prince William, Rupert Murdoch and the Rise and Fall of Empires

The reemergence of one dynasty as another falls under the weight of its own hubris and malfeasance.

There was something magnificently ironic about the sight of Prince William leading the charge on a beautifully manicured polo field in Carpinteria southern California, as Rupert Murdoch boarded a private plane to fly to London to try and lift the siege on his beleaguered media empire.

While William scored four goals in the sport of kings, Murdoch was desperately trying to stop his media organization, News International scoring any more of its own goals. In a breathtaking turn of events Friday, we saw the arrest of Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and aide to Prime Minister David Cameron. His arrest will not be the last.

To remind late comers it was Prince William, second in line to the throne and heir to a thousand year institution, who was first into the battle with the mighty media baron. It was he and his private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton who reported their concerns about phone tapping to Scotland Yard in 2005. Now six years later the corruption at the heart of the media, police and political complex is fast unraveling, Murdoch’s troops in chaotic retreat.

It is a truly remarkable reversal of fortunes. During the 1990s the monarchy was under ferocious assault both from within and without. The revelations by Diana and Charles about their unhappy marriage - Diana speaking to me, Charles to TV broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby - changed the traditional battle lines between media and monarchy.

Normally the media were outside the castle trying to find a way in. The monarchy had defended its redoubt manfully for centuries. Now the monarchy had enemies within and very quickly the walls came tumbling down. The burning of Windsor Castle in November 1992 was the last straw for the Queen. She called it her annus horribilus, her horrible year. Worse was to come. Diana’s untimely death in 1997 and the royal family’s hesitant response further denuded the monarchy’s defences. The charge of the tabloids was lead by Murdoch’s Sun who chided the Queen: Where are you when your nation needs you? Years before this would have been considered lese majeste. No longer.

The Murdoch red tops were rampant, the royal family in headlong retreat. The News of the World was able to take royal scalps almost at will; Sophie Rhys Jones, now Prince Edward’s wife, was caught in a sting operation by the News of the World as too was Sarah Ferguson when she was captured offering access to Prince Andrew - for a price.

Like all armies licking their wounds, the monarchy learned its lesson or rather lessons. It is a leaner, fitter more nimble organization. Still steeped in tradition and hidebound in some areas, it is more relevant to the public. The visit to Canada and, after a stuttering start, the sprint through southern California by William and Catherine proved that the monarchy is relevant and popular for a new generation. This empire has fought back.

For the mighty press baron Rupert Murdoch, it is a different story. There is something Shakespearian in this drama. He is suffering the arrogance of power, the hubris of a man who has grown overmighty, able to shackle Prime Ministers and police commissioners to his malign design.

He is now experiencing the modern day equivalent of a peasants’ revolt, the public rising up in indignation at the way his organization routinely tapped into the telephone of the murder victim Milly Dowler, bereaved families of soldiers killed in action, as well as, celebrities and politicians.

His captains and commanders are now in shackles. His general, News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks under furious and continuous fusillades from politicians to depart the fray. Just as the monarchy in the 1990s reformed, now the complacently powerful Fourth Estate is coming under sustained attack to change its ways.

The collateral damage is plain to see. The News of the World, the Sunday tabloid at the heart of the phone tapping scandal, printed its last edition on Saturday night as William was lifting the silver trophy on the polo field. It could have been Murdoch’s head on a platter.

On the battlefield lay 280 casualties, largely innocent journalists, secretaries and room staff who were sacrificed by Murdoch in a desperate bid to save himself, his empire and win the prize he covets most - total control of BSkyB broadcasting company.

Prince William comes from a dynasty that has experienced the rise and fall of an empire. He has lived to fight another day. It remains to be seen if Murdoch and his scions can escape this rout.

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As one of the world’s best-known biographers and a leading authority on modern celebrity, Morton has been called "the king of celebrity biographers." He became an overnight sensation with the publication of his groundbreaking 1992 biography revealing the secret world of the late Diana, Princess…

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