Meet the London Times Masthead, Circa 1981

Before the sale, Times editor William Rees-Mogg had assigned Mr. Leapman to investigate the influence Mr. Murdoch had on the editorial content of his newspapers—apparently, not much changes in a couple of decades.

Mr. Murdoch’s control is not so much in donning shirtsleeves and overseeing every editorial, Mr. Leapman remembered finding, but in appointing the right people.

“The only reason he made Harry editor of The Times, was to get Harry out of The Sunday Times,” said Mr. Leapman. “He was the queen bee over this small empire. Murdoch would have found it very hard to penetrate the paper [otherwise].”

“He appoints editors who share his worldview and then gets on with it,” said Mr. Leapman. “He’s obviously not going to appoint a raving socialist to run The Times or The Wall Street Journal.”

While Mr. Leapman does not classify himself as a “raving socialist,” he does believe his politics made life difficult for him at the paper under Mr. Murdoch.

He had been part of a left-wing journalist collective—hey, it was the 60’s!—and said that Mr. Murdoch “had been told of my radical past.”

Not surprisingly, despite working in New York—where Mr. Murdoch was living, and where he had had the running of the New York Post for five years—he was accorded little face time in his investigation.

Meanwhile, back in London:

“I was there all through Harry’s regime,” said Richard Davy, who was chief foreign leader (editorial) writer during those good/bad times.

Mr. Davy had worked at The Times since 1955, and said that Mr. Evans’s 13-month tenure wasn’t rocky simply because of the new owner. The editor, according to Mr. Davy, “was used to the rhythm of a weekly paper,” and “caused a lot of chaos, spending too much money.”

But Mr. Davy said his resignation in 1984 was because he “didn’t like what was happening,”—and that had to do with Mr. Murdoch.

“My feeling, and most of our feelings, was very much that [Mr. Murdoch] wanted The Times to take certain lines editorially,” said Mr. Davy.

In March 1982, Mr. Evans was replaced by his deputy, the conservative Charles Douglas-Home. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Davy took a sabbatical in Washington, D.C., and returned to a very different environment.

“We were told that we should have no criticism of Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan,” said Mr. Davy.

Mr. Davy said that he “always assumed this was because [Mr. Murdoch] wanted access to Downing Street and the White House,” rather than being motivated by deep political leanings.

“With Charlie, he was able to find someone to toe the line,” said Mr. Davy, who characterized Mr. Douglas-Home as having “little experience in foreign affairs [and being] easily moved.”

“In his first week, then-editor Harold Evans brought Rupert down to the foreign department, and introduced him to me and other staff in the foreign room,” said Cal McCrystal, former foreign features editor of The Sunday Times. “I think there was a certain amount of trepidation because his reputation was not all that desirable.”

Mr. McCrystal had been at the paper since 1964—and stayed another eight years after the buyout. But he said that after the purchase there was a “disconsolate mood [and] a more superficial standard of journalism.” Although he admitted that spending was excessive under the previous owners, the Thomson family, “in the end, the product that went on the streets was awfully good.” 

Meet the London Times Masthead, Circa 1981