Blair revealed to be godfather to Murdoch's daughter

Wendi Deng reveals that Blair is godfather to her nine-year-old daughter Grace.

It looks like Tony Blair is even closer to Rupert Murdoch than anyone imagined. This morning it emerged that Blair is godfather to Murdoch's nine-year-old daughter, Grace, the second youngest of his six children. The secret was divulged by Wendi Deng in an interview in the October edition of Vogue. The magazine reports that Blair, who Deng described as one of Murdoch's "closest friends", was present at the christening on the banks of the River Jordan in 2010, at the spot where Jesus is traditionally believed to have undergone the same ceremony.

The revelation goes some way to explaining why, unlike Peter Mandelson for example, Blair has refused to distance himself from Murdoch since the phone hacking scandal went global. As I previously noted, when asked about the subject at a press conference in Australia, Blair went out of his way to avoid criticising Murdoch and even claimed that the News Corp boss had taken "responsibility" for the scandal. In fact, Murdoch told MPs during the select committee hearing: "I do not accept ultimate responsibility. I hold responsible the people that I trusted to run it and the people they trusted."

The news is a political gift to the Tories, who will use it to reinforce their claim that Labour was just as guilty as them of kowtowing to Murdoch. To his credit, Ed Miliband has never sought to deny as much and has deftly distanced himself from Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom were obsessed with wooing Murdoch and his proxies.

Blair's office has so far refused to comment on the news but it will be hard for the former prime minister to avoid the subject. The appearance of former News of the World editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, the paper's former chief lawyer, before the media select committee means that the Murdochs will be back at the top of the news agenda.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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