Appearing on Thursday's NBC Today, MSNBC host Martin Bashir shared his thoughts on the tabloid phone hacking scandal in Britain and proclaimed that News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch was "...a combination of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist, and someone like James 'Whitey' Bulger, the mobster." [Audio available here ]
Despite Bashir's outrageous comparison – Abramoff was convicted on corruption charges and Bulger is accused of 19 murders during his time as the head of the Irish mob in Boston – co-host Matt Lauer offered no objection to the claim.
In fact, Lauer began the discussion by praising Bashir's insight into news stories: "Sometimes when I have you, I like to just ask the simplest question first because I like your take." Lauer then asked: "So as you've watched this story unfold over the last month or so, what jumps out at you?"
In addition to describing Murdoch as a crime boss, Bashir declared: "It's the power of Rupert Murdoch. It's hard to imagine the power that he exerted on politicians....And what he had was the power to reward and to punish....Coercion by humiliation."
Lauer followed up by attacking the close relationship between many British politicians and Murdoch: "Look at what's happened over the last week or so. These politicians who used to have a very close, some would say incestuous relationship with Murdoch are now running from him as fast as they can run from him. Which, by the way, is typical of politics, but how much of a problem is it for Rupert Murdoch?" Bashir replied: "It's a massive problem."
Here is a full transcript of the July 14 discussion:
MATT LAUER: Martin Bashir is the host of the Martin Bashir Show on MSNBC. Martin, it's good to have you here.
BASHIR: Thank you, Matt.
LAUER: Sometimes when I have you, I like to just ask the simplest question first because I like your take, you spent a lot of time as a journalist in the UK and here in the United States.
MARTIN BASHIR: I worked for the Sunday Times between 1984 and 1985.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Murdoch Under Fire; How Will Phone Hacking Scandal Impact Media Empire?]
LAUER: Exactly. So as you've watched this story unfold over the last month or so, what jumps out at you?
BASHIR: It's the power of Rupert Murdoch. It's hard to imagine the power that he exerted on politicians. Imagine a combination of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist, and someone like James 'Whitey' Bulger, the mobster. And what he had was the power to reward and to punish. So for example, in 2004, when an MP stood up and said she thought having semi-naked women on page three of The Sun newspaper was now something we shouldn't do anymore, they sent 20 semi-naked people to her constituency office and called her 'fat, frumpy and dumpy.' Coercion by humiliation.
LAUER: So – but look at what's happened over the last week or so. These politicians who used to have a very close, some would say incestuous relationship with Murdoch...
BASHIR: Absolutely. Indeed.
LAUER: ...are now running from him as fast as they can run from him. Which, by the way, is typical of politics, but how much of a problem is it for Rupert Murdoch?
BASHIR: It's a massive problem. Remember, The Sun and the News of the World were the only two newspapers that made him any money. The Times loses money in London. But the thing he desperately wanted BSkyB Broadcasting, because it's the television arm that makes the billions of pounds and now he's had to withdraw because he knows the politicians were not going to support that.
LAUER: Well, but also, not only the politicians wouldn't support it, but does he also – do you think that deal is now dead because the people in Murdoch's organization understand that there is probably more damaging evidence about to come out?
BASHIR: When they did the inquiry in 2007, they said there was one rogue reporter and about eight people had been hacked. Yesterday I spoke to a senior officer at the Metropolitan Police who said 4,800 people's phones had been hacked and they haven't even started to get to the bottom of the things that have been done.
LAUER: This has pulled back a curtain, if you will, and exposed a very dark side of tabloid journalism. I guess the question a lot of people here in the States want to know, and let's face it, you could almost hear this story being pulled across the Atlantic...
BASHIR: No doubt.
LAUER: ...yesterday, with these Senators writing letters to Eric Holder and a congressman writing to Mr. Mueller at the FBI. How much further does this go? Do you think this is a standard practice for tabloid newspaper and scandal magazines here in the U.S.?
BASHIR: It's hard to know, but imagine, they said one reporter, but now it was clearly widespread in the News of the World news room. Are you telling me that people who work in that organization in this country have never ever used the same tactics? They may not have, but at the end of the day, the pressure to deliver the kind of stories, the kind of access – remember, we're talk about the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom's disabled son's medical records. He stands up in the House of Commons yesterday and he says the Sunday Times newspaper paid a criminal to procure those records. Now, we can't confirm whether that's true. But that's the level of interest that people had. And when stories kept appearing in tabloid papers, you had to ask yourself, 'How did they get that story?'
After I interviewed Princess Diana in 1995, we had our third child in '96, Eliza, and she was incubated after birth because she was – she had problems with her lungs. Within two day, two journalists attempted to get into the ward, both of them working for The Sun newspaper. How did they know, when nobody else knew, that our daughter, who was just two days old, was unwell?
LAUER: Clearly someone had access they shouldn't have had.
BASHIR: Somebody had access.
LAUER: Martin Bashir. Martin, always good to have you here.
BASHIR: Great to be here.
LAUER: Thanks very much. 17 after the hour. You can catch Martin's show weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time on MSNBC.
- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here  to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.