MediaGuardian commentator Roy Greenslade takes a sceptical look today at the conspiracy theories surrounding the sale of a majority stake in the Evening Standard to former KBG agent Alexander Lebedev.
Private Eye, among others, sees the hand of Rupert Murdoch and his son-in-law Matthew Freud behind the deal.
As Roy puts it: "Freud is frequently portrayed as a Rasputin-like figure by his enemies and Murdoch, of course, is routinely regarded as the devil incarnate. So I always suspend judgment on speculative stories about their activities."
He asks: "Are we seriously to believe that an ex-KGB officer who has built a vast personal fortune - amounting, supposedly, to £2bn - and who has negotiated his way through the quagmire of Russia's modern mafia politics is no more than a Murdoch patsy?"
Roy accepts: "It is true that Murdoch's company is likely to be the beneficiary of all that has happened. I understand that there were many chuckles of delight at Wapping when news first emerged of the Lebedev negotiations. And I concede that Rupert's son, James, seemed remarkably well informed about the bid hours before MediaGuardian broke the story on January 8."
He adds, however, "But there is a difference between having an inside track and actually running the train. I think too many of the conspiracists have started by accepting that Murdoch is the real winner and then composing scenarios to accuse him of a devious plot. Freud's undoubted involvement in Lebedev's affairs provides the essential link."
Roy argues bigger forces are at work: "The gloves are off. All the owners now know they are engaged in a battle to be the last one standing when the music stops. Papers will go to the wall. They will change hands.
"If a publisher like DMGT can be humbled, then imagine what might happen to lesser owners with fewer resources and much less commitment. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is fact. This is the real story."
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