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Tue 17 September 2019
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Plans for Hack Attack, based on journalist Nick Davies’ book on the phone hacking scandal, never got off the ground due to the tycoon’s great “passive power”.


George Clooney scrapped plans to make a film about the phone hacking scandal as no investor wanted to give money to the project for fear of the consequences of upsetting Rupert Murdoch. 

In 2014, the Hollywood actor announced plans for a 90 minute film, Hack Attack, looking at the “lying, corruption and blackmail” at the heart of the story of illegal and unethical journalistic practices in the UK press.

The film was to be based on Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ book of the same name, exploring widespread illegality at Murdoch’s Sunday tabloid the News of the World, which he was forced to close down in 2011 after it emerged that it had illegally hacked into the voicemail messages of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. 

“As the son of a journalist, George has a sharp interest in the role journalism plays in all of our lives,” Michael De Luca, of Columbia Pictures, the studio which was to be behind the film, said at the time. “With Hack Attack, George will explore the dark side of that world, a business where all of the rules of journalism are broken in the race for an easy and ever-larger payday.”

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But, Davies has now revealed the extent of the “passive power” wielded by media mogul Murdoch which led to the film star and director to pull the plug.

Speaking at the 2019 Byline Festival, Davies said: “They had to go out and raise $25 to $30 million in order to make the thing and they ran into a brick wall. Nobody in the movie business wanted to invest in a project which would alienate Rupert Murdoch.

“Even Clooney, with all his connections and all of his prestige, had to let it go so you can see the irony: that if you try to make a film which exposes the power of Rupert Murdoch, you get stopped by that same power.”

The most striking thing about the episode, he said, was that Murdoch didn’t “even have to lift his finger”.

“It was not that Rupert Murdoch was phoning people up or that his people were phoning round the Hollywood circuit and saying ‘don’t invest in that if you want to stay healthy’,” Davies added. “It’s what you call passive power. That everybody knows how much power that guy has got so from the outset they set out to placate him. And I think that still remains even though his empire has changed shape.”

Earlier this year, Clooney’s barrister wife, Amal Clooney, was appointed as a special envoy on media freedom as part of the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s campaign to highlight the dangers faced by journalists across the world.

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