If there's one thing you can depend on, it's that out there are a few twats who think that throwing pies at people makes both a great political and humourous statement. No surprise whatsoever to learn that the "stand-up comedian" behind it was involved in the setting up of that other band of jokers, UK Uncut, who so wonderfully made their point by getting around 150 young people arrested for invading, err, Fortnum and Mason. Murdoch at various points in his career might well have justified getting a pie in his face; James certainly deserved one after his MacTaggart lecture a couple of years back. Targeting him today was just incredibly stupid, a condition that seems to be as endemic in UK Uncut as amnesia is at News Corporation.
For if that was the verdict of the previous report by the culture committee, it could just as easily be applied to the evidence given by both the Murdochs and later Rebekah Brooks. The popular image of Rupert Murdoch as this great media baron pulling numerous strings behind the scenes with this great eye for detail, the "billionaire tyrant" from the Simpsons, has not always been backed up by the evidence, but the performance he put in today of knowing seemingly nothing about what was for a long time one of his favourite papers seemed to lack all credibility. Just how much of an act the whole thing was is difficult to tell: it's been apparent for a while that age is beginning to catch up with him, but to the extent suggested today? It just doesn't seem wholly plausible, not least when it seemed so at odds with the television pictures of him striding about a week ago back in America and answering questions put to him with no problems whatsoever.
At times you had to wonder whether he'd even bothered to read the News of the World, or paid any attention whatsoever to the journalists who were producing it other than the editor. He'd never heard of Neville Thurlbeck, one of the paper's long time chief reporters, not even in relation to the Max Mosley case, which you would imagine he'd have least taken something of an interest in. We had to understand that despite being one of Murdoch's first loves, the first newspaper he'd bought in Britain and had played a vital role in the building of his empire, it only made up 1% of News Corp's business, and employed only a fraction of his 52,000 workers worldwide. In any case, such details were below his pay grade, to be dealt with by his underlings, who had so horribly betrayed him. He'd trust Les Hinton with "his life", and yet he seemed to putting a fair share of the blame squarely on his shoulders. Asked by the surprisingly effective Philip Davies whether it was Hinton who could have authorised the continuing paying of Glenn Mulcaire's legal bills, he twice responded with "could have been". It was one of the very few answers in the affirmative during the whole session.
Murdoch senior certainly improved as the session went on, when not being quietly but expertly questioned by Tom Watson, who repeatedly had to do the equivalent of telling James to shut up when he attempted to answer on his father's behalf. As Watson stated, Rupert is News Corp's head of corporate governance, and yet he knew apparently absolutely nothing about phone hacking or almost anything which went on at the Screws other than through his occasional phone calls to the editor, which were not even weekly occurrences, somewhat different to the time when Piers Morgan was editor. Rebekah Brooks later remembered that Rupert used to ring at least every other day while she was editor of the Sun, a slightly more realistic insight into his overwatch practices.
While Big Rupe's approach was to feign approaching senility, his favoured son, noted for having a short temper and not suffering fools had to control himself for almost three hours. He did this through going on interminably, subjecting the committee to corporate speak while not actually answering almost any questions whatsoever. This naturally won them over, as did his general politeness and congratulating them on their questions, anything to stretch out his responses in contrast to his father's terse but often informative answers. He was shocked, shocked as everyone else that Mulcaire's legal bills were still being met by his dad's company, while knowing absolutely nothing about who authorised it or when. He'd authorised the payment to Gordon Taylor, having been advised to do so by Tom Crone and Colin Myler, convinced it was merely a hangover from the criminal case against Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. Despite the payout being £750,000, this wasn't a big enough sum apparently for him to demand assurances that any more unpleasant surprises would be uncovered that would require similar compensation. The confidentiality clauses of the settlements were not suspicious, nor was the size of the payout, all were simply part and parcel of the way corporations do business, as were the settlements reached with Mulcaire and Goodman for unfair dismissal. There was no cover up, or if there was, James was an unwitting part of it.
The only time when Murdoch junior looked close to losing his cool was when asked by Adrian Sanders whether he was familiar with the term "willful blindness", a concept that it was apparent he did understand but feigned ignorance of, leaving his father to intercept and say he did understand the phrase and felt there weren't guilty of any such thing.
With the notable exception of a few exchanges, and the lines of questioning pursued by Watson, Davies and Paul Farrelly, the Murdochs just about managed to muddle through. The contrition meant to be displayed through the pre-cooked soundbite of this being the "most humble day" of Rupert's life didn't ring true for a moment, and only gained any real impact after the moron with shaving foam intervened. True, appearing before a committee of jumped-up MPs and having to affect to being truly sorry was something Murdoch hasn't had to experience much during his adult life, although it hardly equates to the time when he was threatened with bankruptcy back before he secured the TV rights to the Premier League. Equally, if this was meant to parliament showing its teeth and the committee system coming into its own, than it was just as unimpressive a display. Getting even something approaching to the truth would have required evidence to be given under oath, something the Murdochs may still yet have to do as part of the judicial inquiry.
It also overshadowed the evidence given by Rebekah Brooks, which was if anything even more extraordinary. Despite being the editor of the News of the World, everything it seemed had gone on over her head. Like Andy Coulson, she had never heard of Glenn Mulcaire until 2006. The paying of private investigators was done at the managing director level. Never did she so much as hear the name Glenn when it came to asking where the stories she printed had came from, despite his what we now know to be vast efforts on behalf of the paper. She did, as she conceded to Tom Watson, use the PI Steve Whittamore herself, in what she suggested was an attempt to find out where a paedophile lived. Bizarrely, she criticised the Guardian and New York Times for naming the man, something which took a remarkable amount of chutzpah having had no qualms whatsoever about orchestrating a campaign where innocent people had to leave where they lived after being wrongly accused of being sex offenders. She knew absolutely nothing about the rehiring of Jonathan Rees. She was eager to spread the blame to other papers while taking absolutely no responsibility herself. Oh, and she hadn't gone horse-riding with David Cameron. At the end she promised to come back and give "more fulsome" responses once she wasn't out on bail, something that considering the evidence of the Murdochs isn't something worth looking forward to.
And that failure to take real responsibility is the most hypocritical thing. If there's one thing that the Murdoch press has always emphasised, it's personal responsibility. Buck-passing is never acceptable; the only way you'll get anywhere in life is through hard graft, not through waiting for others to do things for you or depending on that most nebulous of institutions, the state. When it really comes down to it though, the CEO of News Corporation doesn't accept responsibility for what went on at the News of the World. As Paul McMullan said on Newsnight, still being blamed, even after all the apologies, are the journalists and the private investigators they employed. The methods that the editors sanctioned and which the proprietor encouraged in order to get the stories in the first place don't enter into it. How could they? As Brooks, Coulson and the Murdochs have all said, they didn't know anything about any of it. They were as misled as all the rest of us. Those who got chewed up and spat out, like Sean Hoare, were just part of the machine, and as we saw, can be sacrificed. In any case, Brooks and Murdoch never even know who they were.
Labels: Andy Coulson, James Murdoch, media analysis, News International, News of the World, phone hacking, politics, Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch