Pity the Murdochs, innocents lost in a world of knaves and fools
They didn’t know, you see. No one told them. Not that they were kept in the dark, mind, but they weren’t kept informed, either. They weren’t willfully blind, but they do regret that things “weren’t known”. They were as surprised and upset as the rest of us. And their lawyers kept making them do things they wished they didn’t. But they were very sorry. None of it was anything to do with them, but they were definitely very sorry.
Rupert and James Murdoch, strangers in their own company, mystified to discover that someone — they’re not quite sure who — had been doing terrible things and covering it up.
The performances differed, of course. Rupert played the doddery old man, Charles Foster Kane on the blasted heath. His family and entourage looked, rightly, worried whenever he opened his mouth. His incessant banging of the table and his bizarre introductory non sequitur, declaring how humbled he was — a line doubtless hours in rehearsal — seemed liked the actions of a confused nursing home resident. At one stage, he even declared he couldn’t remember his own words uttered mere days before.
James was altogether more corporate. He offered a smoother, better-coached performance, full of endless blather about process, chewing up time asking for questions to be repeated, but insisting that they were good questions, important questions, and he really wanted to answer them. But, sadly, much of the detail wasn’t quite at his fingertips.
Indeed, James never quite admitted that he knew anything about anything. And time and again, he relied on the circular reasoning that because external inquiries gave News International the all-clear, he had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. The only flaw — plainly unmentioned by either Murdoch — was that the company had crippled those external inquiries, including police investigations, by ensuring they never saw the relevant evidence.
They were helped by some soft questioning from the assembled MPs. The chief parliamentary prosecutor of the scandal, Labour’s Tom Watson, made a withering start. He humiliated Rupert with a barrage of questions about what he knew about major elements of the scandal and kept James, desperate to assist his flailing father, silent. It made for car-crash television, and for a moment Rupert’s Old Fool act looked the real thing, as he sat motionless and silent after each question, staring in alarm at his interrogator between desperate glances at his son.
It was so bad, had it continued, Murdoch might have been out of a job within the hour, but the call was passed to other and lesser questioners.
Some extracted useful information. Conservative Philip Davies, backed up by Labour’s Paul Farrelly, tortuously drew out the critical admission from James that the company was still contributing to the legal bills of Glen Mulcaire, the slime who hacked Milly Dowler’s phone messages. Conservative Louise Mensch reapplied the pressure after the extraordinary and disgraceful lapse in security that allowed an attack on Murdoch, demanding to know why Rupert wouldn’t take responsibility on the same basis that his deputy Les Hinton had.
Watson returned at the close for a parting shot, making James squirm with the suggestion that he release early phone-hacking litigant Gordon Taylor from his confidentiality obligations. Murdoch ducked and weaved but his answer was plain: no way would he risk allowing Taylor to tell his side of the story. Their former law firm Harbottle and Lewis has asked News International to do the same, and been refused.
The rest of the interrogation was inept or plain eccentric.
Mensch’s questions were as near as the committee got to the central issue of this hearing: whether the performance of the Murdochs before the committee could be believed, or whether it was simply designed to insulate them from responsibility. After all, the performance was based on a long-established technique used by corporate executives under siege in major scandals: memories suddenly fade, documents go missing, and bad things are determined to have happened without anyone being around to take the blame except the unfortunate underlings closest to ground zero. Challenged over whether they were guilty of “willful blindness”, Rupert rejected it, but the phrase was a pithy summary of exactly what they offered in their own defence.
Page 1 of 2 | Next page