For anyone who saw Rupert and James Murdoch’s testimony to the culture select committee of Parliament on Tuesday saw a tired and withering performance by the patriarch of a media empire that is under attack from all sides.
Undoubtedly fronting such an inquiry is an intimidating task, especially at such a tumultuous time for News Corp. But what we saw from the Murdochs a lackluster performance where the accountability that the Murdochs and their news conglomerate have demanded from others over the decades was sadly lacking.
"I am not responsible”, the 80 year old media baron told the committee during a marathon three hour inquisition. How is he not responsible? Murdoch Senior was keen to point out that he was responsible for an organization that employs over 53 thousand employees and the News of the World represented less than one percent of international media empire. Does this remove him of responsibility from the disgraceful practices engaged in by his organization? Or does it merely highlight a spectacular degree of incompetence among News International senior executives, the editors and managers of its media interests?
At one point I almost thought that the Murdochs were portraying themselves as among the victims within the scandal. In short, despite the cream pie incident, the inquiry was a PR disaster for both Murdochs. James looked evasive and incompetent and Rupert looked tired and out of touch. It certainly didn’t help that the hearing screened worldwide, both repeatedly tried to avoid identifying the specific culprits in his company, often blaming earlier legal counsel for inadequate advice. In many instances the older left it to the younger to explain. At one point Rupert was pulled up by James for gesticulating too much, pointing out to Murdoch Senior that he was thumping the table too much, a sure sign that both had heavily rehearsed their responses.
Whether the “ignorance/betrayal” defense will hold up over time the world will no doubt find out in the coming days and weeks. What is clear, is that such a defense from politicians embroiled in their own scandals would not be tolerated by any of the Tycoons tabloids. There would be calls to resign or for the government to be over thrown.
Emerging and likely to surpass even the fate of the Murdoch empire will be the fallout for the David Cameron and his government. The political ramifications are only a sideshow at this stage, however it won’t remain that way for long. The intertwining of the Cameron government and its association with Murdoch and several of ex News International staff is going to be a difficult web for the Prime Minister to escape from.
Clean skin opposition leaser, Ed Milliband, free from the association with Murdoch and his organization, is gaining full political capital from the saga and is calling for new media ownership rules to effectively break up the Murdoch stranglehold on the press in the UK. For the first time since the election, the Labour leader is now seen by many as an alternative leader for the nation.
There’s a cracking movie in all of this of course. All we need now is for the script to be completed and who knows when that will be?