Was Rupert Murdoch’s ignorance all an act?
First Reaction: Murdoch Snr’s gameplan at today’s Commons hearing could backfire on him...
Within minutes of Rupert and James Murdoch taking their seats this afternoon before the Commons culture select committee to answer questions about phone hacking at the News of the World, the 80-year-old tycoon interrupted his son to say: "This is the most humble day of my life."
However, it wasn't long before he said he could not be held responsible for the scandal, claiming he had been let down by "people I trusted".
As more questions came from the cross-party committee of MPs, it became clear that Murdoch Snr no longer had the detailed knowledge of day-to-day affairs at his newspapers for which he was once famous. At one stage, he admitted that he might have "lost sight" of the paper because it now represented such a tiny part of his worldwide media empire – less than one per cent.
As the hearing, scheduled to last only an hour, went into the third hour at 4.30 pm, opinion had begun to split on whether the father and son performance would pass muster...
Murdoch senior's apology just didn't work. "It was clear that News Corp were looking for headlines that said 'humbled'," writes Charlie Beckett, former BBC and ITN journalist. "That is why they put the 'most humble day' line in for Rupert to read out in an opening statement... Unfortunately, they were not allowed to read the statement and so Murdoch Senior's intervention came across as awkward if not weird."
Is Rupert Murdoch's ignorance a ploy? With Murdoch Snr repeatedly claiming ignorance in the face of questioning from Labour MP Tom Watson, Toby Helm, the Observer's political editor, smelled a rat. "Murdoch Snr remembers circulation figures but not the dodgy way they got stories," he tweeted. "Makes you think the v old man act is just that - an act."
The Guardian's Julian Glover made a similar accusation. "Can someone who's worked with Rupert in private tell us if he is always like this?" he asked on Twitter. "Or is it just for special moments of public catastrophe?"
It got better as the hearing went on... As the hearing continued beyond the initially scheduled hour, there was a sense that the Murdochs had avoided any real exposure or humiliation.
"James Murdoch looks comfortable with the detailed questioning he is facing," the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson blogged. "His father looks more relaxed too. Perhaps he has concluded that if the worst he faces is mockery for being ignorant that would not be too bad an outcome."
But his ignorance could have serious consequences. Those who believed Rupert Murdoch's lack of knowledge about the intricacies of News International and phone hacking was genuine believed the consequences could be dire in the light of a Bloomberg report that Murdoch's number two, Chase Carey, was being lined up to take over as CEO of News Corp if today went badly.
"Rupert Murdoch is not looking like a man in charge of his company,
particularly the detail," writes Tim Montgomerie, editor of Conservative Home blog. "This could be serious for him in USA."
The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh agreed. "The great old man of newspapers looked hopelessly out of touch," he said. "Who knows what a News Corp shareholder would have thought." ·
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