The Newscorp way: how everything happened at the level just below the top
In their own different ways, Rupert and James Murdoch probably destroyed Newscorp by their performance before the Culture, Media & Sport Committee this afternoon. In a sense, they were either going to destroy the company, or destroy themselves. They chose the former.
The two men were forced into this position initially by the extremely acute and street-wise questioning of Tom Watson, who is without doubt emerging from the Hackgate saga as a man of great skill and worth in public life. Completely devoid of any attempt to showboat, Watson stuck admirably to what was his one key objective: to either get the two men to admit they knew something (and were thus competent, but guilty of crimes) or knew nothing….in which case they were unfit to be senior officers of a quoted media company. I am sure the latter conclusion was what he wanted both the Government and Wall Street to reach. If so, his questioning was a spectacular success.
The most notable thing, however, was the massive difference between the unfitness of Rupert the patriarch, and that of his son.
It was obvious from the word go that Rupe was choosing to play as gaga as possible, but without raising expectations that he might be doubly incontinent. He looked blank, he hesitated, there were long silences. He hadn’t been informed, he knew nothing, he rarely rang his editors, he didn’t ask about payoffs. He kept this up throughout the entire session, but it was Watson who made him look much sillier than the old man had intended. From what I know of his corporate style, Rupert Murdoch lied consistently from beginning to end. But to those investors in the US who know little or nothing about him, any faith they had in the bloke will have been destroyed. I do not see how he can survive in his current role after this.
James Murdoch offered a disturbing contrast to his father. He gave a display of such jargonised obfuscation and corporate dissembling, it must have been obvious to anyone who has ever worked in big business that he was either very badly briefed, or negligently hands-off, or lying, or all three.
I have met a hundred James Murdochs in my long advertising career, and they never change: they fill every sentence with meaningless padding, wander off into technical bollocks in the hope you’ll forget the question, but at the end of the day, their excuse is always the same: I didn’t ask, it wasn’t me, and I wasn’t there. He was unconvincing as a witness, but more to the point he looked shallow, process-obsessed and untalented as a human being. The sons of creative geniuses are often like this; indeed, it is the basis of my implacable opposition to large-scale inheritance of unearned money.
Whereas Murdoch the Elder lies with a degree of plausibility and occasional charm (he’s been doing it since 1968 at least) James doesn’t. He looked shifty, scared, and yet could occasionally be seen looking offstage, as if to say, “Got out of that one, didn’t I, eh?” Like so many folks with an entirely undeserved superiority complex, his testimony was a classic example of their ever-present assumption: that others, being dense, will believe any old tosh they serve up as an explanation. He tried to use corporate banality, structures and values to hide culpability on a grand scale, and he failed miserably.
Louise Mensch (Conservative) did what most politicos do on such committees: given a rare public profile, she asked long questions which tried to answer themselves, and thus allowed the witness to say “No”. Ms Mensch “put it to” all three witnesses on lots of topics, but what she mainly got in return was shrugs and rambling trivia. A good example was her reference to the Daily Mail’s use of private detectives, which completely missed the point about Paul Dacre’s discovery of the hacking culture, and decision to get rid of it.
Not only did Ms Mensch wrongly accuse Dacre, she missed a golden opportunity to introduce Daily Telegraph surveillance into the Hackgate discussion – this newspaper being where most of the people cleared out by Dacre wound up. She does strike me as quite capable, but she typified, for all to see, the examinary amateurishness of so many such events.
However, the one favour she did us all was to point out that Piers Morgan is getting off very lightly in the unwinding of the hacking scandal. She obviously doesn’t like him (he is an unashamed Brownshirt) and I salute her discernment in this regard. She accurately pointed out three times that Moron has boasted in print of his phone-hacking skills. It would be nice to think that Sue Akers will feel his collar before all this is over. As I’ve myself written two defamatory things about the Romping Arse* in recent weeks without any comeback, we can asssume that he does indeed have charges to answer, and is hoping that a low profile will see him through. His nightly show on CNN is as good a way of achieving this as anything else that springs immediately to mind.
* For newer Sloggers, I should point out that Romping Arse is an anagram of Piers Morgan.
Once Rebekah Brooks entered the arena, the atmosphere changed. This was partly because the room had been cleared following a custard-pie attack on Rupert Murdoch (Met security strikes again to produce a situation that might so easily have become a Jack Ruby moment) but mainly because the feeling towards Becky Redtop was palpably more aggressive. I suspect this is because several panel members feel they have been threatened directly or indirectly by either her, or people who worked for her.
Watson kicked off, and within thirty seconds Brooks offered the blatant untruth that the Observer had been high on the list of papers using private detectives. This was silly, because another panel member who used to work for the Observer said the number she’d given was rubbish, but even more stupidly, she argued the point – and got buried. Watson’s questioning was tinged with disdain and obvious disbelief of almost everything she said.
The second session was something of an anti-climax. Apart from the fact that this description fits Rebekah admirably anyway, shorn of her power, Ms Brooks is not very impressive – and lacks the star quality that her Newscorp patriarch and mentor had in his heyday. She looked pale and smaller than usual. Mainly, she stuck doggedly to her defence of having been sensorily challenged for eleven years, and had thus noticed nothing rotten in Wapping.
Indeed, overall the lay-viewer was left with the distinct impression that Becky and James only ever learned about anything from other newspapers, and never remember any discussions at meetings. Here again is more than enough evidence (especially for an American shareholder) to suggest that these people aren’t fit to run a major media empire. Of course, Tom Watson’s more parochial political agenda was to highlight how incredibly stupid and reckless Camerlot was to have ever considered these people as UK media market-leaders in the first place. I don’t share his politics, but I admire Watson’s bottle and no-nonsense cross-examination style immensely.
Increasingly, I am besieged by often patronising and rude comment threads suggesting that I know not what I do by rejoicing in the humiliation of the Murdochs and the collapse of Newscorp. Frankly, the idea that getting rid of a nest of hobgoblins must inevitably result in media domination by the Left is risible reasoning, and in itself also evidence of an unpleasant political agenda. The audience for the Independent and the Guardian represents a tiny niche within British society. I find the Guardianistas in particular – like Harriet Harman and the Unite trade union – a threat to our liberties. But that nexus could never, ever reach a fraction of the malign global influence achieved by Murdoch’s Newscorp. To my detractors, I would point out that while Ed Miliband’s personal rating has gone up, that of his Party hasn’t. Johann Hari has been unmasked as a blatant propagandist: what we need is more of this – not half baked Young Rightists whingeing about the loss of conservative news media.
My goal and driving obsession is to clear out globalist multinationals, trans-nation investment banks, and the fluffy-but-crooked Westminster Establishment from our lives here in the UK . But this has to be handled in a gradualist, persevering way that avoids a dictatorship of either Left or Right in the attempt to do it. For the nth time, I assert that both tendencies are irrelevant to Britain’s economic future, and chances of a socio-cultural recovery. And for the last time at this blog, I repeat that the only labels that fit me are radical, mutualist, and utilitarian. Trying to pigeon-hole The Slog as something else might suit the narrow outlook of the closed mind. But it isn’t going to stop me continuing to demonstrate – at every opportunity, whoever comes under the arc-light of examination – how my beliefs translate into practical action.