Wednesday, July 20, 2011

News Corp. - Mud slinging & pie slinging

For journalists around the world the appearance of James and Rupert Murdoch before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee made gripping television. The high drama surrounding the event and what has led up to the showdown drew millions of viewers who tuned in around the world. Those unable to tune in to television broadcasts instead watched on Internet streams, listened in on the radio or followed avidly on Twitter. The BBC even dropped its usual regionalised blocking allowing anyone in the world to watch the proceedings via the Internet.

Lack of knowledge

The questioning began with MPs grilling former Metropolitan Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. Throughout the hour long hearing he seemed to convey a complete lack of knowledge about who was working for the Met and where they had previously been employed. Continually he suggested the committee direct their questions to the recently resigned Assistant Commissioner John Yates. "You'll have to ask Mr Yates about that one," Sir Paul repeated several times. The apparent lack of knowledge over what was going on in the force and his repeated buck passing wasn't lost on some. Already there are T-shirts being offered for sale emblazoned with the quote "You'll have to ask Mr. Yates about that one." [Telegraph blog / BBC / BBC].

Both Stephenson and Fedorcio, who followed, were at pains to stress their respect for John Yates and his integrity, and what a loss he would be to the force. Sir Paul also rejected any notion that he had taken a swipe at the prime minister David Cameron, whom he insisted he had the utmost respect.

The meeting descended into slight face at one point when Sir Paul slipped up in his testimony. Responding to a question about Neil Wallis, a former News of the World employee who was taken on as a media advisor, the commissioner said, "And I go back to what I said about when I took over as Prime Minister…"

There were a few chuckles around the room as Keith Vaz corrected him. "When you took over as commissioner…," Vaz said [Full Transcript PDF / Guardian / Sky].

After a short account by Dick Fedorcio OBE, Director of Public Affairs at the Metropolitan Police, John Yates gave his account of events leading up to the hacking scandal.

Show down for Murdoch

But the show everyone was waiting for was the questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch. At around 14:30 they took their seats and the interrogation began. After the introductions by the chair John Whittingdale, James Murdoch kicked off proceedings with an apologetic statement. "First, I would like to say as well just how sorry I am, and how sorry we are, to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families. It is a matter of great regret to me, my father and everyone at News Corporation..."

His father interrupted, grasping James' hand, "I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life."

James Murdoch continued with his opening statement and took the first few questions from the chair. He sounded eloquent and seemed to be in possession of all the facts. But then attention turned to Rupert Murdoch.

Tom Watson fired his first of many questions at the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of News Corporation. "You have repeatedly stated that News Corp has zero tolerance to wrongdoing by employees. Is that right?" Rupert Murdoch replied in what was to be a series of mostly one word answers. "Yes," he confirmed.

"In October 2010, did you still believe it to be true when you made your Thatcher speech and you said, "Let me be clear: we will vigorously pursue the truth— and we will not tolerate wrongdoing."? Again Murdoch answered with a "Yes."

"So if you were not lying then," Watson conued, "somebody lied to you. Who was it?"

Rupert Murdoch appeared to stumble as he responded, "I don't know. That is what the police are investigating, and we are helping them with."

He acknowledged he was "clearly" misled. Then came further difficult questions. "Can I take you back to 2003? Are you aware that in March of that year, Rebekah Brooks gave evidence to this Committee admitting paying police?" Watson asked.

"I am now aware of that. I was not aware at the time. I am also aware that she amended that considerably, very quickly afterwards," Murdoch responded.

From here on in it went from bad to worse as Murdoch showed ignorance of what had been going on within his company. "I think that she amended it seven or eight years afterwards," Watson said, correcting Murdoch's understanding of events. "Oh, I'm sorry," Murdoch replied.

"Did you or anyone else at your organisation investigate this at the time?" Watson continued. "No," Murdoch said. "Can you explain why?" Watson said. Rupert Murdoch then revealed how little he knew, or claimed he knew about the scandal going on at the News of the World. "I didn't know of it, I'm sorry," Murdoch said.

He attempted to defend himself by saying that the News of the World was only a very small part of his media empire, and that it was impossible to know everything that was going on.

"my laxity"

"Allow me to say something? This is not an excuse.  Maybe it is an explanation of my laxity. The News of the World is less than 1% of our company.  I employ 53,000 people around the world who are proud and great and ethical and distinguished people—professionals in their line. Perhaps I am spread watching and appointing people whom I trust to run those divisions."

The almost embarrassing questioning went on for some time. James at several points attempting to interject. "Perhaps I can help here—," James Murdoch kept saying. Tom Watson was polite but continuously rebuffed Rupert Murdoch's son. "I will come to you in a minute, sir. Just let me finish my line of questioning and then I will come to you."

As Watson's questioning continued, Rupert Murdoch's ignorance seemed to grow. "I had never heard of him," "That is the first I have heard of that," "No. I can't answer. I don't know."

Not responsible

The grilling of the two, who at times looked like a pair of Mafia bosses on trial, continued for nearly two and a half hours. near to the end Jim Sheridan directed a question at Rupert Murdoch. "I know that this is a very stressful time for yourselves, but Mr Murdoch, do you accept that ultimately you are responsible for this whole fiasco?"

"No," Rupert Murdoch insisted. "You are not responsible? Who is responsible?" Sheridan retorted. Rupert Murdoch passed the buck as had been seen in testimony from others the same day. "The people that I trusted to run it, and then maybe the people they
trusted." [BBC / Telegraph]

Foam attack

Throughout the proceedings Rupert Murdoch's wife Wendi Deng had been sat behind her husband. For the most part she seemed attentive, though was evidently courting attention herself in her bright pink Chanel jacket. The length of the hearing showed as she crossed and uncrossed her legs, fondled her knees, folded her arms and examined her nails. Suddenly though she flew into action as from nowhere a man attempted to attack her husband with a shaving foam pie. Launching herself from her seat she swiped at the assailant who seemed as shocked as James Murdoch who was seen gasping as the commotion began. A burly police officer hurried across the room and it was over. Frustrated viewers could only guess what had happened as the camera tilted to the abstract painting on the wall and John Whittington suspended the session.

The surprise attack woke up everyone who had drifted off to sleep. Twitter suddenly broke into a frenzy. "Wow something has happened," "Has someone just attacked Murdoch?" and "Someone just tried to hit Murdoch!" were just a few of the early tweets hitting the social network. The facts soon became clear as TV stations replayed the action and witnesses in the room explained what had happened. And before long it was not the News of the World or Murdoch that was the trending topic but the glamorous Wendi Deng [Guardian]. "Go woman go,"  and references to her being "a kung fu warrior" were soon circulating on the microblogging platform. Even as the meeting reconvened and the Chair apologised, Tom Watson, who had given the News Corp boss such a hard time complemented his wife's sharp responses. "Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook," he said. Murdoch smiled wryly before reading his closing statement.


Few seemed interested in what he had to say any more. Whether or not he knew about the practices at the News of the World, his apologies seemed somewhat hollow. And the pie slinging had evidently detracted most from the seriousness of the proceedings.

Gif animations soon appeared on the net along with much commentary of the farcical events [BBC / Telegraph / Guardian]. The identity of the phantom pie slinger was also more interesting to many, some retweeting his Twitter comments.


The papers the following day mostly led with the pie attack on Murdoch rather than the interrogation. Of course it made great headlines, especially when coupled with Murdoch's own statement that this was the "most humble day" in his life. The Telegraph and Express both headlined with "Murdoch eats humble pie" while the Guardian led with "Murdoch's humble pie". Even the Sun could not avoid the story but referred instead to the "Fury of foam attack". The Daily Star chose the headline "Gotcha" for its frontpage, a line made famous by the Sun after the Belgrano was sunk during the Falkland's conflict [Papers].

There was certainly a feeling of growing fatigue by the time former editor of the News of the World took her seat. Rebekah Brooks continually denied any wrong doing and that she had no knowledge of hacking, illegal payments or other malpractice. But it was Wendi Deng who stole the show with her quick defence of her husband from the pie slinging. The mud slinging is likely to continue with further revelations in today's Guardian suggesting that News International deliberately blocked investigations into phone hacking.

Transcripts: Home Affairs Committee [Stephenson/Fedorcio/Yates] PDF / Culture, Media & Sport Ctte [Murdoch/Brooks] PDF

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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