James Murdoch in the morning session of his testimony.
James Murdoch, son of News Corp baron Rupert Murdoch and the beleaguered company’s COO, appeared before a collection of angry MPs Thursday to defend his company’s handling of the phone hacking scandal that resulted in the shuttering of News of The World this summer
It didn’t exactly go well, but it didn’t go horribly either, observers claim.
MP Tom Watson calls Murdoch a “mafia boss”
Murdoch, appearing before the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into the phone hacking scandal for a second time, told the MPs, “It is a matter of great regret that things went wrong at News International [News Corp’s British newspaper arm].” The practice of hiring private investigators to trail subjects has now been mostly banned in new corporate guidelines, after reams of evidence that private investigators hired by the company illegally hacked into the voicemail of possibly thousands of people. The massive operation was first hinted at in 2007, when a News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, and the private investigator he hired, Glen Mulcaire, went to jail for hacking-related crimes; at the time, News Corp and the paper claimed that Goodman was a “rogue” reporter and in no way indicative of a larger problem.
In the summer of 2011, however, evidence that phone hacking as in fact much, much more widespread came to light, resulting in the closure of the Sunday tabloid and big problems for parent company News Corp. Murdoch came to News International after the last phone hacking was supposed to have taken place, but he has been accused of attempting to covering up the depth of the problem. As to how much he knew about the widespread hacking problem, Murdoch disputed the testimony of two company officials, Tom Crone and Colin Myler, who said that they informed him.
The phone hacking scandal doesn’t look like it will be going away any time soon: Murdoch also said that News International would not rule out closing The Sunnewspaper, the UK’s largest selling tabloid, should evidence of phone hacking emerge, after Jamie Pyatt became the first journalist from that paper to be arrested on phone hacking charges last Friday.
Murdoch’s defence fails to inspire confidence. “The defense offered by James Murdoch in a Thursday appearance before the committee of Parliament tasked with getting to the bottom of the phone hacking scandal can be summed up in three parts: I didn’t know about it. Blame the people who should’ve told me about it. The people who say they did tell me about it are wrong,” Jeff Bercovici summed up atForbes. Ultimately, “His appearance today will certainly not be the end of anything.” Bercovici sided with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, who tweeted immediately after the hearing, “First blush: J Murdoch fairly polished yet unable to restore credibility. Yet MPs landed no single knockout punch tho some tough new Qs.”
Murdoch shifts blame, looks sorry. Murdoch’s chief line of defence appeared toshifting the blame for the phone hacking scandal onto other people, most specifically Colin Myler, the last editor of The News of the World tabloid, and the newspaper’s former legal head, Tom Crone. He also claimed that while he never misled Parliament in any of his testimony, he believes that Crone and Myler did. Even so, Murdoch appeared to adopt a much more contrite attitude than in his last appearance, Reuters claimed in its analysis of the hearing; he countered MP Tom Watson’s “mafia boss” jibe by trying to appear the bigger man, calling it “inappropriate”.
“Mr Murdoch, I think you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise,” MP Tom Watson told Murdoch.
New Corp fraying. Murdoch stuck to his guns during the testimony, but other members of the News Corp family are buckling, The Economist observed, claiming that there is “every sign that the senior News International figures are beginning to contradict one another” and that “[p]reviously tight-knit corporate ties are fraying”.
Murdoch and Committee coming up empty. “On the evidence today it seems unthinkable that he could be unaware that there was more to the case than a single pay-out to a hacking victim,” The Economist continued. But while that seems to be the case, there’s not a ton of proof: “Had he pursued the implications of the matter with due vigour? Mr Murdoch admitted that things ought to have been handled better, though not necessarily by him. Earlier Louise Mensch, a Tory committee member, had drily noted that Mr Murdoch has so far, at least, kept‘coming up empty’. This is largely true: though the man himself may well feel that such a conclusion was preferable to putting his foot in it.”