Two key quotes from Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch during the parliamentary hearing in the UK today (transcript via the Guardian):
I didn’t know of it [paying police bribes]. I’m sorry… if I can just say something. And this is not as an excuse – maybe it’s an explanation of my laxity. The News of the World is less than one per cent of our company. I employ 53,000 people around the world who are proud, and great and ethical and distinguished people. Professionals in their lives. And perhaps I’m spread watching and appointing people whom I trust to run those divisions.
I do not have direct knowledge of what they knew and at what time but I can tell you that the critical new facts as I saw them and as the company saw them really emerged in the production of documentary information or evidence in the civil trials at the end of 2010. The duration from 2008, or 2007 I should say till the end of 2010, the length of time it took for that come clear and that real evidence to be there is a matter of deep frustration. Mine, I have to tell you I know and I sympathise with the frustration of this committee and it’s a matter of real regret that the facts could not emerge and could not be gotten to, to my understanding, faster.
The Murdochs were obviously prepped well for the hearing, giving only prepared soundbyte answers designed to obsfucate rather than inform. James Murdoch, the more polished performer, spoke for most of the time doing his best to appear humble and helpful, while Murdoch senior was more curt and reluctant to offer up information while being grilled. If anyone expected a dramatic turn of events, they will be sorely disappointed. The hearings confirmed that:
1. The Murdochs still believe they did nothing wrong personally.
2.They are not culpable for the phone hacking and bribes paid by journalists and senior executives.
3.The links between their empire, the police and the government has not been improper or corrosive.
The problem for the Murdochs is that while the scandal may appear to be peaking, it has only really just begun. James and Rupert are attempting to stem the tide, and today’s performance may or may not have done that. In reality, it doesn’t really matter – the investigation will continue and as more and more people will be implied, it will be harder to contain the wider implications of a highly corrupt corporate culture. Corporate culture comes from the top, and Rupert Murdoch is ultimately responsible for what goes on inside his company.
He may stay on as head of News Corporation, but his authority, power and prestige have been irreversibly tarnished. No longer will he be invited to Downing St for cups of tea with the Prime Minister, and no longer will he influence which political party gets into power. It will be shocking if the UK does not implement stringent laws to prevent the consolidation of media conglomerates, and if that happens, Murdoch will be about as relevant to UK politics as Gordon Brown now is.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.