The British press have been warily respectful of Rupert Murdoch's slick performance before a parliamentary panel – in which the 80-year-old media mogul defended his company amid the most stressful and “humbling” of situations.
News Corp supremo Rupert Murdoch was grilled for two hours by a select parliamentary committee in London on Tuesday, in what he described as “the most humbling day” of his life - in which he delivered a polished PR performance, according to the British press.
And hats off to the Daily Mail, Britain’s right-wing and hugely popular daily newspaper, for writing the (very long) headline that summed up the extraordinary day:
But for many in the British media, Rupert Murdoch’s contrition belied a polished and obviously rehearsed performance in which he pointedly refused to take personal responsibility for the betrayal he said he had suffered at the hands of his subordinates.
The profuse and repeated apologies from both Murdochs, the fawning respect for the committee and parliamentary protocol, and Rupert's gloomy silences before delivering monosyllabic answers bore all the hallmarks of an expert and well-coached PR exercise, said Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter at the epicentre of the hacking scandal.
“There was an intensely serious and carefully organised defence,” Davis writes in Wednesday’s Guardian. “They allowed some moral blame to get through – hence the humility – but at all costs they had to repel anything like criminal responsibility.”
And this they managed – with perhaps a small slip in the revelation that News International (the UK subsidiary of News Corp) had paid for the legal defence of Glenn Mulcaire, the man who allegedly hacked the voicemail of kidnapped schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
But these details were for the lawyers, and the Murdochs deflected any questions on tricky issues that are currently the subject of a police investigation.
On a tough wicket, the pair batted with increasing confidence as the afternoon wore on.
“For connoisseurs of management, and moguls in particular, though, the proceedings offered a master class in crisis management,” writes Philip Delves Broughton in Wednesday’s Financial Times.
Murdoch Sr., he said, had started the afternoon “as terse as an outback farmer, but slowly unveiling the lethal charm even his rivals describe as mesmeric.”
By the end of the afternoon, and despite surviving what Britons call a “custard pie” attack with the help of his wife Wendi, it seemed like the Murdochs were addressing MPs “as if they were a slightly dim MBA class.”
“In large businesses, they explained, it was customary to delegate authority to managers, and that these managers had a certain amount of discretion to make decisions and manage budgets. Such systems rely on measures of trust.”
Murdoch Sr. told the panel that the people to blame for the scandal that forced him to shut a successful newspaper were “the people I hired and trusted, and perhaps the people who they hired and trusted.”
That trust had been broken, heads had and would continue to roll, but it was not Murdoch’s fault and he assured the committee he “was the best person to sort it out.”
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