FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH IX: Showdown in Parliament: the Play and Players: RM No responsibility

by: Peter Jukes

Tue Jul 19, 2011 at 18:51:20 PM EDT

This is an abbreviated post-festum version of My DKos diary which - because the sessions overran for two hours - I had to abandon before it Rebakah Brooks' testimony. Much played out as I expected it - as you will see in the diary below.

Because testimony wasn't under oath, because MPs aren't trained investigators (like the forthcoming Commissions of Enquiry), and because Rupert, James and Rebekah could hide under the cloak of 'ongoing investigations, it was always bound to be a damp squib investigatively.

However it was full of drama - and even pie!

An annoying and distracting moment, like most pie fights I've seen. Fun in some way - but completely counterproductive. The real drama came from the Wizard of Oz moment.

Whether it was calculated or not (I really doubt it was calculated) the curtain was pulled on the wizard, and what we saw was a rather bumbling, angry, pompous old man used to being powerful, but  when it comes to the question "Do you bear any responsibility" the answer was "Nope."

But this is important. Merely tearing the veil on the secret unaccountable power of the Murdochs is  a revelation in itself. Murdoch never governed by being loved, by being charming, or by being intellectually respected: he swayed his secret powers by fear: fear of being exposed by him, salaciously, financially, politically, personally.

Now that fear has gone, the emperor has no clothes.

Full diary beyond the flip - I think, in the main, I predicted well. But Moosers, tell me what you think

Peter Jukes :: FALL OF THE HOUSE OF MURDOCH IX: Showdown in Parliament: the Play and Players: RM No responsibility

Drama in the House?

So it's finally here: the day I never thought I would see. Around 2.30 BST Rupert and James Murdoch will appear before the Culture Select Committee to answer questions on the hacking and corruption charges now facing Newscorp, followed by Rebekah Brooks an hour later. Live House of Commons Coverage here and apparently this will also be covered by C-Span.

As everyone is warning, it might be disappointing theatrically: Brooks and the Murdoch's will both be heavily lawyered up and PR air brushed; expect no killer blows or sudden confessions; MPs are not trained examiners either. As Tom Watson, the courageous MP who along with Chris Bryant doggedly pursued the hacking allegations despite being ignored, ridiculed and then threatened has said:

"There is not going to be a killer blow on Tuesday. Expectations are way too high," [Watson] told the Guardian. "We will get the symbolism of parliament holding these people to account for the first time. We will look for facts, and not just offer rhetoric. This story has been like slicing a cucumber, you just get a little bit closer to the truth each time."

Chris Bryant himself has just reiterated on the BBC:

The theatre of [today's appearance] is irrelevant. In the end we've got to get to the bottom of what is a very murky pool. And I tell you Rebekah Brooks was right. We're only half way into that pool at the moment.

However, earlier there is another committee - the Home Affairs committee - could be just as relevant as the two senior policemen who resigned in the last two days are to be quizzed by MPs. There actually could be more fireworks here, since Sir Paul Stephenson has already lobbed a passing shot at the Prime Minister David Cameron over his associations with News International. Live Parliamentary coverage here.

Holding Unaccountable Power to Account: It's A Wonderful Life

I actually find this quite moving, and a Panorama documentary about Murdoch actually bought me to tears last night. This will always be a significant day, because after 42 years, the man who was rumoured to be, and now revealed to be, the most powerful man in Britain is finally having to face its elected representatives.

Murdoch faced a closed, untelevised session of a Lords Committee years ago, which moved to New York for his benefit: but this is completely different occasion. Having suffered, like all of us, four decades of Murdoch's tabloid menace and broadsheet right wing ideology, MPs who previous ran scared of Murdoch (because he could make or break their careers) are now going to face him without fear or favour. As Charlie Brooker put it hilariously, it's like Losing God:

A few weeks ago, Murdoch, or rather the more savage tendencies of the press as a whole, represented God. Fear of God isn't always a bad thing in itself, if it keeps you on the straight and narrow - but politicians behaved like medieval villagers who didn't just believe in Him, but quaked at the mere suggestion of a glimmer of a whisper of His name. You must never anger God. God wields immense power. God can hear everything you say. You must worship God, and please Him, or He will destroy you. For God controls the sun, which may shine upon you, or singe you to a Kinnock. Soon he will control the entire sky....

But then suddenly everything changed. The revelations over the hacking of grieving relatives' voicemails were the equivalent of a tornado ripping through an orphanage. "What kind of God would allow such a thing?" asked the villagers, wading through the aftermath. And they started to suspect He didn't exist.

They thought about the hours and days they'd spent in church, saying their prayers, rocking on their knees, whipping themselves with knotted rope, or flying round the world to address one of God's conferences, and they grew angry.

One by one they stood up to decry God. "He's a sod," said one. "No he's not, he's a monster," said another. Eventually they formed the consensus view that he was a sodmonster.

For my generation (born in the 60s) not only has Murdoch dominated our entire adult lives in terms of news, but his model of the media has disfigured politics. Of my college friends in the 80s, many got siphoned off into the financial services to earn lots of money in entirely unproductive asset bubbles. But a large number also got sucked into journalism, PR, media.  I know my journalists - the mother of my children was a very senior BBC News executive - and while all of them were excellent, clever, committed people: I knew something was wrong.

I'd often ask TV presenters or news investigators why, given their passions and interest in politics, they didn't go into politics themselves, and become and MP. Generally, the answers were awkward. They couldn't say it, but they knew they would earn less money, and the route - being selected and then elected by the people - would be long, arduous and unpredictable. But one senior figure was bluntly honest with me:

Why would I become an MP, Peter. They have no power.

So that's part of the problem here, a system dysfunction that goes beyond the Newscorp empire to the wider world of the blogosphere. Pundits and opinion writers make much more noise, more money, and an easier route to political influence than the normal political careers. I have no problem with it as such - except this one anomaly. Politicians are ultimately accountable for their power - at the ballot box. As former Home Secretary Jack Straw has just said

Parliament should be the cockpit of the nation and not the newspapers

Today it looks like it will be.

So let's celebrate today whatever happens. The people's representatives are finally confronting the unaccountable 'state within a state' which Newscorp is. Whatever the outcome, I can't help think of It's A Wonderful Life and the way George Bailey stands up to Henry F Potter.  The confrontation isn't direct. Indeed, at the end of the movie, the grasping monopolist - who would have turned Baileys hometown into a sleazy tabloid Pottterville - basically just disappears. The collective goodness of the community, which saves Bailey, makes Potter irrelevant. He keeps his riches. There is no denouement. Potter just fades away into moral oblivion and narrative insignificance.

This is how I guess the Murdochs will eventually depart, not with a bang but a whimper.

Ok a brief background on some of the dramatis personae:

Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade)

This is the one major figure in today's showdown who I have met personally. I recounted that anecdote a few days back on Motley Moose.

It was at the Hay on Wye book festival, attended by many celebrities including Clinton and Gore, where I met her one night in 2006. Everyone was very drunk at this late night venue, but we started dancing and chatting, and kind of hung out in a corner, occasionally attended to by one of her quite merciless suspicious minions.

But the thing about Rebekah was that she displayed quite a ineluctable mix of flirtation, vulnerability and intimacy. She didn't know me from Adam, but she was soon telling me all about the split from her husband. She also felt people 'hated' her at the very liberal leftie event that book festival actually is. But her one moment of passion - though we kind of had our arms around each other shoulders for some unfathomable reason (i.e. alcohol) - was when she told me how, after her night in prison, Rupert was waiting for her in the car outside.

The evening went on - it was already around midnight when it started - and we carried on chatting for a while. I think we exchanged numbers, I can't frankly remember much else, except that impression of vulnerability and openness.

But one passing moment made me realise. Rebekah was alerted by her merciless minion that a photographer had been taking snaps of us together. Rebekah said she was worried for my sake ("Ross will kill you") and walked over to the photographer and chatted with him. A minute later she returned with a smile and the photographers whole memory card. I asked her what she said, and she just smiled.

It was only the next morning, less befuddled, that I worked it out: she either said to the photographer "Give me that card and you'll never work again/have to worry about work again." Indeed, such was the monopoly power she and Rupert exerted on Fleet Street, the two statements are almost the same.

So there you have it. As many have pointed out here, Murdoch has already sacrificed the world's biggest English language newspaper to 'protect Rebekah': he may even give up the whole of News International for his quasi daughter (if the family and shareholders will let him). Maybe this vignette gives an insight why...

But though a stellar networker, there are now multifarious pieces on what a useless editor she was. According to Paul McMullan, she knew little about writing a story, was distant and vindictive with staff. She could also be merciless against opponent. Chris Bryant MP was one of her early targets when he spoke up against The News of the World, and her paper published photos of him in his underwear. Several years later, when they passed each other one evening Rebekah noted the time and suggested Bryant should be "out on Clapham Common" - a notorious cruising spot. Her husband at the time, the actor Ross Kemp, retorted

Shut up you homophobic cow.

James Murdoch

I have no personal anecdotes to add about James, and there are plenty of profiles in the papers about the family dynamics in the Murdoch dynasty. Two things however - he's next in the frame for a possible arrest for 'perverting the course of justice' and is the 'smoking gun' that leads directly from the corruption and law breaking at News International (the UK papers) to the heart of Newscorp in the US.

The second thing is his intellectual arrogance. I was first alerted to his right wing libertarian agenda two years ago, when he gave a stunningly pompous lecture about how the BBC needed to be shrunk, and that Newscorp - that arch monopoly - would bring competition and innovation to the 'market in news'. As I called him in a previous diary, James is the Rand Paul of the Media:

Unlike his father (who was merely the son of a millionaire) and was an outsider with an Australian twang when he came to the snooty UK newspaper scene of the late 60s, James Murdoch is the son of a billionaire, speaks with a horrible Blair-like transatlantic twinge, and has the smug permatan look of the new apparatchiks - the MBA/McKinsey/Davos set who run the world without roots in any particular county.

The following year I met NI journalists and Tory apparatchiks at a conference who repeated this libertarian tosh almost word for word: here's some of the hyperbole from his Edinburgh Speech:

For hundreds of years people have fought for the right to publish what they think. Yet today the threat to independent news provision is serious and imminent....

Sixty years ago George Orwell published 1984. Its message is more relevant now than ever. As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.

We must have a plurality of voices and they must be independent. Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media - the BBC in particular - grow ever more dominant. That process has to be reversed.

His idea of 'reversing the process' was getting the Tories he supported to reduce the BBC (they did that in 2010) and to push for a cross platform monopoly with 100% ownership of our monopoly pay per view TV, and bigger than the BBC in terms of revenue, BSkyB. And this from a company which already owned 37 per cent of the UK press.

Plurality and independence? James is clearly a great dissembler. We don't know yet whether or how he's deceived Parliament. He may be yet be proved to be a liar, or maybe even something worse - maybe he has even deceived himself.

But let's remember how close James was to both Rebekah and David Cameron: and let's not forget: until this time last week the BSkyB deal was going to go through.

Rupert Murdoch

What can I say here that has not already been said? Ever since his arrival here in 1969 to take over the News of the World and The Sun, and then his courtship of Thatcher to allow him both to break competition rules and take over The Times stable of papers and then base Sky offshore, he's been the bane of my life. I had a tough adolescence, with years spent on a council estate thanks to family bankruptcy, and one of the things that keep me going through my teens - a shard of cultural light which saved me from the brink and gave me a taste for writing and culture was The Sunday Times, then edited by Tina Brown's husband Harold Evans. It was an amazing paper, full of investigative journalism, great columnists, great accessible coverage of theatre, books, TV reviews. When Murdoch took it over it became of pompous unreadable mass of supplements, with no clear editorial direction: right wing politics and ignorant cultural snootiness. (Though I think I did appear in it in 1983 thanks to the surviving theatre critic, James Fenton, reviewing one of my plays).

His influence carried on spreading throughout my life, both politically and professionally. His newspaper standards brought down ALL the broadsheet papers. He constantly attacked the BBC, which often cavilled under his blows. And of course, after the deal done with Thatcher, he constantly promoted an anti Europe, laissez faire, Thatcherite agenda. One of my heroes, the dramatist Dennis Potter, called the cancer that would kill him 'Rupert'.

I briefly worked for one of his subsidiaries in the 90s, and though all his organisations are staffed with excellent people, ideologically and managerially, this was a culture of control, power, hierarchy, dynasty and monopoly: despite all of Rupert's avowed belief in 'free markets' and 'meritocracy' and his pretence that he is anti-elites.
Michael Wolff, Murdoch's biographer, and someone who has spent over 60 hours with the man, is still the best independent source of insight into Rupert's character. What he says about today's select committee appearance could be a useful guide to what might happen today:

He will handle it very poorly. This is something that Rupert doesn't know how to do, has never done, has resisted doing and frankly can't do. Rupert is - on top of everything else - an incredibly shy man and he is also a very inarticulate man and he is also a man who, I don't think he is going to know what to do with the fact that he will be confronted here. It is very likely he will get angry. He will say things that people should not say in public. I know they are drilling him and rehearsing him over and over and over and over again and they are saying to him 'do not say anything, just answer the questions in as few words as possible'. Whether he absorbs that lesson or not...actually I can't imagine that he will or that he has.
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Great Diary (2.00 / 4)
You're creating a franchise with these.  Murdoch's performance was unimpressive and can only erode his metaphysical power to terrify.  Pity about the pie, it was so clearly a tactical benefit to the Murdochs that one is inclined to go, "Hmmm..."  

I thought the Home Affairs select sessions were actually more interesting from an "investigative" point of view.

I agree... it's slicing the cucumber (2.00 / 4)
It's a slow process. You've got to find the shades of inconsistency in their beautifully legally constructed palaces of lies. But then you hammer against the weakness, and just as Bernstein and Woodward found (and Bernstein says this is more like Watergate than any of the -gate's of the last 40 years) the whole edifice eventually comes crashing down.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
More "Hmmm..." (2.00 / 4)
From the trusty Guardian again:

Rupert Murdoch is assembling a team of US lawyers with expertise in fighting large federal criminal cases, suggesting he is readying himself for a bitter legal battle in America as a result of the phone-hacking scandal.

At the centre of the team is Brendan Sullivan, one of America's most experienced lawyers, who over 40 years in litigation has acquired a reputation for taking on difficult and sensitive cases. He represented Oliver North, the US marine corps officer, in congressional hearings over the Iran-Contra affair.

At the time of the hearings in 1987, Sullivan was described by the Washington Post as "the legal equivalent of nuclear war". A fellow lawyer said: "He asks no quarter and gives no quarter."

Sullivan describes himself as a specialist in "high-profile criminal litigation", whose typical clients include major companies involved in "criminal investigations, litigation or government regulatory matters".

Ed Pikington - Rupert Murdoch assembles US legal team over phone-hacking scandal 18 Jul 11

Oh, let's hope...

[ Parent ]
Well, they didn't slap down the 911 victim hacking... (2.00 / 4)
...very firmly. James merely said 'It would be terrible if this happened... but I have no evidence'.

Though this could be just a precaution, it seems to me internal investigations must have suggested to Newscorp that they face a formal criminal investigation for Wiretapping and/or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The degringolade rolls on. Though I think there will be a slight lull on the Newscorp side. The whole focus tomorrow will be on UK politics. Happy to blog this on the Moose, as you guys are internationalists. No point Gossing it up though. Which is good - a more relaxing time with the comments.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Yeah... (2.00 / 4)
I thought that was interesting too.  My hunch would be this "hire" was a pre-emptive strike at the will of US prosecutors to make the case at the risk of their careers.  On the other hand all bets are apparently off with Murdoch's cowed minions at the moment.

Frankly, his most immediate concern must be disgruntled investors with non-voting "B" shares in News.  I would be looking for the exits myself.

[ Parent ]
And the Independent Directors... (2.00 / 3)
Head for the shelters:

The independent directors of News Corp have appointed their own legal team as the company faces shareholder law suits and an investigation by the US authorities.

News Corp's nine independent directors include Rod Eddington, the former chief executive of BA, John Thornton, former president of Goldman Sachs and José María Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain.

Another board member, billionaire investor Tom Perkins, has told the Wall Street Journal the directors have appointed law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, to advise them on the handling of the escalating phone-hacking crisis.

Dominic Rushe - News Corp's independent directors hire own legal team over phone hacking Guardian 19 Jul 11

Yeah, business as usual I guess.  Still, not a good sign for Rupert:

...the move clearly signals growing tension at News Corp, which already faces one law suit from shareholders who have seen the value of their investment plummet following the revelation of the scandal. It has had a profound impact on the Murdochs' reputation and the company's share price, wiping close to $6bn off its value in the last 10 days.

Dominic Rushe - News Corp's independent directors hire own legal team over phone hacking Guardian 19 Jul 11

Easy come, easy go.

[ Parent ]
On the Other Hand... (2.00 / 4)
This is an interesting takeaway:

So what did we learn? Rupert Murdoch, at least, gave some clear answers. His performance improved as the hearings went on, even if James answered most of the questions. Rupert promised to stop paying Glenn Mulcaire's legal fees - the private investigator who was paid £100,000 a year to engage in phone hacking for the newspaper. Mulcaire has been refusing to testify in the string of hacking legal actions against the News of the World; using legal advice of the kind only a rich man could afford. Now Mulcaire may be forced to tell the truth.

Dan Sabbagh - Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks at the select committee Guardian 19 Jul 11

That would be refreshing.  And who the hell is this Joel Klein?

[ Parent ]
Booyah! (2.00 / 3)
Pay dirt from the Home Affairs committe:

Rupert Murdoch's News International has been found by a parliamentary committee to have "deliberately" tried to block a Scotland Yard criminal investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, the Guardian has learned.

The report by MPs from the all-party home affairs committee will be released on Wednesday and its publication has been moved forward in time for today's statement by prime minister David Cameron on the scandal.

Vikram Dodd - News International 'deliberately' blocked investigation Guardian 20 Jul 11

Ouch.  Game on.

hmmm (2.00 / 3)

should I go for it?

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

Murdoch makes News Corp less valuable. (2.00 / 2)
Murdoch News Corp. discount = 50%


By valuing each of News Corp.'s businesses separately, the New York-based media conglomerate would be worth US$62-billion to US$79-billion, estimates from Barclays PLC and Gabelli & Co. show, indicating News Corp. trades at an almost 50% discount to its units. Mr. Murdoch, 80, is facing increasing scrutiny over his management of News Corp. after the phone-hacking revelations forced him to abandon a takeover of British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC and deepened a slump that has left shareholders with a 16% loss in the past five years even as rivals gained.

"There's just sort of this generic Murdoch discount, which encompasses the concern that he will make decisions that are not consistent with other shareholder interests," said Michael Morris, an analyst at Davenport & Co. in Richmond, Va. "The sum of the parts on News Corp. is huge compared with where the stock trades." Based on Mr. Morris's own sum-of-the-parts analysis, News Corp. is worth about US$25 a share, 60% higher than the company's closing price of US$15.64 last week.

Tara Lachappelle and Danielle Kucera, Bloomberg News

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

I See... (2.00 / 2)
My take?  Somebody is now desperately pimping News stock as a bargain.  If it's so undervalued why hasn't someone bought it and dismantled it for scrap years ago?  There's richer men than Rupert.

[ Parent ]
Good question: (2.00 / 2)

Is FOX even covering this? Has anyone watched?

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


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