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  1. Wealth
July 19, 2011

Rupert Murdoch, King Lear

By Spear's

How can the CEO and chairman of such a major company be so isolated?

What the Murdoch two-ring circus today at the CMS select committee, the latest crescendo of Hackgate, has shown is either that people are too scared to tell Rupert anything or that he has dissembled masterfully, using a senility defence suggested by his PR people.

How can the CEO and chairman of such a major company be so isolated? It’s not like he’s emeritus or uninvolved – he’s the one making all the mistakes of late, from buying Myspace to overpaying for the Wall Street Journal. Are his executives terrified of him? Shareholders in News Corp must be anxious and calls for Rupert to consider his position, while probably fruitless, will intensify.

Rupert was almost Lear-like – he seemed a faded man, bemused. There were many times he hesitated over an answer, or lost the thread. James, Cordelia-like, constantly seemed on the verge of stepping in to stop them (especially the penetrating, direct, subtle questions of Tom Watson MP). The other comparand is the Wizard of Oz, as suggested by the FT and others, but he’s risible, not tragic.

James sounded like a Valley girl crossed with a banker, slickly talking about the ‘quantum’ of mysterious payments in an unconvincing accent. He was good with figures and clearly well-prepped, but most of the questions were aimed at the trophy, his father. This was perhaps not necessarily the most fruitful way to go, but it made more sense as an emollient oil poured out of James’ mouth.

So did we learn anything, apart from the fact that Rupert knows nothing? Not really. News Corp can pay someone a million pounds without telling Rupert (ignorance again), and James apparently didn’t tell his father he was paying off/settling with Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford. Nor would the editor of the NOTW (as was) tell him that in their weekly (later modified to monthly) Saturday night phone call. This is hardly credible.

James Murdoch didn’t know that News International had paid for Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman’s legal fees until afterwards, despite Goodman employing John Kelsey-Fry QC, one of the country’s most skilled (and expensive) criminal silks. This was ‘customary’ in Britain, James said, which is not at all like another incentive to be silent either. (Sarcasm, I’m afraid.) He admitted ‘certain legal fees’ had been paid for Mulcaire, and hedged on whether they were still paying. It’s suspicious that a convicted criminal former employee is being supported, no?

Colin Myler, ex-editor of the NOTW, got it in the neck: he commissioned the report from Harbottle & Lewis which was then ignored. That’s Murdoch loyalty for you, in fact as was Rupert saying Rebekah Brooks was in charge of whose legal fees should be paid. I write as I watch the hearing, and Brooks is yet to come; she must be terrified about the rope Rupert has given the committee.

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From another member of the Spear’s staff
It wasn’t the Grand Jury. The Murdoch regicides ranged from a home-counties Tory chairman to a 40 year old woman who would have looked more at home selling socks at Peter Jones.
Together, they lined up to throw stones at the media mogul. But, apart from the stray attacker, most missed as ‘Mr Murdoch Senior’ danced with mesmeric theatricality between somnolence and table thumping.
The most shocking moment (for non-boxing fans) came when Murdoch’s indifference for Britain became clear. ‘Very seldom’ does he speak to the editor of the Sun, while the News of the World is deemed ‘so small’ at 1% of his empire.
Such words made the billionaire appear media unsavvy. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Half way through rallying against the competition for bringing down the NOTW and the BSkyB bid, his son, James (a rather fay American who to general amazement used to run a hip-hop label) had to come to his rescue with an army of prepared lines.
On the whole, HNWs will be happy to see the Murdochs tamed. The public’s disapproval of investigative journalism should mean that privacy intrusions into tax positions and its like will diminish.
But it would be naive to assume that this will continue. In the same way that a never-ending production line of 55 year old ministers were needed to see off the NOTW, so too News Corp will mutate into a new beast in future.
Eventful as this month has been, stranger things have happened in journalism. In 1915, Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail, wrote such an unpopular editorial that his paper’s circulation fell from 1.4 million to 0.2million overnight.
Sure Murdoch has had to shut the NOTW, but the anecdote proves that newspaper business has the unique advantage of being able to steer the news agenda away from itself sooner or later.

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