A lengthy drum roll elapsed this morning as 2012’s four-time board and leadership resignee James Murdoch appeared at the Leveson Inquiry.
Looking somewhat dishevelled compared to the razor-sharp, grade-one cut he sported at last summer’s father-and-son grilling before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (you remember: back in the days when he still had some semblance of managerial control?), the News Corporation’s equivalent of a minister without portfolio held out against inquisitor Robert Jay’s suggestions that his meagre brand of governance had effectively rubber-stamped illegal phone hacking at the News of the World.
Instead of simply confirming what the management community already knows – that his coverage on News International’s legal affairs was, at best, threadbare – he chose to dump the blame for much of the fallout at the feet of former NI counsel Tom Crone and former NOTW editor Colin Myler for not keeping him up to speed on the level of exposure the paper was facing. This was an odd manoeuvre, to say the least – especially considering that Murdoch had already publicly admitted to ignoring a 2008 email that had warned him of that very risk.
So, with the “what you know” area of his skill set left every bit as tarnished as popular perception would suggest, Jay turned to the “who you know” part. In that section, Murdoch was every bit as frustrating – his circuits set to full-on Double Standard mode.
Pressing him on the build-up to News International’s abortive attempt to gain a controlling interest in BSkyB, Jay proposed that controversy over the bid had heightened once it became clear that Vince Cable – who would have decided the matter, were it not for a sting operation by the Telegraph – “had not approached the decision with an entirely open mind.”
Bristling at Jay’s tame characterisation, Murdoch pounced in to clarify that Cable “was removed from his position of responsibility for acute bias”. But when Jay later sought to engage with the thought that Cable’s replacement on the judicial decision – Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt – was, to all intents and purposes, a News International “cheerleader”, Murdoch was having none of it. He could not accept that the bias revealed in the Telegraph’s sting on Cable had its direct opposite in Hunt, who would almost certainly have approved the bid had it not been for the dramatic escalation of the phone hacking saga, following revelations that the News of the World had accessed the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
In the same part of the morning’s session, it became clear that Murdoch had enjoyed a “tiny conversation” over the bid with Prime Minister David Cameron at a dinner organised by former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Well, that clears up the bias issue, then, doesn’t it?
Jay has spent the opening of the afternoon session mining the huge conflict-of-interest issue of how Jeremy Hunt could have been functioning as a de facto NI consultant on the BSkyB bid. Curiouser and curiouser…
Professional Manager will have another Leveson bulletin tomorrow… with our verdict on Murdoch Sr’s long-awaited performance.