Hello…? Rupert? RU-PERT?
Are you awake?
Do you know that you are all over the internet right now on every website that has embedded the live feed from the Leveson Inquiry… you know, the Leveson Inquiry? The one that’s undertaking a top-to-toe examination of press corruption and the relationship between media companies and politicians? We thought that was right up your street, interests-wise.
But, oh dear. You appear to be very subdued. Looks like Robert Jay QC is going to have to pass you some smelling salts so you can answer his questions in something other than curt, monosyllabic quips delivered in a half-asleep drawl.
In an early exchange – if you could call it that – between Jay and News Corporation chief executive and CEO Rupert Murdoch, the lawyer attempted to probe the mogul’s leadership style via the “rule by fear” proposition: that Murdoch had extracted pound after pound of flesh from his underlings down the years through the exercise of raw, personal magnetism.
“Aura or charisma?” Murdoch replied. “I don’t think so.”
You better believe it.
This morning’s session was almost a direct replay of Murdoch’s appearance with son James before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee last summer – minus the custard pie. Whether Jay’s questions attempted to lift the lid on his managerial approach, his political affiliations, his criticisms of editors, or events that he may have been present at, his uniform response was pretty much, “Maybe… I don’t know.”
There were two, unequivocal admissions of professional regret and misjudgement. The first was over the 1983 publication in the Times of extracts from the fake ‘Hitler Diaries’. In that case, then-editor Hugh Trevor-Roper (now Baron Dacre of Glanton) had dispatched a historian to Switzerland to examine the materials, and gained an assurance that they were genuine – providing Murdoch with the confidence to authorise their appearance in the paper. The second was his decision in 1998 to block News Corp publisher HarperCollins from printing the memoirs of former Hong Kong governor Lord Patten – widely seen as a censorious act designed to appease the Chinese government, although Murdoch denied that he’d pulled the book for commercial reasons. They were the only hints in the first part of the hearing that Murdoch’s corporate governance had ever been off beam. But they’re not exactly topical, are they?
For most of the time, though, there was a notable escalation of the tactics that had served Murdoch so well in the Committee session last year: interminable pauses while “thoughts” were gathered; saving the bulk of each answer for when Jay asked the next question, thus repeatedly breaking the QC’s stride; and laughing off some of the more colourful comments that were put to him as those he had made at parties or dinners where he’d opined on public figures or issues of the day.
Oh – and scrupulously downplaying notions of his political influence, in the face of numerous accounts from journalists and memoirists to the distinct contrary.
If dullness is a reliable defence, then Murdoch has it down to a fine art. But Professional Manager hopes for the sake of News Corp staff that he comes out of his shell a bit during board meetings…