Spell is broken and emperor found to have no clothes on
Published 20/07/2011 | 05:00
Rupert Murdoch sounded angry, obdurate and self-righteous. He behaved like an octogenarian rancher who finds to his fury that his enemies want to turn him off the vast property which he has spent his whole life building by the sweat of his brow.
Murdoch will not oblige his adversaries by consenting to such an injustice. The proprietor -- who sees himself as a fearless outsider -- knows he has done nothing wrong.
Dreadful things happened on the ranch -- Murdoch could not deny that. He was at pains to show he was as horrified as anyone by the treatment of the Dowler family, and broke in to assure MPs: "This is the most humble day of my life."
But Murdoch was damned if he was going to take responsibility. Nor was he prepared to blame his closest associates, some of whom have been forced to step down: the faithful Les Hinton, whom Murdoch would still trust with his life, and the admirable Rebekah Brooks, whose resignation he would not at first accept because he still trusts her too.
The crimes on Murdoch's property happened lower down the scale, among the more than 50,000 employees whose work he could not be expected personally to supervise, or even know about.
"People I trusted have let me down," Murdoch said near the end. "And it's for them to pay."
Murdoch was accompanied by his son, James, who struck many observers as a kind of carer for his aged father. But Murdoch junior was unimpressive. He looked young and naive, and he babbled on in the language of business without getting to the point.
Murdoch senior spoke like a tabloid journalist who scorns to use 10 words when one will do. His laconic stubbornness made him a riveting witness. When he wanted to pause for thought, he paused: here was a man playing it his own way, without the ingratiating loquacity of his son.
Labour MP Tom Watson was the most formidable of the interrogators, but Murdoch stood up to him with bare and unsatisfying answers: "Yes; Yes; I don't know; Clearly; I didn't know about it."
But more often Murdoch replied, in a voice full of gravel: "No." He spoke more plainly than his interrogators. When Watson wondered if the Murdochs and their staff were suffering from "collective amnesia", Murdoch senior told Watson, "you're not saying 'amnesia'. You're saying 'lies'."
When Murdoch senior was attacked by a "comedian" with a "custard pie", this just played into the witness's sense of victimhood.
Why was this 80-year-old autocrat allowed to remain for so long in undisputed control of his empire? Because he was determined to go on indefinitely, and employed people who allowed him to do so. But the spell is broken and the emperor is suddenly found to have no clothes. (©Daily Telegraph, London)