A king-maker no more. Rupert Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Observer
Assuming the role of the loyal manservant after Rupert Murdoch‘s first day of evidence at the Leveson inquiry, the Times suggested in its leader that we were at last seeing its master humanised. Instead of the familiar caricature, “Murdoch emerged as someone with a broad experience, a ready wit, a commitment to newspapers and readers and a becoming humility”. Only in that word “becoming” was there anything resembling a Jeeves-like demurral on the matter of Murdoch’s personality.
By the end of the second day’s testimony, the paper looked silly. Murdoch had revealed himself as one of those toxic elderly relatives who leverage as much from the weakness of others as from their own ability, spreading self-doubt and calamity along the way. We watched for the facts about his access to Number 10, business practices and response to the phone-hacking scandal, but the really compelling part was the character revealed in those 10 hours. To that degree, he was humanised – or at least made flesh – and, in the process, his grip on British political life was relaxed that much more.
Murdoch’s defenders always said that his power was never as great as his enemies maintain and now insist the issue is only of historic interest, because newspapers are in decline. They add, as if obituarising, that he risked much to increase plurality in the British media and was one of the boldest and most visionary entrepreneurs to emerge since the Second World War. To concede these things does not invalidate the truth of the News International scandal, which is that the body count of those who had direct or indirect contact with Murdoch, whether by chance or choice, is extremely high. Prime ministers, MPs, newspaper editors, business executives, members of the public, special advisers, ordinary journalists, celebrities, senior policemen, lawyers and even family members are littered in his trail.
While more than 30 individuals wait to hear if they will face criminal charges, reputations are in shreds and political careers on life support, Murdoch, like a Marvel Comics villain, puts on the don’s Borsalino at the end of last week’s show, flashes the re-enamelled fangs and is swept from the Royal Courts of Justice looking triumphant. Of course he has been irreparably damaged by the scandal, as he pointed out several times (like all true villains, Murdoch aspires to victimhood). It’s just that he seems to be suffering a good deal less than anyone else who became entangled with his enterprises.
Even after his tactical penitence in court, he couldn’t help himself from settling scores with, among others, Gordon Brown, Harold Evans, Colin Myler, Tom Crone, David Yelland and Paul Dacre. The most revealing barb was aimed at Andrew Neil, because it showed Murdoch’s self-pity as well as his vindictiveness – “Mr Neil seems to have found it very profitable to get up and spread lies about me, but that’s his business.”
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- Murdoch: News Corporation shareholders ‘want me to get rid of newspapers’ (worldmediatrend.wordpress.com)
- Rupert Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry – Day 2 live (guardian.co.uk)