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Murdochs Murdoched… well almost

21/07/2011

‘You gotta have faith in Karma. Today it’s very real. And I hope the families of Milly Dowler and all the others who died get way more than an apology. God bless them.
   George Michael – on twitter

There is just such an exquisite sense of delicious irony seeing the pics Rupert, Rebekah and James frozen in the blinding pitiless flash of the press photographers, trying to look composed as the mobs clammer outside the car window, but looking, by implication, wretched and guilty. It has to be poetic justice or karma.   It is amazing how quickly everyone turned on the Murdoch empire and how heartfelt the anger and resentment is. On top of the very obvious moral culpability there seems to be a feeling amongst the public that they have been taken for chumps and amongst many politicians, there is  a sense of relief that the game is up – that they no longer have to play along with the News Corp goons.  It as though a dictator has been deposed  and everyone (pollies included) can breathe the air of freedom –  a kind of British Spring.  But even if the dictator has been deposed, the apparatus they created  lives on – as per the army and secret police in Egypt who are now confronting protesters in Tahrir Square well after Mubarak has lost power.   But in the case of this scandal, the tyrant is still very much in power, and like all professional dictators (including media billionaires), they deny any inconvenient fact with the aplomb of someone who knows that the rules that everyone else lives by, don’t apply to them.

The performance last night (our time) by the two Murdochs was staggering  – the glib denial of any knowledge punctuated by sycophantic apologies, and hyperbolic expressions of “disgust” and “revulsion” about the events, the excruciating pauses from the old man – were all, in retrospect, probably masterfully orchestrated.  It wast was a well executed and choreographed double act – with father and son each doing their schtick.  Murdoch Snr: the extremely contrite but careful and wary, if a bit vague on details, senior citizen who was dutifully fulfilling his obligations to the state and aggrieved public – although his disdain for the committee and process was very apparent.   Murdoch Jnr: the dutiful son eager to explain and help, with his smooth patter of corporate weasel words – mostly in the passive voice, pronounced with a shifting and rootless (and creepy) mid-atlantic accent – which kind of made sense but it didn’t mean anything, as per: “The underlying interception was not a disputed fact. Secondly, it was the advice and further to that I should say, it was the advice and the clear view of the company that, if litigated, that the company would lose that case that it was almost certain to lose that case because the underlying fact was not in dispute.”

At the centre of their defence is the notion of plausible deniability – no matter how thin that plausibility is.  It is contingent on the different levels of management not being aware of, or responsible for, what happens in the levels below – this is not how any company runs – especially not one as successful as News Corp.   Unfortunately, they are in a position where they can manipulate and distract attention from the inconsistencies in their position.  Indeed most of the answers seemed to  be about creating a reassuring impression that they were still in control and in business.    While they weren’t allowed to read a prepared opening address it didn’t take long (about 3 minutes) for Rupert to work his carefully prepared one-liner onto the public record  – be it by interrupting rather awkwardly:   “Just before you get to that I’d just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life”.   That was it… the next morning’s headline.

Occasionally the masks slipped and they went off-message and we got a glimpse of the delusional world and logic of a paranoid dictator that has started to believe his own propaganda.  There were “agendas” from their competitors to fuel the “hysteria” and a marked propensity to blame other unknown previously trusted “individuals” for betraying them personally:  “Because I feel that people I trusted—I am not saying who, and I don’t know what level—have let me down. I think that they behaved disgracefully and betrayed the company and me, and it is for them to pay” – RM.    These were small glimpses of a thin-skinned self-centred culture that is really behind the slick self-assured if somewhat superficially chastened image they presented.

The serious problem is that the corporation is a corrupting factor in public debate around the world, if not itself a corrupt body.  Rupert is proud that he can control the editorial direction of his newspapers and television news channels to run concerted campaigns against those he divines as unfit for office but will not take responsibility for any of the corrupt and corrupting practices that take place under his nose.  It was only through an unlikely and perhaps, in some respects, fortuitous, series of events that these corrupting practices have come to light and public indignation sparked but this indignation is difficult to sustain and now looks like drifting back into distracted apathy.   Karmic corrections probably have a use-by date.

The recent events have changed the media landscape in the UK dramatically, but certainly not irreversibly.  The Murdoch father and son show won on the day, in effect, by simply not losing – not losing face or their cool.  Despite a less than credible performance, they walked away with their reputation largely unscathed – perhaps in a perverse way, enhanced.  Maybe the anti-Murdoch crusade reached its zenith moments before the ridiculous foam-pie incident, because that event seems to have put the whole proceedings into a new frame – of farce and comic street theatre – supported by the free swinging Wendi who appeared like some superhero out of nowhere to protect her man (Gaddafi has his 40 virgin bodyguards; Rupert has his Wendi).     Rupert’s appearance before the committee seems only to have reassured the world his stoic indestructibility.  Politicians, legislators, police and editors will now be looking over their shoulders again and wondering who is really in control – the Parliament or Rupert.

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