As Rupert Murdoch sat in the dock, you could well imagine the whole community of UK journalists downing tools to watch and savour the “dirty digger’s” contrived penitence. As the mogul lifted the veil on his dealings with four prime ministers and thirty years of morbid influence, watching him selecting which trick to employ and using conveniently lapses of memory was both frustrating and fascinating.
The two-day testimonies at the Leveson enquiry unfolded like a classic comic where the villain sounded toxic while settling scores and sowing doubt and self-pity. This was not the visionary newspaper proprietor, so much revered by some for his entrepreneurial spirit and the spreading of pluralism. He had much to defend – nearly 3700 cases of phone hacking by his News of the World tabloid. But in the end, he did not drop any new truth on phone hacking and cop bribing, except blame his trusted ex-servants and expose himself as the out-of-touch ageing boss.
The softly-softly style of the counsel for the inquiry QC Robert Jay may not have brutally humiliated Murdoch but a deeper truth came out about his access to No. 10, business practices and his grip on British political life. His insistence, even thumping the table, that he did not ask favours from politicians or from those seeking election was laughable and did not convince anybody. They needed him and he needed them – he could not explain why Prime Minister Cameron had to go to Santorini and Blair to Hayman Island, although he cunningly described their flirtatious encounter as “making love like a porcupine”?
Even his meandering mutterings on the decline and death of newspapers and the continued rise of the Internet did not attract much attention and could not divert from his dreadful record of corrupting the political process with his threats and inducements and ensnaring of both the prime minister of Britain and the first minister of Scotland who delivered as if under orders.
The body count Murdoch left in his trail may be high and diverse. But many can take heart that he is finished as a political force. Some believe that he is the past and that the Leveson enquiry “slammed the lid on him”.
He however left several ticking bombs. For one, the earlier performance at the enquiry of his son James revealing 163 pages of e-mails between his master lobbyist and culture secretary James Hunt during the BSkyB bid, was a pure act of clinical revenge aimed at tarnishing a government that at first sought his patronage and then deserted him when the phone hacking scandal blew up last year.
The scandal has still a long way to go.