Live-Blogging The Murdoch Hearings

Jul 19 2011 @ 9:39am

12.42 pm. An eye-witness account:

What you might not have seen is the full instinctive and furious reaction of Mr Murdoch’s wife, Wendi. Having sat through the evidence unsmiling, she moved faster than anyone else. First, she swung a slap at her husband’s attacker. She followed up by picking up the plate and trying to strike him with it. And then she moved back to her husband. Sitting on the table before him, she starting to clear the foam from his bald head, sometimes embracing him.

12.41 pm. The odious Piers Morgan tweets:

I’ve never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone.

12.37 pm. And it was a paper plate with shaving foam. The ninja skills of Wendi Murdoch are now the talk of the House. 12.28 pm. An extraordinary session – far longer than anticipated. The gist is that this hands-on media executive and his son had no idea that phone hacking was still going on and no idea that any payments were offered to the police and no idea that their own company had thousands of individuals on file whose mobile phones could be or were hacked. James seemed to me like an earnest and crafty businessman fighting for his life, and Rupert looked like an extinct volcano fighting for his own reputation in the eyes of his own father. Call it hubris, pathos, or nemesis, it has revealed a British tabloid culture of endemic criminality. I cannot know the truth or otherwise of what both Murdochs said today. I do know that their statements of complete denial of any knowledge of any criminality after 2007 are rightly deemed suspicious until borne out by the full evidence. 12.23 pm. Why has Rupert Murdoch not resigned? The question of the day from the Tory MP, Louise Mensch. “It’s for them to pay,” says Murdoch of those in his company he says betrayed him. “I’m the one to put this right.” 12.21 pm. The tension between the Murdochs and their lawyers may well become a major part of this story. 12.16 pm. Rupert Murdoch has not yet instructed all his editors to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that these things won’t happen again. Pathetic. 12.15 pm. Now we have split screens of Jonnie Marbles and James Murdoch. Lovely. 12.11 pm. When did the Murdochs know about the Dowler phone-hacking? They read it in the Guardian. And, again, that’s the best gloss they can put on this: they had no idea of the crimes being committed to create their newspapers. At best: gross negligence; middle option: willful blindness; worst option: fully but informally complicit because of the general culture of criminality at the company. 12.08 pm. We’re back. Murdoch’s jacket is off. More questions about the amazing pay-offs to the original victims of the hacking. If the larger payments contained confidentiality agreements and the smaller payments didn’t, an inference of buying silence would be warranted. 12.07 pm. Tweet of the day:

I just got splattered with the Murdoch foam pie

12.02 pm. The dude appears to be a member of the group UK Uncut – not a group dedicated to protecting foreskin, alas, but a decentralized bunch of activists opposed to tax evasion. They’re playing Wendi’s solid slap over again and again on British TV. Where were the police? The man is now named as Jonnie Marbles, a “comedian”. 11.59 am. It appears Wendi Murdoch clocked the bloke. Or slapped him on the head. I wouldn’t want to cross Wendi Murdoch. Was it a foam pie? No, it was a custard pie! 11.54 am. Violence breaks out. Not carried live. Someone tried to attack Rupert Murdoch in person. The video cuts away. Someone was taken out of the room in handcuffs. All I could see was Wendi Murdoch leaping up, and cries of “No! No! No!” Murdoch didn’t seem to be personally affected. The culprit looks as if he has white paint on his face and clothing. 11.52 am. CNN’s repellent Piers Morgan, former NOTW editor, tweets:

News Corp stock price has risen throughout the hour. Not, I suspect, how the MPs hoped things might go from their interrogation.

11.47 am. Murdoch gets a little choked up remembering his father. But notice the resentment beneath: his father was “hated” in Britain for his paper’s exposure of what happened at Gallipoli. Then the cozying up to Gordon Brown. And all the time, the ancient hands banging the table. Mesmerizing. 11.42 am. What are the bounds of legitimate press inquiry? A good question. Murdoch refers to the Telegraph’s purchase of confidential information on MPs. That’s been part of the News International defense: everyone does this; deception in pursuit of the public interest is legit; but breaking the law, i.e. phone-hacking and bribing the police is a serious matter. 11.40 am. This is indeed humbling. Rupert is defending himself from charges of nepotism. The banging of the table is beginning to become a nervous tic. 11.37 am. “To my knowledge, things were not known.” That’s another quote of the day from James Murdoch. Even though this corporation had evidence itself of criminality, no one knew of it; and when the police investigated, the review was a couple of hours. The whole thing stinks to heaven. 11.35 am. One piece of news so far: NI paid money to Goodman and Mulcaire after their hacking convictions … and those payments ‘could have been’ authorised by Les Hinton. They were not thrown outside the NI circle despite being known phone-hackers. 11.26 am. The email from Ed Lewellyn to the now resigned John Yates of the Metropolitan Police:

John – Thanks – all well. On the other matters that have caught your attention this week, assuming we are thinking of the same thing, I am sure you will understand that we will want to be able to be entirely clear, for your sake and ours, that we have not been in contact with you about this subject. So I don’t think it would really be appropriate for the PM, or anyone else at No 10, to discuss this issue with you, and would be grateful if it were not raised please. But the PM looks forward to seeing you, with Peter Ricketts and Jonathan Evans, purely on [redacted: national security] matters at 1230. With best wishes, Ed

Cameron was right to rush back to Britain. 11.22 am. Toby Harnden of the Telegraph is gloating:

It’s extremely difficult to take Rupert Murdoch’s appearance at face value. The man who is legendarily hands on and runs a global empire that, he said, employs 53,000 people (of which the News of the World represented one percent, he pointed out) is surely not a senile old dodderer who was blissfully aware that dark arts being practice by his journalists.

The “senility defense” seems harsh. I.e. the kind of headline the Sun would use.

11.17 am. It seems that Rupert Murdoch was not the only one who was allegedly kept in the dark. A senior Downing Street aide told the police commissioner to keep Cameron in the dark over phone-hacking, giving him deniability. Money quote:

Stephenson said he was unable to name the No 10 aide but that outgoing Met assistant commissioner, John Yates, who also resigned over the phone-hacking scandal, would know. Yates later told the same home affairs select committee that it was No 10 chief of staff Ed Llewellyn who turned down his offer to brief Downing Street on the “nuances” of the hacking investigation after the New York Times story in September 2010.

11.01 am. Why close the NOTW rather than fire the woman who ran it while it was a criminal enterprise? No real answer from Rupert. He liked her and trusted her and so did not accept her resignation at first and then gave way when she “insisted” on quitting because of her “extreme anguish.” Again, not a credible answer. Perhaps Murdoch runs his company on the basis of sentimental loyalty to people high up in the ranks and utter ruthlessness with respect to institutions and low-level staff. It looks bleaker and bleaker for News Corp to me.

11.00 am. How much have Hinton or Brooks been paid to leave the company? James insists that because there is no illegality, there was no need to pay either of them off.

10.57 am. Rupert is rallying a little. He implies Les Hinton must have signed off on legal fees for hacking reporters. And Les Hinton seems to be the fall-guy.

10.55 am. James Murdoch concedes that News Corp paid legal fees for reporters found guilty of crimes. He doesn’t know who signed off on those fees.

10.52 am. Even the Guardian’s chief media reporter states the take-away: “Rupert Murdoch knew nothing about phone hacking – and he didn’t look like he was acting either.” The emperor has been relieved of his wardrobe. And the message is: he isnt an evil genius; he’s an out-of-touch executive who just didn’t know what his own company was doing, even when it involved direct criminality and pay-offs of up to a million pounds.

10.47 am. What strikes me is how vastly more informative, efficient and detailed these hearings are compared with most Congressional hearings.

10.45 am. Murdoch is both denying any real contact with his NOTW editors and also denying “willful blindness.” Not a very convincing argument. Wouldn’t a pay-off of a million quid to a hacking victim be something brought to Murdoch’s attention? Apparently not. Blimey.

10.44 am. “I’m not really in touch.” Quote for the day.

10.42 am. One thing you don’t want to do is go before a parliamentary committee hearing, when your employees have previously misled the very same committee.

10.41 am. The core question of responsibility: were James and Rupert guilty of “willful blindness”? Rupert jumps in to deny it.

10.38 am. The huge amounts of damages given to the first two hacking victims who sued is on a scale previously unknown in British journalism. Subtle pay-offs? Hush money? James Murdoch insists the amount was proposed by outside counsel on the basis of the potential costs of actual litigation.

10.28 am. Here’s an edited version of the Murdoch statement he was not allowed to give at the start of the hearings:

My son and I have come here with great respect for all of you, for Parliament and for the people of Britain whom you represent.

This is the most humble day of my career.

After all that has happened, I know we need to be here today …

At no time do I remember being as sickened as when I heard what the Dowler family had to endure – nor do I recall being as angry as when I was told that the News of the World could have compounded their distress. I want to thank the Dowlers for graciously giving me the opportunity to apologise in person.

I would like all the victims of phone hacking to know how completely and deeply sorry I am. Apologising cannot take back what has happened. Still, I want them to know the depth of my regret for the horrible invasions into their lives.

I fully understand their ire. And I intend to work tirelessly to merit their forgiveness …

So, let me be clear in saying: invading people’s privacy by listening to their voicemail is wrong. Paying police officers for information is wrong. They are inconsistent with our codes of conduct and neither has any place, in any part of the company I run.

But saying sorry is not enough. Things must be put right. No excuses …

I wish we had managed to see and fully solve these problems earlier. When two men were sent to prison in 2007, I thought this matter had been settled. The police ended their investigations and I was told that News International conducted an internal review. I am confident that when James later rejoined News Corporation he thought the case was closed too.

10.26 am. How was the corporate code of conduct enforced? That is the question from the Tory MP, Therese Coffey. James Murdoch seems to have no real idea, apart from some workshops.

10.20 am. In some ways, this is the most telling exchange to me so far:

“Do you accept you were responsible for the wrongdoing at the News of the World?” – Jim Sheridan MP.

“No,” – Rupert Murdoch.

Who was responsible?

“The people who I employed, or maybe the people they employed” – Murdoch.

He had no clue what was going on in his own company. That’s the best gloss you can find.

10.18 am. One nugget of news out of this: Rupert claims no knowledge of the payments to Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor. James contradicts this.

10.16 am. A tweet: “This is like one of those awful stories you see on the news when a pensioner gets mugged and left with a massive black eye.”

10.15 am. Poor James. It’s clear he is the side-show here.

10.12 am. Murdoch refuses to take any responsibility for the affair. Again: staggering. The notion of the buck stopping at the top seems completely alien to him. The total lack of interest in correcting wrongs, the blithe assurance that he has no ultimate responsibility – the NOTW representing a mere 1 percent of his company. He sounds like Cheney responding to war crimes.

10.09 am. When asked who is to blame for the mess, Murdoch now blames others. Staggering. He speaks of a conspiracy of his media enemies and is badly off-message, which James Murdoch is now trying, desperately, to remedy.

10.06 am. Murdoch says Cameron asked him to enter Number 10 through the back door. The purpose was to be thanked for his support in the general election. Not good for the PM. Nor for the previous PM.

10.05 am. Alex Marrencheck? Watson’s last question suggests he has something under his wing.

10.04 am. Watson notes that NOTW staffers had lied to their readers and lied to him. Murdoch really has nothing in response.

10.01 am. Compared with Congressional hearings, you’ll notice that this is not a grandstanding moment for the MPs, especially Watson, who is slowly dismembering Murdoch and his lassitude, question by question, inquiry after inquiry.

9.59 am. Watson draws blood. Murdoch’s contempt for the parliamentary process, and complete ignorance of the previous report that his executives had essentially collectively misled the commitee is beginning to look like astounding recklessness.

9.55 am. Now we are getting to some really interesting matters: the law firm, Harbottle and Lewis’ handling of emails and data regarding phone hacking. Were Harbottle and Lewis given everything? What was kept away from scrutiny? Murdoch’s answers are stumbling, hesitant, shell-shocked. He is looking like an out-of-touch monarch suddenly discovering that his staffers were criminals.

9.52 am. Murdoch is caught admitting that he had no idea one of his chief reporters had tried to blackmail others. He says that no one had mentioned the question to him. Why? The implication is that the culture of News Corp was one in which miscreance by its reporters was not frowned upon.

9.50 am. Murdoch concedes he either lied or was misled when he had said that News Corp had done all he could to get to the bottom of the hacking scandal. Tom Watson is the real bete noir here – the MP who has been on the case for years. And he pounces on Rebekah Brooks’s previous admission that she had paid off the police. Murdoch is flailing badly.

9.44 am. The essential question: were you lying to us before?

9.41 am. Weird intervention by Rupert, interrupting his son: “This is the most humble day of my life.” How can a day be humble? Does he mean this is the most humiliating day of his life – or the most humbling day of his life?

9. 40 am EST. After a handful of protesters have been hustled out, a few moments of hilarity, and we’re off.

(Photo: Rupert Murdoch, chief executive officer of News Corp., is driven from his apartment in London, U.K. on Tuesday, July 19, 2011. News Corp. is considering elevating Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey to chief executive officer to succeed Murdoch, people with knowledge of the situation said. By Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)