From inside the Murdoch hearing
- 19 July 2011
- From the section UK Politics
Wilson Room, Portcullis House, House of Commons.
14:33: Press and public have been queuing for hours to witness the cross examination of Murdoch and son - part parliamentary enquiry, part the 21st Century's answer to the stocks.
The 10 MPs on the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee are waiting silently, nervously for the witnesses to appear.
One MP tells me that the Chairman John Whittingdale is so nervous that he hasn't eaten solids all day.
Update, 14:44: Rupert Murdoch looks frail. His wife Wendi helped him to sit, poured water for him and whispered words of advice or comfort before the hearing began.
Denied the opportunity to make an opening statement Rupert nevertheless interrupted his son's first answer to say "this is the most humble day of my life".
It is hard to equate the man sitting a few feet away from me with the global media mogul feared by political leaders throughout my adult lifetime.
Update, 15:20: As the once great media mogul paused, halted and blinked his way through the persistent, calm and courteous questioning by the MP Tom Watson he said little but revealed a huge amount. He was, apparently, ignorant of almost everything that had happened in his company.
His son looked on with concern etched on his face and tried again and again to come to his aid. Watson stopped him by pointing out that Murdoch Senior was responsible for the corporate governance of News Corp and, therefore, his inability to answer without assistance mattered.
At one point his wife, Wendi - who is sitting just behind him - reached out to tell her husband to stop banging the table with the palm of his hand. The advisers next to her started to mutter anxiously to each other.
It would all have reminded me of the moment the curtain was pulled back on the Wizard of Oz if it had not been for the revelation of the key Murdoch Senior defence.
Asked whether he accepted that he was responsible for what had gone wrong, he answered simply "No". Asked to explain who was then, he replied "the people I trusted to run the company and the people they trusted". The irony was that he was sitting next to one of them.
Update, 15:47: The energy has gone out of the room. The Murdoch family's advisers are looking more relaxed. James Murdoch looks comfortable with the detailed questioning he is facing. His father looks more relaxed too. Perhaps he has concluded that if the worst he faces is mockery for being ignorant that would not be too bad an outcome.
Earlier I said that this would be part enquiry and part a 21st Century version of the stocks. I suspect the crowd is waiting impatiently for some verbal tomatoes to be thrown.
Update, 17:20: When I predicted that this hearing might be like the stocks of old I had assumed that the missiles would be verbal and hurled by the committee. Instead it was a plate of what looked like shaving foam wielded by a protester who emerged from the viewing public.
After Rupert Murdoch was hit in the face by the plate full of foam he sat impassively - whether in shock or just acceptance who can tell. His wife Wendi leapt to her feet to defend her husband. She hit the assailant with his paper plate shouting "I got him". Rupert's son James looked on in anger and distress. As I was evacuated from the room I heard him berate a police officer for not protecting his father.
Murdoch Senior had just declared of British prime ministers that "he wished they'd leave him alone". From now, they just might. Others, it appears, will not.