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19 July 2011

Political sketch: after the hors d’oeuvres, stuffed Murdoch

As theatre of anticipation it was wonderful.

By Peter McHugh

College Green had more tents that a boy scouts jamboree as the world’s press gathered for the ritual disemboweling of the Great Dictator .But when Rupert turned up it looked we might be just in time to celebrate his departure.

Floors had no doubt been strengthened and roofs raised in anticipation of the appearance of the ogre who frightened the world for almost half acentury but all that turned up was an 80-year-old man who looked as if he was missing his nap.

He turned up with his boy James and a cast of consiglieri who combined salaries probably make them worth more than the building the meeting was being held in.

It was a day of such excitement that the press was literally beside itself. The BBC, so often the target of Murdoch bile, even cancelled The Weakest Link to bring it to the nations attention.

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As it was the best story of the day came in noises off and a right hander from Wendi Murdoch which is just as well as the rest if the performance will only look good in the edited highlights.

As theatre of anticipation it was wonderful. The Murdochs were due in the dock at 2.30 but kindly parliamentary authorities, mindful of their place in history laid on a wonderful hors d’oeuvres of a brace of seared and slightly sautéed policemen.

Not content with giving them a good kicking last week MPs had outgoing Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and John no-longer-of-the-Yard- Yates back in to quiz them further.

This High Noon confrontation allowed them to not answer why giving the former deputy editor of the News of the World Neil “Wolfman”
Wallis £1,000 a day for advice on PR will go down in history as the worst example of bad PR since Dave decided Andy Coulson should get the gig at Number 10.

There was one new revelation but this time not from the cops. Instead chairman Keith Vaz, as unctuous as ever, revealed he had something in common with the Met chief: namely he too was best pals with the health farm owner who provided £12,000 of free care to Sir Paul.

That out of the way the tricoteuse turned their attention to the promised main course, stuffed Murdoch.

It was obvious almost immediately that there wasn’t much to nibble on the old scrawny bird but the young one had plenty of flesh on him.

Rupert tried to get in his apologies from the start: “This is the most humble day of my life,” said the mogul who clearly had been practicing the unfamiliar “h” word but was quickly cut off by Culture Committee chairman John Whittingdale.

MP Whittingdale knew he had to get in quick since he has previous on Rupert having declared him his media hero.No sign of that here as stern John said statements would come later.

Instead he threw the ball to Labour’s Tom Watson whose dogged determination over hacking has more than rescued what was in the past a moribund political career despite fears of waking up and finding a horse’s head next to him in bed.

As Tom bared his teeth James valiantly tried to deflect his attention from his dad who was staring absent mindedly at the table. But Tom had been waiting a long time for his chance.

Did you not know what was going on in your own organisation demanded Tom. “Not really,” was the less than energetic reply. In fact it became almost sad as the octagenarian seemed lost in thought as he tried to come up with answers.

Both Murdochs had clearly been told to keep their cool and they sat there like two of the wise monkeys (Rebekah, now cast into the outer darkness, was due on stage later.)

As it was squirming James ended up answering or dodging most of the questions from MPs who after this performance must never give up the day job whatever it is.

James, wearing one of those posh tans you don’t get from a fortnight in Benidorm, has the posh American accent to go with it and had certainly learned the corporate “It wasn’t me guv” mantra off by heart Rupert woke up now and again when the MPs were getting a bit hard on his boy but generally kept his head down and his poking finger flat under the watchful eye of the missus.

Did he accept responsibility for this fiasco. “No” was one of his more fulsome replies.Had he thought of quitting? “No” again as if anyone in Murdoch towers had even thought that idea a starter.

Time crawled by as committee members tried to ask the questions they must have overheard on the tube home but there was neither heat nor light until James was asked if his company had been picking up the legal bills of chief criminal Glen Mulcaire even after his prison sentence. The simple answer seems to be yes although the words uttered bore only a passing relationship to this fact.

James mumbled, his vowels shortened and dad looked alarmed. It was hard to know if this was a double act or a medical condition.

Then, in the best traditions of Fleet Street, the non-story rode to the rescue.

Despite the earlier presence of the nation’s ex top coppers and security you felt was impregnable up popped a lad with a plate full of shaving cream. The cameras went off as tomorrow’s headlines were written in white foam.

Cynics will say it was a News of the World stunt but that paper, as we know, is no more.

After a short break we resumed and Rupert was roundly thanked for staying around to dodge a few more questions.Then he went home.

Up next lonely and forlorn was the not quite so flame-haired ex-chief executive who only last week Rupert said he would defend to the hilt.

She seemed to be in denial as she talked about “our company” and “our response” The only friend Rebekah had with her was “my learned ” there to make sure the hole she is already in gets no bigger.

Meanwhile Dave was in Nigeria.

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