The Murdoch family dynamics are rarely on public display, but today they were televised as News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch and his son and heir apparent James, the deputy chief operating officer, were grilled by a House of Commons committee probing the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. In guest appearances, wife Wendi headed for YouTube stardom by fighting off a whipped-cream pie aimed at her husband, and Rupert Murdoch invoked his own publisher father in a misguided defense of investigative reporting.
In London, Ad Age 's Emma Hall watched on TV the nearly three-hour session (but it seemed much, much longer). Amid the largely unrevealing responses, she singled out 10 Murdoch family moments -- including some swift Twitter comments from journalists at the Guardian, the Murdoch family's nemesis, and former Murdoch employees as well as pie-throwing Jonathan May-Bowles, aka Jonnie Marbles:
1. Rupert Murdoch banged on the table for emphasis while talking. At one point James restrained his father, placing his hand on his wrist. Murdoch senior paused in mid-sentence and said, "I'm sorry, my son has just told me not to gesticulate."
2. Mr. Murdoch grew misty-eyed as he defended investigative journalism, as practiced by his own father, who he called a great journalist: "Just before he died, he specifically said that his job had given him the chance to do good. He was most proud of exposing the scandal of Gallipoli [a disastrous World War I attack by the Allies on the Turks], which I was very, very proud of ." (The Twitterverse was unimpressed by the implied comparison of war reporting to the News of the World's news-gathering tactics).
3. One tweet summed up the early part of the hearing. "TV idea: James and Rupert Murdoch go undercover in News International to discover who is running the company."
4. Despite all those payoffs to victims and departed staffers who may have known too much, Mr. Murdoch kept emphasizing his company's financial propriety: "There is a very strong audit committee at News Corp."
5. It was interesting to see 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch snap into lucidity when required. Early on he came across as a slightly confused, hard-of -hearing old man. (In his U.K. blog, Stuart Smith referred to the elder Mr. Murdoch as "a patriarch verging on senility.")
6. There were moments when James and Rupert were definitely not singing off the same hymn sheet. Question: "Are you planning a new Sunday paper to replace the News of the World?" James' answer: "No." Rupert's answer: "There's been no decision made yet." James quickly backtracked to echo his father.
7. Rupert Murdoch claimed he spoke to the News of the World editor "very seldom." Piers Morgan quickly tweeted: "Rupert called me every week for 18 months when I was editor of News of the World."
8. Guardian columnist Marina Hyde tweeted: "James now a malfunctioning protocol droid."
9. Rupert Murdoch forcefully refuted the very suggestion that any News Corp. employee would ever be able to withhold information from him. "NOBODY kept ME in the dark. I may have been lax in not asking more, but [the News of the World] was such a tiny part of my business."
10. Jonathan May-Bowles, aka Jonnie Marbles, the standup comedian and member of activist group U.K. Uncut, was live tweeting from the hearings before launching his foamy attack on Mr. Murdoch. He chattily asked if anyone knew the order in which witnesses would be called, and tweeted derogatory comments about Murdochs Senior ("appears to be going senile") and Junior ("It might be quicker if Baby Murdoch simply listed all the things he does know)." After the event, his girlfriend sent a breakup tweet: "Not funny. Not clever. Not your girlfriend any more."