News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch and his son James, chairman and chief deputy COO (and chairman-CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper division), testified this afternoon (9:30 a.m. ET) before the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
The endlessly replayed visual of the day, of course, came from that moment late in the proceedings when a protester somehow managed to race right up to Rupert in an attempt to shove a pie in his face, but was thwarted by security and Rupert's pink-clad wife. Wendi Deng Murdoch, seated right behind her husband, leapt to her feet and appeared to land a hearty bitch-slap on the perpetrator. (The committee-room camera that caught the kerfuffle only showed Rupert and Wendi from behind.) After a short break, Rupert -- now sans jacket (presumably sullied by whipped cream) -- and James resumed answering questions.
It was a rare moment of drama in an otherwise deadening session. Throughout the nearly three-hour meeting, the elder Murdoch often came off terse, defiant and clueless, while James sat by his side and frequently tried to interject to field questions his father couldn't or wouldn't answer. Despite the fact that James dominated in terms of sheer volume of words spoken, the MPs were obviously most interested in what Murdoch Senior had to say. After awhile, Murdoch Senior's brusque manner almost seemed refreshing as a counterpoint to his son, who can sound like a stuttery Nathan Lane channeling Eddie Haskell -- such is his mix of barely contained impatience and oozy obsequiousness.
The specifics of James' not-terribly-revealing testimony will be widely picked apart in the days ahead. For now, some highlights and lowlights of the performance given by the real star of the show:
1. Rupert, the self-pitier
Early on in the hearing, he interrupted James to say, "I'd just like to say, this is the most humble day of my life." He repeated that sentiment again at the end when the committee allowed him to read from a prepared statement.
2. Rupert, the man of few words
"No." "No." "Yes." "No." "Nope." Etc. An early string of one-word answers and painfully long pauses had the effect of making Rupert initially seem entirely elusive; he also occasionally thumped the table to emphasize his points, making him seem downright angry. He later warmed up, but never began to approach his son's level of verbosity.
3. Rupert the dodger
"I think that 's a question, again, for James," he told an MP at one point in yet another attempt at redirecting questioning to his son.
4. Rupert the linguist
When an MP asked him, "At what point did you find out criminality was endemic at News Corp?," Rupert responded, "Endemic is a very hard -- a very wide-ranging word."
5. Rupert the shamed
"I was absolutely shocked and appalled and ashamed by the Milly Dowler case," he said.
6. Rupert the hands-off manager
When an MP attempted to determine how often Rupert is in contact with the editors of his papers around the world, he claimed that "I'm not really in touch," though he added that he spends the most time with the editor of the Wall Street Journal because his News Corp. office is in the same building as the Journal.
7. Rupert the comedian
When an MP pointed out Rupert's many meetings with prime ministers over the years, Rupert quipped, "I wish they'd leave me alone!"
8. Rupert the embattled
When an MP tried to make the point that News Corp. sacrificed hundreds of News of the World employees in an attempt to save the scalp of (since-resigned and arrested) News International CEO Rebekah Brooks -- and pointed out that he'd told reporters that Brooks was his "first priority" -- Rupert couldn't disguise his impatience. "I walked out of my flat," he explained, "and I had about 20 microphones in my face and I don't know what I said." Poor guy!
9. Rupert the lifer
Given that the phone-hacking scandal happened on his watch, an MP asked if Rupert considered resigning. His one-word answer: "No." In response to a follow-up -- "Why?" -- he said that he believes that he is "the best person to clean this up."
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.
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