Rupert Murdoch did himself no favors with his testimony in British Parliament on Tuesday.
He did not appear scary or imperious, as one might have expected from one of the most powerful media figures in the world.
But in many ways it was worse: He seemed out of touch, uninformed and defensive.
Where was Rupert Murdoch the lion? I would have preferred that. An aging king raging at those who might dare challenge his decision-making. That I would have understood.
Instead, we got the dilettante CEO. Rupert Murdoch appeared genuinely uninterested in the scandal that had brought him to the parliamentary hearing in the first place.
It’s hard to imagine that even if the elder Murdoch was kept in the dark about the phone hacking scandal, that he could not apprise himself of the relevant details in time to respond to the committee.
But in question after question about what he knew and when he knew it, Murdoch descended into silence, or one-word non-answers.
Why did he not investigate further at the time that criminality first emerged?
“I didn’t know of it,” he responded.
“Were you made aware….” of convictions of News of the World employees and payoffs? The answer: “I think so.”
“This is the first I’ve heard of that,” he said to several questions about the matter.
He was asked what “major mistake” he was referring to in his interview in the Wall Street Journal?
And the response: “Ask the question to James.”
That wasn’t going to happen. MP Tom Watson reiterated that as CEO, Murdoch was the executive responsible for “corporate governance.”
But at every turn, Murdoch avoided that role.
Who is responsible for the wrongdoing, he was asked at the hearing?
“The people I trusted,” he said. “And the people they trusted.”
Amazing. That is a devastating duck of the obligations of leadership at News Corp. And it should have been beneath a figure the likes of Rupert Murdoch.
Meanwhile, James Murdoch came off even worse, if that were possible.
He answered many questions in detail, which his father was unable or uninterested in doing. He acknowledged that there was serious misdoing at the company, without really taking responsibility either. But he managed to seem sycophantic without being really cooperative.
It’s unclear what affect the crisis PR managers told the Murdochs to assume.
But the long silences spoke volumes.
Murdoch senior finally roused himself to say he was “absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about Milly Dowler case two weeks ago,” referring to the hacking of the voice mail of a young murder victim.
It was a rare moment of humanity. With the exception of a moment when the CEO got smeared with shaving cream, Murdoch – the flesh and blood media mogul – was entirely absent.