Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, and Rebekah Brooks all appeared before British Parliament's culture committee today to answer questions about what they knew about phone-hacking at the Murdoch-owned News of the World, and when exactly they knew it. Who turned in the best performance? It's a call we're only prepared to make in a special, Parliament-themed medal ceremony.
Daily Beast Washington bureau chief Howard Kurtz found the younger Murdoch much more impressive, observing on Twitter that "though overshadowed, [James] seems more forceful and more willing to express regret than his father." True, conceded The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh, but what does that say about the son's leadership? Where Rupert began as a well of uncertainty, James had facts, information, and answers so long you couldn't remember (or care) what the question was," Sabbagh observed. Compare today's mastery of the material with his professed ignorance about the hacking operation and it and a portrait emerges of "an incurious chief executive, or somebody who knew better than to ask the News of the World editor too many hard questions - or somebody the next level down felt they could not tell the truth to....[He] may not concede the first or second point, but with so many people concealing critical information about hacking below him, it does not make him look good."
As we noted (at length), the elder Murdoch appeared confused at times during the questioning, and his encounter with shaving cream pie wielding protester named Jonnie Marbles was less-than dignified. The hearing "descended into ugly farce" with the pie attack, writes the Financial Times, but Murdoch came on strong after that and "gave a forceful defence and cracked jokes with the committee." On Twitter, Murdoch sympathizer Piers Morgan also praised him on "a strong finish" and posed an open-ended question to his more than 975,000 followers. "Love him or hate him," challenged Morgan, "does anyone genuinely think he's a crook or helped condone crime? Because I don't." The ultimate back-handed compliment for Murdoch came from All Things Digital blogger Peter Kafka, who tweeted that while Murdoch's performance was "hard to watch," his use of the "'I don't know what's going on' defense" was convincing.
"Now I understand what Brooks's job is," tweeted Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon. "It's to make [Rupert] Murdoch look good." In his live blog, The Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi agreed that while Brooks seemed "tense and a bit defensive, answering questions with a sharp 'Look..' or 'As I told you before...'" the committee did her a favor by not "shaking [her] basic story: She didn't know what was going on." Those with editing experience--like former Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter and Slate media columnist Jack Shafer--were especially critical of Brooks's account of her days editing News of the World. "She's lying," tweeted Alter when Brooks said she didn't know where the paper's scoop on murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler came from. Shafer, meanwhile, thought it was "pretty scummy" of Brooks to make "two self-congratulatory references to Sarah's Law" in light of The Guardian's claim that the News of the World phone hacks disrupted the police search for Dowler back in 2002.
In conclusion, if you had to rank the three in descending order of effectiveness, we'd go James, Rupert, Rebekah, though as the frequently The New York Times-affiliated reporter Ravi Somaiya tweeted, all three stuck to the same basic template: "We weren't involved, weren't there, didn't know, nobody told us, thank you."