Rupert Murdoch was on fire today at the Leveson Inquiry. He professed “pride” in the fiction that “we have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers.” (For refutation of this absurdity, click here.) He showed a mastery of detail and recollection, as opposed to his bumbling presentation before Parliament last summer. And he again professed his love of newspapers.
Yet in the course of several hours of searing questions from Robert Jay and Lord Justice Leveson, there emerged an interesting transcript — one that could well be renamed “Rupert’s Manual of Etiquette and High-Level Hobnobbing.” The key points:
1) Never ask for anything. When you’re in the company of the British prime minister and other high officials, everything is provided for. The tea, the crumpets, the restrooms — they’re all there. Meaning that you should just have some polite discussion and refrain, by all means, from making a fuss.
The Leveson transcript makes clear that Murdoch followed this rule. At one point in today’s questioning, for example, Murdoch is asked about a visit to see Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “So you would wish to point out that no express favours were offered to you by Mrs Thatcher; is that right?” And Murdoch replies, “And none asked . . . I’ve never asked a Prime Minister for anything.”
Murdoch: The low-maintenance house guest.
2) Flatter the host’s knack for putting together a first-class guest list. Nothing’s more valuable at a dinner party than fine conversation, and it’s something that Murdoch holds dear, as he made clear today. The News Corp. boss faced some tough questioning about his relationship with one Lord Wyatt, who had alleged that Murdoch and Thatcher had a symbiotic relationship. Of Wyatt, Murdoch told his inquisitors:
“I went to a few dinner parties he gave, which he always had interesting people at.” Delightful!
3) A little sexism every so often never hurt anyone. When you’re an octogenarian running an organization with assets around $60 billion and news properties that delight in scouring political correctness, hey, you can indulge in a bit of chauvinizing. And so, as Murdoch is being asked about a 2008 function at Chequers [the country estate of the British prime minister], the News Corp. boss responds, “I think they were just a bunch of women complaining about their husbands, probably.” Good rip, Rupe! O’Reilly is loving it!
4) Acknowledge boorish behavior 25 years after the fact. Like any media mogul, Rupert could go a bit overboard in social functions. The Leveson inquiry inquired as to one such situation. Let the transcript roll:
Q: Mr. Murdoch, could I take you to polling day on 11 June 1987, a dinner you attended at Clifton in the evening, which is reported by Mr Woodrow Wyatt. He says this: “Rupert turned up and sat near to us at one stage. When Ken Livingstone appeared on the screen and put the Labour defeat to the dreadful lies and smears of the media, Rupert cried out, ‘That’s me’, and was delighted.”
Is that true?
A. I remember that party, I mean that I was very late for it, and if I said that, then I’m afraid that was the influence of alcohol.
Q. It didn’t reflect any part of your thinking then,
Mr Murdoch; is that right?
A: It was a joke.
Hey, come on, Leveson guys: Lighten up.