Toward the very end of his questioning today before a parliamentary committee, News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch proclaimed, “I think that, frankly, I’m the best person to clean this up.”
The millions of people watching that flourish finally got to see a bit of the Murdoch that commentators have been talking about for decades. A headstrong guy, that is, who pursues a course of action regardless of the obstacles.
Consider for a moment what Murdoch said just before talking up his refurbishing credentials. In response to a question about taking full responsibility for the actions of his company, Murdoch passed blame in unequivocal terms: “People I trusted — I’m not saying who, and I don’t know what level — let me down. They betrayed the company, and it’s for them to pay.”
And not long before that, Murdoch provided another reason why he shouldn’t be trusted with the cleaning supplies. This time, he was asked if he’d used this crisis as an opportunity to push strict editorial standards at his many other newspapers and media properties.
“No,” responded the mogul. “But I am more than prepared to do so.” Well, if he’s more than prepared to do so, why hasn’t he done so?
To work back through the testimony is merely to stack up reasons why Murdoch is either too out of touch, too stuck in denial or too stubborn to take it from here. When the questioning got tough, he answered with some variation on three themes: 1) I don’t know; 2) I don’t remember; or 3) This is a huge company; News of the World constituted less than 1 percent of News Corp., so don’t expect me to answer that.
Okay, but in the same hearing he professed to be a hands-on manager, putting in 10- to 12-hour days and talking frequently to his editors. And it’s not as if inquiries about the nitty-gritty of News of the World were coming straight from nowhere: This property has been at the center of a two-week scandal — it’s not as if the MPs were asking about expenditure-approval protocols at the Australian. Amateur observers by now have a greater command of the details than Murdoch exhibited before Parliament.
At one point in the proceedings, Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch was asked about a key document relating to News Corp.’s awareness of its own actions. After James Murdoch sparred with the committee on the matter, Rupert Murdoch was asked if he knew about the document.
“No,” came the answer.
A moment of confusion ensued. It then became clear that Rupert Murdoch didn’t know precisely what document he had just disavowed knowledge of.
The back-and-forth opened a window into the Murdoch strategy before Britain’s elected representatives: Deny, deny, deny whenever possible. Squeak through.
The denials came mixed with expressions of regret about the damage that the company caused. “This is the most humble day of my career,” Rupert Murdoch said in a closing statement. “To all the victims of phone hacking, apologizing cannot take back what has happened. I want them to know the depth of my regret for the invasions into their lives, and I will work tirelessly for their forgiveness.”
An honest corporate apology must include two parts. One is an expression of regret to the victims of the corporation’s misdeeds. This, News Corp. has done. The other is an honest acknowledgment of what and who caused the wrongdoing, a taking of responsibility by those in charge. This, News Corp. hasn’t even approached, nor does it appear likely to.