As the MPs’ questioning of the Murdochs came to an end this afternoon, there was a clear reminder that some politicians’ have not overcome their fear of Rupert Murdoch.
Louise Mensch (formerly Louise Bagshawe) threw the Murdochs a lifeline by suggesting that hacking was common at British tabloid newspapers. She admittedly threw in some soundbites about Rupert Murdoch resigning, before telling him she admired his “immense courage” for carrying on with the hearing after being hit by some sort of custard pie by a member of the public now identified as the activist Jonnie Marbles.
I suspect that News International’s victims may feel that being hit by a custard pie is a relatively minor problem compared to the trauma that some of them have been through.
The danger is that the headlines will now focus on Murdoch being “attacked”, rather than on his appalling answers to the politicians’ questions.
On BBC2, Andrew Neil said soon after the incident that Wendi Murdoch (Rupert’s wife) will be seen as the “hero of the hour” for pushing the pie back into the protester’s face and shouting “I got him!”. Some of those who stood up to Murdoch in the past – in the days when both Labour and Tory leaders were still bowing to his wishes – showed rather more courage than that demonstrated by heroic resistance to an individual with a pie.
Neil also suggested that it could have been something “worse” than a custard pie and questions will be asked about security. But it’s precisely because of security that it could only have been a custard pie.
Rupert Murdoch, undoubtedly one of the most powerful people in the world, was threatened this afternoon not by the aggressive physical attack that this pie-throwing will be presented as, but by being questioned persistently in public in a way that must be a novelty for him.
Not all the MPs were as challenging as they might have been, but some did brilliantly. Under questioning from Tom Watson in particular, Murdoch made clear how he sees his power. He consistently denied knowing anything, in some cases claiming not even to know the names of key people. He appeared to laugh when Watson suggested that he should know what was being discussed about his papers in the British Parliament.
Murdoch basically implied that he is too important to keep track of lawbreaking in one of his British papers. At this moment when he might have been accepting responsibility at last, he only made clear once again the contempt in which he holds Parliament and the public.
This is about power and accountability. It’s not about custard pies.