In the minutes after attention-seeking idiot Jonathan May-Bowles was scythed down by Wendi Murdoch’s undeniably impressive airborne forearm smash, commentary in the online grandstands united around a single proposition.
The consensus was that May-Bowles, otherwise known – largely, it has to be suspected, to himself – as comedian Jonnie Marbles, had done Rupert Murdoch an enormous favour, unhitching the beleaguered mogul from the hook and ensuring that the following morning’s newspapers, even the ones he didn’t own, would concentrate on this inane frivolity at the expense of the serious business being conducted by the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
This view was inevitably proved somewhat correct – it would take a truly flint-hearted editor to resist a picture of the by no means unattractive wife of a famous octogenarian billionaire launching herself at an assailant armed with a plate of shaving foam.
However, if anyone has had their blushes spared by May-Bowles’ gormless intervention, it is not Rupert Murdoch, but his inquisitors. Had May-Bowles chosen to spend his afternoon doing something more conducive to the common good, the resonant image of yesterday’s proceedings would have been one of business as usual: the elected representatives of the British people hopelessly cowed by a foreign tycoon who wouldn’t be entitled to cast a vote for them even if he felt it was necessary.
The questioning of Murdoch by the committee was, by and large, bafflingly ineffectual. Only a couple of the MPs on the panel distinguished themselves. Tom Watson refused – unlike most of his colleagues – to let James Murdoch run out the clock with interminable gushings of incomprehensible management-speak and instead directed pointed enquiries to Rupert. Paul Farrelly regressed usefully to his former occupation as a business journalist and asked actual questions. The rest flapped and floundered and gave every appearance of still being frightened of their guest – or, though this possibility is surely inadmissibly slight, just plain useless. Murdoch, despite his opening pronouncement that this was “the most humble day of my life”, mostly seemed caught between boredom and amusement.
As the surreal scandal engulfing News Corporation has gathered momentum, there has been much hopeful talk that Rupert Murdoch’s omnipotence – regarded as an immutable fact of British life for decades – may be waning.
Not on this showing. No tyrant rules so effectively as one whose subjects tyrannise themselves on his behalf and, even at his most vulnerable and exposed, Murdoch’s vassals couldn’t find it in themselves to revolt. News Corporation’s shares rose 5.51 per cent in New York yesterday.