It may have been two Australian-Americans being grilled in the media select committee bear-pit yesterday but it was book-ended by protests of a very British nature.
Wielders of anti-Murdoch placards were ejected before proceedings had even begun and the real fireworks came when a spectator slapped a foam-pie in Uncle Rupert’s face, only to take a beating from his wife Wendi. It was a shame, then, that the events in-between were a little damp. It started on a positive note, with Rupert interrupting his son’s nervous opening gambit with a firm – and probably well rehearsed – hand on his arm. “This is the most humble day of my life,” he growled, instantly writing today’s headlines. It was a rare flash of the brilliant newspaperman Murdoch undoubtedly is.
But the octogenarian’s early performance was more notable for its drawn-out pauses than its arresting retorts. James took the opposite tack, babbling at length, rarely using one word when he could squeeze in a dozen. Despite the gravity of the occasion, it was difficult not to drift off. So it was a shame that Tom Watson, a heavyweight in all senses of the word, seemed off his game. The Labour MP is usually worth the entrance fee alone but looked nervous; subdued in the moment he was expected to shine.
His probing questions troubled the Murdochs but weren’t delivered with their usual flourish, and he failed to land a real blow.
Things got worse when a dire run of questions were delivered by Jim Sheridan, who was hopelessly out of his depth. This allowed James to find his groove and his confidence soared. He seemed to physically grow as the hearing progressed. Rupert too snapped out of his torpor, with snappy monosyllabic answers reminiscent of his better days. Tough questions near the end from MP Philip Davies were too little too late – this was successful damage limitation.