Today’s select committee hearing briefly descended into chaos after a protestor attacked Rupert Murdoch. The incident, which occurred towards the end of the hearing, was the work of a lone protestor, who has identified himself on Twitter as Johnny Marbles.
Murdoch was struck in the face by a paper plate with shaving foam on it, before his wife retaliated, striking Marbles in the face.
UkUncut have confirmed Marbles was one of their activists, but deny any knowledge of or involvement with today’s attack.
The attack will do nothing to boost the anti-Murdoch cause and if anything is likely to generate unnecessary sympathy towards him.
Chris Bryant was entirely right to condemn the attacks and it is unfortunate it will distract from the important questions raised by the committee this afternoon.
Prior to the incident, the Rupert Murdoch that appeared before the committee was not the all-powerful ogre he is so often portrayed as, but neither should we believe he was quite as frail as his appearance today suggests.
He was probably right in acknowledging this was “the most humble day of my career” if only because a month ago we could never have imagined such scenes occurring. Whether this humbleness contributed to his frail persona is something we can only speculate on.
Initially, we learned little of substance that was either new or surprising. James Murdoch’s request to read a prepared statement was rebuffed, but the initial questions were tame enough to allow him to recite much of his material anyway.
Contrition was the name of the day for the Murdochs, but not at the expense of damage control.
Both were quick to establish distance between themselves and the situation at the News of the World, with Rupert in particular stressing how little he knew of the day to day operations at the paper and that he did not consider himself personally responsible for the horrific actions taken by the paper.
This was the most surprising claim, though also one that Left Foot Forward has strong reason to doubt.
In the past Rupert has claimed to have considerable influence over the editorial line taken by his papers. As a stunt it successfully allowed him to blunt many of the questions from the committee, but is not a defence that will stand up to even the most casual scrutiny.
Tom Watson’s expertise on the matter saved the hearings from petering out in a series of meaningless soundbites. Describing the criminal activity at the NotW as endemic, Watson probed both Murdoch’s on what they knew when and what actions they took in the wake of the initial investigation back in 2006.
He drew an admission from Rupert that he had been misled by people he had employed and that he was not aware that one of his reporters had been found guilty of blackmail.
Louise Mensch was the only other committee member to emerge with an enhanced reputation from the session. She was faced with the challenge of getting proceedings back on track after the pie incident and did so admirably, pursuing a similarly robust, determined line of questioning to Watson.
The admission from James that he was only aware of Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked after the Guardian published its story will raise further questions about the virtue of the internal inquiry being carried out by News International.
It remains to be seen the extent to which the Murdochs were really unaware of actions taken by their subordinates, but the claims made today – particularly by Rupert – must have raised serious doubts in the minds of his shareholders as to whether he can still be trusted to run the company.