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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Twitter user @danielrhamilton says, "I was at U w/ guy who attacked #Murdoch. It's Jonathan May-Bowles. (@JonnieMarbles)" And who are we to argue? The cheeky comedian's last tweet before his attack on Rupert Murdoch at the Commons culture, media and sport select committee meeting, where Rupert and his son James appeared today, was: "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat." Further, the gentleman whose face appears with this post closely resembles that of the attacker of Rupert Murdoch, as seen on British TV live from the parliamentary committee room. As far as I can ascertain from having viewed the feed, anyway. The feed shifted rapidly from inside the committee room to outside, where two police officers had taken custody of a man in a checked shirt with a white substance on his face. The full details of the event will undoubtedly emerge tomorrow.

It has been a news event from start to finish. Both Murdochs have sat through hours of questioning by members of parliament. Many matters have been discussed. Rupert Murdoch has weathered the verbal parliamentary onslaught with a remarkable quantity of stamina given his advanced age. James has done much better. While it appears that Rupert was simply unaware of what was happening on the editorial floor at News of the World, it is far too early at this point (it's 2.30am as I write and it'll be later by the time I finish this post) to digest all aspects of the testimony given this day in the committee room. James Murdoch's rhetorical abilities have probably helped to save the company from embarassment in the short term but longer-term there is still a way to go before this scandal will have played itself out fully.

The fact that NotW contributed a mere one percent of News Corporation's profits highlights a problem for Rupert Murdoch. Corporate governance was the topic that hearing started on and despite the apparently heartfelt apology with which RM closed the proceedings it still remains a subject the company will have to address in future. But the hearings are to continue despite the efforts of the attacker and despite Wendi Deng's swift defence of her 80-year-old husband. Deng can protect Rupert from a plate of shaving foam but she cannot protect him against accusations of cultural rot, and this was suggested by members of the committee. The culture within News is certainly lacking in process - Bruce Guthrie says as much in his biography - and the evidence in the present case underscores this weakness.

People will remember Deng's smart move out of her chair, in her black pencil skirt, in the direction of the shaving foam attacker. The image of an octogenarian being physically threatened will remain in memory for a long time. It was a close shave. But until the British press scans through the transcript, until the police investigations are completed, until the two inquiries have played out in full - we will not really know how culpable these two men were in the crimes committed at NotW. How far up the chain of command the taint will spread is still a matter of conjecture and uncertainty.

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