The biggest revelation from James Murdoch's testimony to Parliament yesterday came in the form of e-mails showing borderline-illegal coziness with a politician. News Corp.'s relationship with British culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is now under careful examination, and already, an aide to Hunt has resigned, setting the stage for Rupert Murdoch's second appearance before the press ethics committee this morning.
Under oath, the elder Murdoch dismissed all "sinister inferences" about his effect on politicians dating back to Margaret Thatcher in the early eighties and up through prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron. "I try very hard to set an example of ethical behavior and I make clear I expect it," Murdoch said. "I am a curious person who is interested in the great issues of the day and I am not good at holding my tongue." But despite all evidence to the contrary, Murdoch repeatedly maintained that his actual influence is minimal.
Murdoch even laughed when his boasts about power were read back to him. For instance, in 1987, when the Labour Party's loss was blamed on the media, he reportedly shouted, "That's me!" Reminded of the long-ago tale today, Murdoch said, "If I said that I'm afraid it was the influence of alcohol," calling it "a stupid light-hearted remark."
Asked if, in reference to Blair, he ever said, "If our flirtation is ever consummated, Tony, I suspect we will end up making love like porcupines — very, very carefully," Murdoch admitted that he did. His wife Wendi Deng chuckled in the audience. In another quotable moment, Murdoch reportedly said he and Blair were "not letting our pants down just yet."
"A little colorful, but it's quite possible I said that," Murdoch said today. Later, he added, "I'm afraid I don't have much subtlety about me."
But he insisted: "I, in 10 years he was in power, never asked Mr. Blair for anything, nor did I receive any favors." And when they did talk, Murdoch said, it was usually Blair who called him. "[It's] only natural for politicians to reach out to editors and sometimes proprietors if they are available to explain what they are doing and hoping that it makes an impression. I was only one of several," Murdoch said.
Beyond politics, he said, "I take a particularly strong pride in the fact that we have never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers."
Throughout the questioning, Murdoch stuck to blanket denials and a general theme that all criticism of him, his family, and his company is overexaggerated. "We are not perfect, I am not saying we are," he said, "but we are nothing to what you see on the internet every day, which I might say has an ever growing following." Even on the subject of his own Twitter, perhaps the most unfiltered look at the man the public has ever had, Murdoch was dismissive. "Don't take my tweets too seriously," he said. To hear him tell it, he's just a regular guy.