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Wizard of Oz loses his magical powers

True, there were some neat forensic jabs from Tom Watson and Louise Mensch MPs, and a beautifully executed left hook from Wendi Murdoch. In the end, though, we were little wiser about why James Murdoch signed a £700,000 cheque to silence Graham Taylor without quizzing his lawyers over the price being so unfeasibly high. Which is surely the unanswered question on which Murdoch Jr’s career hangs.

Yet that’s not to say we learned nothing of importance in today’s culture, media and sport select committee hearing. On the contrary, the theatre of the occasion spoke volumes. It was rich in symbolism; a microcosm of the scandal that threatens to pull down NewsCorp.

First, there was Plod, ineptly struggling to protect Rupert Murdoch from harm’s way. Although this time it was from the smear of a white substance hurled by a protester, rather than any allegations of corporate malpractice.

And then there was the Wizard of Oz himself, spooning the egg-white (or something very like it) off his face – a crumpled paper bag of a man diminished, like his fictional counterpart at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, by having the veil of mystique unceremoniously ripped from his self-created smoke-and-mirrors illusion.

As Watson pointed out, it was what Murdoch père didn’t know, rather than what he did, which should most concern us. Gone for ever was that image of the all-powerful micro-manager who used to roll up his sleeves and appear unannounced on the floor of the Sun, confounding the staff with his mastery of encyclopedic detail.

What we saw instead was a patriarch verging on senility, propped up by his family and wife (what an oriental tiger she is); and held prisoner in his ignorance by deceitful footmen. His answers were halting in delivery and lame in content. As he himself admitted, he’s got no one but himself to blame: “No one kept me in the dark. I have been lax in not asking the right questions.” Quite – especially of Les Hinton, Jon Chapman and Tom Crone.

Maybe this image was deliberately fashioned, or at least hammed up, to give his son James a better stage part. If so, it was a sorely misconceived idea. Institutional investors in NewsCorp watching the proceedings (as they surely will have been) can have drawn only one conclusion. They have a choice between an old man who is clearly out of touch, and a young one who can’t be trusted. Perhaps they’re better off without either. Perhaps that’s what they are already thinking…

My penny’s worth? Fast-track Lis Murdoch. She is the family’s last chance.

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