As a public spectacle, Great Britain's phone-hacking controversy, which triggered the close of Rupert Murdoch's gutter-tabloid, News of the World (NoW), is particularly baroque.
UNDER ATTACK As her husband is pied by a protestor, Wendi Deng (bottom left corner, seen from
shoulders up) prepares to defend him. Her fierceness would make her a fit candidate to clean up
News Corp's mess.
In little more than two weeks, Murdoch's News International (NI) division, the maker and breaker of British prime ministers, has been humbled, and — by extension — its US-based parent, News Corporation, humiliated.
In the public eye, Murdoch is News Corp and News Corp is Murdoch, so this loss of face is punishing and public.
Murdoch is a member of an exclusive cohort. Perhaps only investor Warren Buffett and entertainment titan Sumner Redstone are in the same league. The founders of Google and Microsoft may have changed history, but they are essentially hedgehogs who knew one big thing. Redstone, Buffett, and Murdoch are foxes. They have hunted on wider and more varied terrain. Buffett and Redstone have suffered their own reversals, but never a disgrace of Murdochian proportions.
The essence of the uproar is this: as allegations emerged that NoW regularly and criminally invaded the privacy of people ranging from celebs to a murdered child, NI was forced to scuttle a $12 billion cable-television deal.
This, however, is just the overarching narrative. Each granular development seems worthy of its own banner headline.
Some of the most significant casualties: Les Hinton, the former NI chief and publisher of Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, resigned; Rebekah Brooks, most recent NI chief and former editor of NoW, resigned, arrested, and out on bail; the head of Scotland Yard and his number two, each resigned; Prime Minister David Cameron, sinking deeper in political hot water for enjoying Murdoch's favor; and Murdoch himself, hit in the face with a cream pie while testifying before a special parliamentary commission.
The image of Murdoch having to explain himself was a money shot. Like the great and powerful Oz, Murdoch these days prefers to operate behind a curtain.
After the pie attack, the 80-year-old Murdoch wiped himself off, shed his stained suit jacket, and resumed his testimony. The Australian-born tycoon spoke with dignity and deliberation.
Asked if he was going to resign, Murdoch said no: "I am," he replied, "the best person to clean this up."
I'm not so sure about that.
Judging from the way Murdoch's 42-year-old, Chinese-born third wife Wendi Deng jumped to counterattack her husband's assailant, I think it would be difficult to find a more focused inquisitor to clean Murdoch's stables.
Via the BBC's Internet feed, I watched Deng watch Murdoch's son James testify immediately after Murdoch closed.
The 38-year-old James is a child of Murdoch's second marriage. He is also seen as Murdoch's heir apparent — or was until this scandal bloomed.
If Murdoch at least met expectations with the tone and tenor of his appearance, then I'd say James exceeded them — by just a bit. Maybe more.
Murdoch has always provoked strong passions. And that is a legacy his heirs will be at pains to shake.
Before the inquiry opened, there was speculation that Murdoch had lost it, what ever the "it" that makes him tick might be.