Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Time For Your Close-Up, Mr. Murdoch

Grab your popcorn, or your antacid, or both: The Rupert Murdoch show is about to start.

The News Corp. CEO, along with his son James and former employee Rebekah Brooks, head to British Parliament today to answer questions about the still-mushrooming PhoneGate scandal.

You’ll be able to watch the event, which begins at 9:30 am Eastern time, on just about any U.S. news channel you’d like: CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN and the Current will be broadcasting the hearings. So will Fox News Channel, which — like this Web site — is owned by News Corp.

You should also have multiple opportunities to watch the event live via Web video. British broadcaster ITN, for instance, is offering up a live stream via its Facebook page. I believe, but haven’t confirmed, that C-SPAN will stream live, too.

And we’ll be liveblogging the event ourselves, courtesy of AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher. (I’m biased here, but I’m quite sure Kara will provide entertaining coverage — this is a woman who won an award for liveblogging Yahoo earnings calls.)

Meanwhile, some context. You can find plenty of news outlets telling you what’s at stake for the Murdoch men today, but Staci Kramer at paidContent does a concise job. A reminder: This isn’t a trial, and no matter what the men say, they’re not going to appease outraged Britons.

So in some ways, today’s event is most consequential for the way it plays out for News Corp. shareholders. Rupert Murdoch needs to show that his company would be better off if he remains chief executive; James needs to demonstrate that he’ll still have the ability to run the family company down the line.

A couple more thoughts before the show gets underway:

  • Rupert Murdoch is used to performing in public, but under very different circumstances. Until recently, Murdoch has used his quarterly earnings calls as an extended public interview, taking questions from both investors and the press. That’s a rarity for public company CEOs, and has made for some very entertaining moments (at least by the standards of paint-drying earnings calls). But those questions were never really that pointed. And while Murdoch tended to answer the queries with imperial certitude, the stakes were always lowish — if need be, his investor relations or public relations could usually reel a stray answer in after the fact. Today he’ll face hostile questions, and will be operating without any kind of net at all.
  • Rupert Murdoch’s great love for newspapers is now a liability. The corporate scandal playbook calls for an embattled chief executive to take responsibility for his company’s missteps, while explaining they’re the result of a few bad actors working in isolation. But Murdoch’s affection for his newspapers, and his hands-on approach to many of them, will make it much harder for him to do that. In the words of New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman: “Rupert will have to demonstrate that, after a lifelong passion for the newsroom, he detached himself from his journalists’ activities. It will be a hard sell.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald