Thursday, 10 November 2011

Tom Watson over cooks James Murdoch grilling

The Commons culture select committee had one task in recalling News Corp boss James Murdoch today – to show whether he had earlier misled members about the degree to which he was aware of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World. It failed.
He denied the accuracy of incriminating testimony of two former NoW executives, which without a ‘smoking gun’ leaves the committee to decide on one man’s word against those of two others.
If Murdoch’s version of events is accepted, he is guilty of monumental incompetence in not questioning why the newspaper was shelling out millions of pounds in hush money to hacking targets.
Having failed to nail Murdoch, committee firebrand the Labour MP Tom Watson exposed the weakness of his case by resorting to personal abuse.
Emboldened by Parliamentary privilege Watson asked Murdoch if he was familiar with the word “mafia” and specifically “omerta”, the culture of silence around the mafia?
“Do you accept that applies to the Murdoch empire?" he asked Murdoch, who said he didn’t, branding the statement offensive.
Then Watson claimed his 15 minutes of international fame with the quip, “You must be the first mafia boss in history not to know he was running a criminal enterprise."
Equating the Murdoch empire with the mafia doesn’t flatter the succession of Labour figures led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who would queue round the block to kiss Murdoch senior’s ring.
Good knock about stuff or an ill-judged remark that diverted attention from the efforts of those committee members keener on cornering the truth than headlines?
I say the latter if for no better reason than Watson’s insult doesn’t stand scrutiny. The Guardian and MPs Chris Bryant and Watson himself breached the wall of silence protecting NoW executives a while ago. Without them Hackgate would never have become an extensive police inquiry.
The problem is sifting the weight of evidence – millions of emails, thousands of potential hacking victims, and the contradictory statements of those at the centre of the scandal – in search of the truth.
Watson needs to get a grip; hard work rather than cheap shots are needed on this quest.
His political career grew wings thanks to his bravery in challenging the power of the Murdoch press. Hubris could bring Watson crashing back to earth.

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