Rupert Murdoch’s opponents may have jumped the shark with the pie-in-the-face attack during his testimony today. Not only did Murdoch come off as a sympathetic figure, but his political enemies exposed themselves as people motivated by hatred for the media mogul rather than ethical concerns.
The legendary newspaper titan appeared diminished as he stumbled through the questioning, alternatively pounding the table with his fist, interrupting his son with non sequiturs, and pleading ignorance to many of the questions.
“This is the most humble day of my life,” he interjected at one point.
“The great old man of newspapers looked hopelessly out of touch in the early stages of the father and son grilling in front of MPs today,” wrote the Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh.
Whether Murdoch’s behavior was genuine or an intentional strategy, his doddering testimony may have helped boost his public image. Instead of coming off as divisive, he seemed like a fairly harmless octogenarian on the brink of retirement.
Cementing this image was the activist who hit Murdoch with a pie in the face. After all, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for an 80-year-old man getting attacked – on live TV, on the “most humbled” day of his life – by an obnoxious young comedian.
The attack “transformed Murdoch into a sympathetic figure, an old man under attack from a young one,” wrote Paul Owen at the Guardian. “He ended the session having the last word, able to express his contrition to the country.”
And fortunately for Murdoch, it may have transformed the storyline. The pie incident is currently dominating headlines, and much of the coverage is sympathetic. The Los Angeles Times led its story on the hearing with, “News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch endured not only verbal blows but also an attempted physical attack Tuesday.”
Murdoch’s opponents were hoping to embarrass him. Instead, they ended up looking petty and politically-motivated – which is probably the best outcome News Corp. could have hoped for.