James Murdoch looks lonelier after week of probes

LONDON,  (Reuters) – The methodical dissection  in courtrooms across London this week of events at Rupert  Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid has finally  destroyed the company’s long-held defence about phone-hacking  and left son James more isolated than ever.

Rupert Murdoch

The 39-year-old, until recently seen as the Murdoch child  most likely to replace Rupert at the top of News Corp,  has until now hung on to his job by blaming those around him for  the hacking scandal that has caused public outrage.

Criticism of James Murdoch initially focused on his poor  handling of the affair but accusations by two of his former top  lieutenants that he misled parliament in July turned the  spotlight on his own involvement in a possible cover-up.

“It really became personal with the challenge by Crone and  Myler,” said a person close to Murdoch, referring to the News of  the World’s ex-legal chief and last editor who appeared at an  inquiry this week.

The public opposition between Colin Myler and James Murdoch  — Myler was previously at the New York Post and was close to  James’s rather Rupert — can only have increased tensions within  the global media group and the family.

The drama had appeared to subside from a peak in July, when  News Corp took the shocking damage-limitation decision to shut  down the News of the World, and both Murdochs were dragged into  Britain’s parliament to answer questions about phone-hacking.

But the longer-lasting damage to Murdoch’s reputation  appears to have developed in the following months.

A government-ordered inquiry sits most days at London’s High  Court, poring over every detail of the culture, practices and  ethics of the News of the World and its rivals.

In separate courtrooms around the city, the private  investigator central to the hacking is suing the newspaper after  it stopped paying his legal fees, some senior executives have  launched legal claims and others are suing for unfair dismissal.

The result has been a drip feed of information that has kept  the story on front pages and the pressure on Murdoch.

“We are now past the tipping point,” said crisis PR expert  Richard Levick, who has advised organisations in trouble  including the Catholic church and Arab governments. “We can see  the future, and for James Murdoch it’s not good.”


Ex-legal chief Tom Crone and former editor Myler resurfaced  this week at a judge-led inquiry ordered by Britain’s prime  minister at the height of the scandal, and, more dangerously,  also turned up in a 2008 email chain sent to by Myler to James  Murdoch and now made public, which he claims he did not read.

The emails talk about a “nightmare scenario” in relation to  an attempt to settle with a hacking victim who planned to  demonstrate that the practice was rife at the newspaper, not  limited to a “rogue reporter” as the company had claimed.

The correspondence, discovered by lawyers hired by News Corp  for an internal investigation, provides the strongest evidence  yet that Murdoch may have known there was evidence of more  widespread hacking, and back up Crone and Myler’s word against  his.

Murdoch said in response to the unearthing of the email this  week that he probably received it on his BlackBerry mobile phone  and did not scroll down to read the chain below, despite the  fact that the top of the email says “it is as bad as we feared”.

His so-called “BlackBerry defence” has been widely derided  by critics.

“If he’s telling the truth that he didn’t read it then he is  negligent and if he did read it then he’s lying,” said Roy  Greenslade, a London professor of journalism who has worked for  Rupert Murdoch and was editor of the Daily Mirror.

“It is hugely significant and I think a watershed moment for  him,” said Greenslade. “I believe his position is untenable.”

Inside the company, a few supporters still believe it could  be possible for James Murdoch to succeed his father as chief  executive one day, but it will not be soon, and for the time  being he will keep a relatively low profile internally.

Murdoch’s move to the United States to work as deputy chief  operating officer to Chase Carey has been delayed by the  investigations in Britain, but he is spending more and more time  in New York and planning to move there from London next year.

“The process seems to have taken a toll on him emotionally,  but he is holding up better than one would expect under the  circumstances… he is still taking meetings and making business  plans for the new year,” said one News Corp insider.

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