Rupert Murdoch is about to be thrust back into the spotlight.
This week, both Rupert and and his son James are giving evidence to the UK's Leveson Inquiry, an investigation into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. James Murdoch is testifying Tuesday and Rupert Murdoch will testify Wednesday and part of Thursday. This phase of the inquiry will focus on the press' relationship with politicians. The Leveson Inquiry launched in response to News Corporation's phone hacking scandal. Since the scandal broke, dozens of people have been arrested, and News Corp's heir-apparent, James Murdoch, has stepped down as chairman of News International and BSkyB. Here's what to look out for at the inquiry this week.
"I'm expecting it to be fascinating theater," Paul Connew, former editor of the Sunday Mirror and deputy editor of the Daily Mirror and News of the World, told TPM.
While the Murdochs' appearances won't focus explicitly on the unfolding phone-hacking scandal, the inquiry "can't ignore it," Connew said. Unlike a congressional hearing in the U.S., Connew said, British politicians have to be careful what they ask of witnesses, in order to assure fair trials down the line.
That said, it's likely "Rupert will come out fighting," Connew said. "I think he sees this as an opportunity to claw back some of his lost PR ground. There are quite a few politicians in high places, current and past, who might be very nervous about what he might say."
What is it that Murdoch might say? Michael Wolff -- author of The Man Who Owns the News, a biography of Murdoch -- told TPM he might remind the politicians before him of all the times they courted Murdoch and his empire. Wolff isn't sure that's the likely outcome this week, but "Rupert is very unpredictable in these situations. These are the kind of people he likes least in life."
The Leveson Inquiry likely "will try to make this about the dastardly acts of what the Murdoch papers have done," Wolff added. "I wonder if Murdoch might not try to make this about all the ways that they have ultimately facilitated the rise of the Murdoch empire." Wolff assumes, however, that Rupert Murdoch's lawyers have urged him to say as little as possible.
A little background is useful here. Rupert Murdoch's relationship with Britain's political class goes back a long way, said Steve Hewlett, a columnist at The Guardian and host of the BBC Radio 4 Media Show. Margaret Thatcher's election is the first time Murdoch is seen as playing a role in the election, Hewlett told TPM.
"Thatcher was the first person to think Murdoch was a man you had to be on the right side of."
Murdoch's empire then became so powerful and successful, Hewlett said, that "the political class and advisors chose to believe that you need Murdoch to get elected." Murdoch's company was always cozy with the political class in Britain, but the phone hacking scandal was the "straw that broke the camel's back," Hewlett said. And now Murdoch is "absolutely pissed off" about the government's inquiry into UK press practices.
But any questioning at the inquiry of the company's phone hacking practices will have to be dealt with "superficially" and not "forensically," Connew said. And a parliamentary report on phone hacking, slated for a May 1 release, will certainly be critical, but probably muted. Again, Connew said, the idea is to avoid interfering with any potential trials down the line. And Leveson is a judicial inquiry. "It's not intended to replace or carry out the work of the police investigation," Connew said. "Their role is essentially is to decide on the role of regulation of the press. But it is not Leveson that will be recommending prosecution."
Instead, the Inquiry may ask James Murdoch about the culture at News International, News Corp's British subsidiary, and how he was so badly misinformed about the hacking practices, Hewlett said. But James Murdoch's appearance is really a warm-up for his father's testimony.