Rupert Murdoch‘s been called any number of things in his lifetime, but one of the big takeaways from today’s testimony is that he’s a pretty funny guy. Appearing this morning in such a highly public forum for the first time since he told a Parliamentary committee last July that it was the “most humble” day of his life, the News Corp chief provided evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics. He appeared noticeably more on the ball and lucid than he did in July, when he seemed to be distracted and not entirely all there. And some of his statements, whether they be off-handed remarks or deadly serious, had the room in stitches a bunch of times. Even the normally stoic Queen’s Counsel Robert Jay cracked up when Murdoch referred to the “Pajama Party Weekend” — which is really the Slumber Party Weekend when Rebekah Brooks was invited by Gordon Brown’s wife to sleep over at the prime minister’s residence. When Jay asked Murdoch about his Twitter account, he got a pretty big laugh too, answering: “Don’t take my tweets too seriously.”
With regard to the real issues of the day, there was a similar thread to yesterday’s grilling of Murdoch’s son James. While Rupert will reappear tomorrow and likely answer some questions about phone hacking, today’s proceedings focused squarely on Murdoch’s relationships with politicians. Jay started out questioning the mogul by going as far back as his acquisition of Times Newspapers during the Thatcher regime. He then took Murdoch through the elections and governments of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. All the while, Jay pressed that Murdoch must have curried the favor of the politicians his newspapers supported. Murdoch contended that it’s normal for politicians to speak with editors and press proprietors to share their views. He consistently denied at any time, however, that he let his outside business concerns be a factor in who his paper chose to support. “I never let my commercial interests, whatever they are, enter into any elections,” he said.
Jay pressed the point however, especially regarding BSkyB and News Corp’s ultimately aborted attempt to acquire the remaining shares. Jay asked, “Was there no link in your mind between your support of Mr Cameron and the BSkyB bid?” To which Murdoch answered, “None at all.” Jay also noted that there’s “always been a political frisson” around Murdoch’s acquisitions. Murdoch said he welcomed that question because “I want to put it to bed once and for all. It’s a complete myth that I used The Sun or supposed political power” for influence.