News Corp., on Thursday, sent out the following press release on behalf of James Murdoch, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Chairman and CEO, International News Corp.:
“I stand behind my testimony to the Select Committee.” That’s it. That is the entire release.
News Corp.’s corporate communications department, aided by the Edelman team and the legal resources advising it on PR and legal issues with respect to the News of The World (NoTW) phone hacking controversy, would certainly have debated various versions of the Press Release before they decided on this extraordinarily terse nine-word release.
A statement from James Murdoch was certainly necessary. He had told a UK parliamentary committee inquiring into the hacking scandal that he had agreed to an unusually high settlement of £725,000 to Gordon Taylor because it made financial sense, and not because a legal battle with Taylor might prove that the hacking involved much more than one rogue reporter.
Two of News International’s senior executives, Colin Myler (who was editor of NoTW) and Tom Crone, NI’s manager (legal), disputed his testimony.
Reports The New York Times: They said he (James Murdoch) knew when settling the lawsuit brought by a soccer union leader, Gordon Taylor, about a crucial piece of evidence that had been turned over to the company: an e-mail marked “for Neville” containing the transcript of a hacked cellphone message, apparently a reference to the paper’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck.
“In fact, we did inform him of the ‘for Neville’ e-mail which had been produced to us by Gordon Taylor’s lawyers,” Mr. Myler and Mr. Crone said…
In the light of the joint statement by Messrs Myler and Crone, James Murdoch had to issue a statement.
Any statement by any senior executive from News International and News Corporation will be studied, interpreted and dissected by all the stakeholders in the phone hacking drama. As of now, James Murdoch has been insisting (and has testified before the parliamentary committee) that he was unaware of the extent of the problem and that he was advised by the legal advisers, Harbottle & Lewis, that one rogue reporter was all there was to Hackgate, which led Murdoch to close down NoTW.
Paul Farrelly, one of the MPs on the committee that questioned James Murdoch, said: “Harbottle & Lewis stand right up there with all the other people who have come to us and maintained there was only one rogue reporter.”
Now Myler and Crone say that James Murdoch, indeed, knew that there were others as well. Simultaneously, Harbottle & Lewis will be testifying before the committee to present their understanding of the facts of the case.
Did James Murdoch know the extent of the problem—in which case his testimony is false—and he could be in great trouble?
He seems extraordinarily confident that there is nothing in any communication which can prove that his testimony was false.
To continue to maintain that he was unaware of disastrous goings-on at News of the World, these magic nine words, “I stand behind my testimony to the Select Committee”, were very, very necessary.
The miserliness of the release is also a masterpiece in communication. It’s black and white, leaving no room for any speculative interpretation by media, by legal eagles of the government, and by politicians, by statutory bodies and others enquiring into various aspects of the scandal.
But if it turns out to be misleading, these nine words could prove to be James Murdoch’s undoing, too.