Jack Izzard on the Murdochs

17:40 Tuesday 19th July 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: James and Rupert Murdoch have finished giving their evidence to MPs over the handling of the alleged phone-hacking saga. They’re used to running one of the world’s most powerful media organisations of course, but how did they do after the media spotlight was turned on them? Let’s speak to communications consultant Jack Izzard. Hello to you Jack.
JACK IZZARD: Evening Andy.
ANDY BURROWS: It was quite a spectacle. How did you think they did, especially given that rumpus just before five o’clock?
JACK IZZARD: Well it’s been extraordinary stuff. Spectacle about gets it right. It’s been quite compelling really. It’s a bit like a car crash. It’s been mawkish in its appeal. You just can’t turn your eyes away from the screen, and I’ve certainly had the telly on all afternoon, watching it, as it happened live. I think in terms of how they’ve done, well, very interesting from a PR point of view to see that right out of the blocks, the Murdochs had obviously decided that their approach was to be mea culpa. We’re so sorry. It’s our fault. And they’d obviously rehearsed quite hard. The very first answer from James Murdoch was a very finely honed apology. Interesting to see his dad Rupert interjected with a pure gold sound-bite. He said, well, this is the most humble day of my life. And it might be a humble day for Rupert Murdoch, but it’s turning I think also into a pretty excruciating day for him. He’s really been on the rack at times. He’s faced a barrage of tough questions from the Labour MP Tom Watson. At times he’s been painfully slow to respond. There’s been a few tumbleweed moments as he thought about his answers. And even when he did start speaking, he did a lot of this, banging on the table to try and drive his points home. But he’s been frankly a bit confused, a bit vague, and a bit defiant at times. So not the best performance from Rupert Murdoch. As for his son James, I think much stronger. All the way through his answers, we’ve seen this seam of contrition. He’s come across as open, frank and much more sincere. So a much stronger performance by the son than the father.
ANDY BURROWS: And, I was going to ask you, because the game rather changed, didn’t it, about five o’clock, or did it? When a man in his ’80s is attacked effectively with a custard pie, even if it is Rupert Murdoch, do you think that garners much sympathy?
JACK IZZARD: Good one to ask. Yes it was funny. We saw the game change, if you like. It was a paradigm shift. There they were, facing the slings and arrows of these very difficult questions, and suddenly, it’s a custard pie attack. It wasn’t actually a custard pie. It was a plate full of shaving foam. But you get the picture. And it was obviously an attempt by this protester to humiliate Rupert Murdoch, a man at the zenith of this giant media corporation. And yes, he looked pretty flustered. His wife, actually, I notice, got up and got quite a good left hook. She seemed to drive the protester off quite well. Let’s be honest. It was always going to be difficult for the Murdochs to keep their dignity today. They’s been under intense pressure, intense scrutiny, not just by the Committee, but by us watching here, and possibly people watching around the world as well. And I think it was always going to be a struggle for them. And I think as they go home now, they’ve just finished, they will be rueing the fact that this needn’t have happened. If they’d faced up to this scandal earlier on, it could have been different. They could have saved themselves the burden of this grilling, if they had responded more quickly, and more humanely, to when the scandal really went nuclear, a couple of weeks ago. That of course was the time that we learnt that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked as well.If they had prostrated themselves in front of the Dowler family and said, we’re ever so sorry, please forgive us, back then, people might have had a bit more sympathy. As it is, today I think they’re fighting a bit of a rear guard action, and in PR terms, it might be too little, too late.
ANDY BURROWS: Is it true, just finally, that they brought in a PR company, a few days after the scandal broke?
JACK IZZARD: As we understand, yes, they have hired a high-powered American PR company to try and advise them about this, and obviously you can see the appeal. A PR company in a case like this can give that impartial outside view that they, at the eye of the media storm, perhaps cannot see. Let’s be honest. PR is not rocket science. It’s about common sense. And I think the Murdochs here have been guilty of a lack of common sense. They’ve been slow to respond. They’ve been a bit erratic, and contradictory in their response. But above all, they’ve not been human enough. They’ve not shown enough empathy for the Dowler family, for the families of those who died in Afghanistan, and then had their phones hacked. If they’d done this earlier, they could have saved themselves an awful lot of trouble and money.
ANDY BURROWS: Thank you very much. Great to speak to you. Jack Izzard that was, who’s a communications media consultant.