Meanwhile, at the Leveson Inquiry….

Uncle Rupert has taken the stand. The Guardian is liveblogging. Murdoch seems to have been told quite clearly by his lawyers that his doddering oldster act from last year’s parliamentary committee isn’t going to cut it in front of someone who actually knows how to question a witness.

Robert Jay QC (counsel assisting the inquiry) is taking quiet delight in quoting unflattering views of Mr Murdoch to him for his response. If that wasn’t enough to make me want to get into Mr Jay’s pants (and, frankly, it is), his questioning seems to be focussing on two quite interesting themes so far.

First, he is carefully exploring the relationship between Murdoch and British governments, starting with a lunch between Murdoch and Prime Minister Thatcher in 1981 when Murdoch was bidding for the Times. Murdoch maintains that the meeting was entirely appropriate. It was simply to inform the PM about his bid, and nothing to do with asking for favors.

Jay suggests a slightly different take:

Jay asks: “President elect Reagan, Baroness Thatcher and you were all on the same page politically weren’t you?”

Murdoch: “I guess that’s true.

“Was part of that meeting to demonstrate how much you were “one of us” to use Mrs Thatcher’s term? “No,” says Murdoch.

Asked why it was important for Thatcher to have a meeting with him about the possible takeover, Murdoch says it was “perfectly right that she should know what was at stake”.

Wasn’t the meeting all about the trade unions, asks Jay?

Murdoch: “I didn’t have the will to crush the unions, I might have had the desire but that took several years.”

Murdoch bluntly denies that he ever asked a Prime Minister for anything, but Jay’s clear implication is that Murdoch doesn’t need to ask.

The other aspect of the questioning goes to Murdoch’s frequent statements that he runs a decentralized business and allows his editors to set their own agendas without his interference in any way.

Lord Justice Leveson seems to find that idea a little questionable:

Leveson: “You have been on the world stage for many years, you have seen many editors come and go, your press interests have extended. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if those who worked for you recognised that you had an appreciation of events that it would be important for them to understand and they should therefore take a different line only with caution?”

Murdoch: “I would hope so. Our editors have generally been very long serving.”

Leveson says he wasn’t suggesting there had been a big turnover of editors. It ends there.

It’s going to be a long day, and Jay is a very skilled questioner. I’d be very surprised if things don’t get stickier for Rupert as the day progresses.

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