James Murdoch mafia comment 'did more harm than good', PR bosses argue

MPs failed to land a killer blow on News International's James Murdoch yesterday in the Commons, according to comms experts.

James Murdoch: questioned by Commons media committee
James Murdoch: questioned by Commons media committee

The comment came as Labour MP Watson was questioning Murdoch in the Commons media committee. Watson said: ‘You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn't think he was running a criminal enterprise.’

Alex Woolfall, head of Porter Novelli's EMEA corporate practice, said: ‘No-one landed a killer blow and Tom Watson's "mafia" comment fell flat on its face, with other MPs tutting and Murdoch deftly batting it to one side. Tom actually did more harm than good with the mafia comment.’

This is the second time Murdoch junior has faced the Commons media committee over the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the NotW in July.

Lexis CEO Jason Gallucci believes that Murdoch ‘handled the questions very well - too well actually’. He said: ‘You can see that the hours of media training and being told to stick to the stock key messages have paid off.’

Echoing Woolfall’s comment that ‘no-one landed a killer blow’, Gallucci said Murdoch ‘hasn't been caught out and has remained "emotionless" throughout’. 

He warned, though, that this approach may be a problem in itself: ‘Murdoch is so slick, calm and automatic that one can't help but "feel" he is lying even though he has given a Teflon answer.’

Woolfall advised Murdoch to make sure he was always telling the truth and said the scandal had now evolved into to ‘a debate about who knew what and when’. He added that if Murdoch had been lying he would get caught out, quoting the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal as a warning.

He said: ‘If there's a smoking gun, history tells us the truth will out, in the same way that President Clinton's bravura TV performance in which he told the world "I did not have sexual relations with that woman Miss Lewinsky" was torpedoed by the discovery of a certain blue dress.

‘It won't matter a jot how he and his father have performed if a smoking gun is subsequently discovered that gives a lie to everything they have said to Parliament.’

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