What a day yesterday was. The Murdoch double act was quite something, wasn't it? I'm not sure we learned anything new of substance. But we did get to examine the Murdochs. The curtain was pulled aside and a doddery hobbit stepped out, accompanied by his replicant sidekick.
The first thing to note is that, to put it clinically, Rupert Murdoch was revealed as a man whose social and cognitive abilities are severely degraded; a man to whom the listening and processing of explicit information was an effort, let alone the subtleties of tone and demeanour; a man who had lost the appetite for, ability to retain, detail. Well, you know, it happens - it's happening - to all of us. But the point is, this is no longer the man truly in charge of News Corporation. Or if it is, they're in more trouble than we thought.
It was particularly poignant to watch Rupert in action after having viewed an extraordinary collection of videos gathered by Adam Curtis at his blog. There you can see a young and then a middle-aged Murdoch doing interviews back when he still thought it worth trying to win over the British (I don't know when he gave up but it may have been after an excruciating Wogan interview posted by Curtis, in which the host invites him on only to smugly berate him for ten minutes). You can see a man who, while not a natural charmer, does have a kind of charm - who can laugh at himself, who is alert to his interlocutor's implications as well has his words (and when he's being interviewed by the epitome of English smoothery, David Dimbleby, he has to be alert), and conveys above all a driving sense of purpose and dynamism. He had gravitas, even if it wasn't the English kind.
You can also see in the first clip an interview with his first wife, a devastatingly sexy woman, beautiful, smart, witty and steely (at one point she rather winningly accuses Dimbleby of being "terribly pretentious"). Judging by that and by yesterday we can at least applaud Murdoch's choice of romantic partners. And actually, in contrast to the British establishment he felt himself at odds with for so long, he does seem to be at ease with strong-minded women, personally and professionally. Perhaps this is because his mother was - is - something of a force of nature herself.
Next to him yesterday was a man who displayed many of the qualities of the young Rupert. James was fast, fluent, alert to the dynamics of the room, and on top of the detail (at least, those details he chose to be on top of). And yet he's not as impressive as his father once was. There's something tinny and insubstantial about him, and oddly affectless. He's like someone who has learned all the mannerisms of a human being without quite inhabiting one. His most striking attribute is the ability to talk coherently and at length without actually saying anything. As he bored on it became clear that the meeting was only really alive when the focus was on the old man. Despite the ravages of age, Rupert still has...something. He is too old to be media trained, and in sharp contrast to James you felt, whenever it was Rupert's turn, that he might say something interesting, revealing, unscripted (like his flat "No" when asked if he felt it was his responsibility, or his regretful musings on Gordon Brown). It was like listening to a penny whistle occasionally interrupted by a double bass.
Perhaps what we were really watching was a dramatisation of two different eras of corporate power. Rupert, though never a flamboyant man, is from an era when big companies were often embodied by leaders who treated their companies like fiefdoms and who made decisions based on gut instinct even if it meant overriding or ignoring the views of other shareholders. These were men at ease, too, with wielding political influence, based on their personal views and relationships with politicians. James has grown up in an era where shareholders exercise their rights more vociferously, and in which the rise of modern media has put an increased emphasis on public image and corporate transparency. You can see this reflected in the men's contrasting personal styles. It was all Rupert could do yesterday to stop himself saying to the committee, "Just shut up and leave this to me". James, attuned to the need to balance interests and nurture consensus, was all courtesy and supplication and eagerness to discuss ethics.
This is how corporate power works these days. It doesn't flaunt itself. It is bland, anonymous, air-conditioned, politically correct. It is boring. And that makes it harder than ever to monitor and corral.