From ruthless boss of his media empire to frail octogenarian

Rupert Murdoch has a reputation as a ruthless corporate boss feared by employees and politicians alike. But after yesterday's appearance he could as easily be described as an old man seemingly losing control of his empire.

Media pundits were united in their surprise at how frail the head of News Corporation looked when MPs faced down both the 80-year-old tycoon and his son James, 38. "What was really remarkable was the way Rupert came across as something of a doddery octogenarian rather than the giant corporation boss that he is usually portrayed as," said the publicist Mark Bukowski. "It was like watching Mr Burns [from The Simpsons] and the illegitimate son we never knew he had."

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, added: "Rupert claimed to have seen, heard and known no evil – a strategy that made him appear too doddery to run an international corporation. He refused to take responsibility. Everyone else is to blame for keeping him in the dark."

Psychologists said it was clear both men had been coached in how to deal with their inquisitors, though the confidence – and at times boredom – displayed by Mr Murdoch Snr was offset by his son's nervousness and robotic voice. "Even the tumbleweed moments between Rupert's answers were signs of dominant behaviour," explained Judi James, a body language analyst. "He had the whole room leaning forward to hear what he had to say."

Both men, she suggested, adopted a "choreographed, restraining hand position, with one hand on the other [that] implies helpfulness and openness whilst preventing gesticulation and giving too much away".

Darren Stanton, another body language expert, said that at times James Murdoch seemed deeply uncomfortable with the MPs' line of questioning, particularly when he was asked about the firm of media lawyers hired by News International to investigate some of the hacking. Mr Stanton said: "Signs of anxiety include blushing. On occasion, his blinking also increased dramatically, which is a sign ... that he did not want to discuss certain topics."

Louise Cooper, a market analyst at BGC Partners, said the questioning revealed that Mr Murdoch Snr lacked knowledge about what had taken place at his company. For example, he had not known that Rebekah Brooks told a Commons select committee in 2003 that The Sun and News of the World had paid bribes to police.

Ms Cooper said: "The Labour MP Tom Watson had Rupert on the ropes and showed how little he really knew about what was going on at the News of the World. Those critics of corporate governance at News Corp have been given plenty of ammunition."

Last night, there was further speculation about whether Rupert Murdoch or his son would also be forced to step down. Michael Woolf, a biographer who knows the family well, told the Bloomberg news agency he believed James to be particularly vulnerable.

"I think [James] is finished," he said. "Cooked. Over. Toast. He has no credibility. You don't go through this whole period saying one thing, then have the other proved to be true and have any credibility at the end. James ... was in charge of the management of the scandal, in charge of the people who committed these crimes. He is the directly responsible executive."

Many MPs were angry that Jonathan May-Bowles managed to attack Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie. Kris Hopkins, Tory member for Keighley and Ilkley, said: "This House summoned somebody to a committee, we've failed to protect them and they've been assaulted. Regardless of the politics and the accusations, we have a responsibility to look after them and we have failed."

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