How the Murdoch Testimony Kills the Trust in CEOs Everywhere
It's no secret that most CEO's who engage with outside media get coaching. Put that visibility together with a crisis, and it's particularly important that the CEO stays on message.
That's why it was no surprise when Rupert and James Murdoch were asked - early in their testimony before the UK Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee - whether and what kind of coaching they had received prior to testifying.
James answered, "Logistics. What sort of questions to expect. We were advised fundamentally to tell the truth, and that’s our intention."
That may have been their coach-given intention, but it wasn't the outcome. Nor, most likely, was it ever intended to be.
Throughout the Murdochs' testimony - both father and son - they replayed the same answers. Over and over again.
They didn't know. They were sorry. They trusted others. The part of the business that behaved so badly is so small as to warrant almost no attention. They weren't there. (That last one was James' line. Rupert couldn't get away with it.)
The problem with the answers, however, is that they were so pat, so well prepared and so repetitive that they defied belief.
It got worse. When MP Adrian Saunders asked them, "Are you aware of the term 'willful blindness?'" and even went on to define it as "If there is knowledge that you could have had, and should have had, you are still responsible," while James was asking Mr. Saunders if there was a question in there, his father answered abruptly, "We were not guilty of that."
In fact, by every understanding of what constitutes good governance, that's exactly what they were guilty of. And still are.
Keep in mind, one of Rupert Murdoch's favorite sayings is, "Bury your mistakes." All he and his son did in their testimony was that. Bury their mistakes in a series of non-answers that did their best to make them the victims rather than the perpetrators.
In fact, every employee - particularly at the executive and management level - in every organization takes its cue from the CEO. And everyone inside and out of Murdoch's News Corporation knows that Rupert Murdoch is a ruthless businessman. Successful, but ruthless.
What went on - and is still under investigation, now on three continents - all happened because everyone did what they knew their CEO wanted them to do.
The only difference is - they got caught.