From 'Ninja Wendi' to 'daft hysteria,' UK press turns a sharp pen on Murdoch and Co.

With the spotlight shining bright on Rupert Murdoch, his media empire, and his political ties, British columnists are offering up searing critiques on every aspect of the phone hacking scandal. Here's a sampling:

The Telegraph

Deputy Editor Benedict Brogan writes that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s performance before Parliament today will be a litmus test for political matters more important and challenging than the phone hacking saga.

His credibility has taken an enormous hit, and he will need all the confidence he can get in order to navigate the eurozone crisis. Today is his opportunity to regain lost ground and show that he can withstand pressure.

While Westminster has been transfixed by the hacking saga and its increasingly bizarre twists and turns, the world economy has been edging closer to the precipice. The eurozone is flirting with disintegration, America is contemplating default on its debt, and the banking system is inching closer to another brush with systemic failure.
None of this is to trivialize the seriousness of either the crimes committed by some journalists, or the cover-up by those supposed to supervise them. Nor should we brush aside the unseemly way that Mr Cameron and those close to him allowed themselves to be captured by the incessant demands of News International. But the context in which the Prime Minister is having to account for the actions of those who were not accountable to him must be recognised. We can ill-afford to have the Government distracted any longer by what is ultimately a Westminster village drama.

Mr. Brogan also expresses concern that anger over News Corporation's actions will lead to over regulation of the British press.

There was always going to come a time when we would face life after Murdoch, but if he is brought down, and his newspapers sold, it will not only be a bad day for journalism, but for conservative politics. Many find a thriving free press “inconvenient”, Mr Murdoch said yesterday: “I hope our contribution to Britain will also be recognised.” In the current climate, I fear not.

Allison Pearson has a tongue-in-cheek take on yesterday’s hearings in which she compares Rebekah Brooks to Harry Potter villain Bellatrix Lestrange and calls Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng “Ninja Wendi.”

The Independent

Columnist Christina Patterson writes that although the entire scandal stems from nefarious behavior on the part of a major news organization, so does the uncovering of that behavior – and that the entire industry should not be taken down with Murdoch.

This drama, this drama which has shocked, and sickened, but also thrilled us, and which has gripped us more than any most of us can remember, wasn't written by a playwright. It was written, or at least it was uncovered, by an investigative journalist. …

If you still want newspapers that can uncover stories and scandals like this, or like the one about people trying to buy peerages, or the one about people paying other people to fix match results – stories that don't mean you just ask someone a question and assume that what they're saying is true – then what you need is some very skilled, very determined reporters and some very rich men.

An editorial from the Independent writes that aside from a few brief moments of success, the members of Parliament (MPs) at yesterday’s hearings failed to uncover much of anything about the scandal.

They asked unfocused questions that invited the Murdochs to waffle and evade. Alan Keen and Therese Coffey were particularly unimpressive. And Louise Mensch did the public no favours by inviting the Murdochs to comment on the practices of the rest of the media, rather than focusing on the behaviour of News International. The Murdochs visibly relaxed as the hearing went on. Compared with US Congressional committee hearings, this was an amateurish show. …

Rupert Murdoch said that yesterday was the "most humble day of my life". In truth it was not. And the MPs of the select committee, with some honourable exceptions, did nothing to ensure that it would be. But the questions are not over. And Mr Murdoch's day of true humility might still be to come.

Columnist Jemima Khan blamed the MPs interrogation and the protester for “making Rupert Murdoch look like a victim and Wendi Deng a heroine.”

The Financial Times

In the Financial Times, a columnist writes that the Murdoch family won this round.

For connoisseurs of management, and moguls in particular, though, the proceedings offered a master class in crisis management. James Murdoch was good, if a little reedy, wordy and over-drilled by his lawyers. He did all the necessary blocking and tackling to get through a tricky afternoon. His father, though, was magnificent, initially as terse as an outback farmer, but slowly unveiling the lethal charm even his rivals describe as mesmeric. He may have been spinning, but it didn’t sound that way. …

The MPs did their best to challenge him, but they were up against a man who has built his company over 57 years, who employs 52,000 people around the world, who broke the British print unions, barged into US network television, and gave us Titanic and Avatar. … At times the Murdochs addressed the MPs as if they were a slightly dim MBA class. …

Defending his son’s handling of the scandal, Mr Murdoch said that in any given week James had to spend “a day in Munich, a day at Sky Italia where he had a particularly difficult situation, and a particularly tricky competitor, if I might say so”, a sly dig at Silvio Berlusconi. While the MPs pettifogged, he implied, the Murdochs ran the world.

The Guardian

Guardian columnist Robert Greenwald comes out swinging against the Murdoch family after yesterday’s hearing, calling it a promotion of the “spin of willful ignorance.

If this scandal makes one thing abundantly clear, it is the importance of honest information being presented to the public truthfully – a trend far too rare in the storyline of this corruption. We have no need for a further parade of public relations spinning, meant only to distract the public from facts and the truth. What we need right now is a thorough, just, legal and strong investigation into wrongdoings. The type of honest reporting NewsCorp has shown themselves incapable of doing. …
It is time for the truth to come out. And it is time for the Murdochs and NewsCorp to stop their habitual addiction to spin and lies. The Murdochs bear responsibility for what occurred in their company, and the public deserves accountability around their failed and corrupt leadership. As increased revelations of corruption endlessly emerge within this scandal, the only way for justice and journalistic integrity to win out is for both Murdochs to resign. At that point, their public relations firm can spin all they want, without causing further harm to the public interest.

Others deplored the amount of attention that the scandal has wrung from the British press. Columnist Simon Jenkins wrote a piece titled “The Murdoch story is not a Berlin Wall moment – just daft hysteria.”

Britain has gone mad, or at least the tiny patch of Britain round Westminster. The Pentagon would call it an … all-embracing, uncontrollable chain reaction that appears unable to cease. The new ecstasy theorists call it "whooshing", when reason loses out to passion, and thought to imagination. As after the death of Princess Diana, every politician and commentator cries: "The world will never be the same again." The world usually is. …

Has anyone been murdered? Has anyone been ruined? Is the nation gripped by financial crash or pandemic, earthquake or famine? Are thousands homeless or millions impoverished? …

That everyone knew journalists and the police were engaged in petty barter does not make it acceptable, let alone legal. Nor is it edifying to know how far politicians and editors are in and out of each other's houses. But it is not the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Nuremberg trials. The downtrodden are not marching against their great satan, Rupert Murdoch, "the most evil man in the world" as reported by the BBC Today programme. They are more likely mad at losing their favourite paper. There is a limit to how much significance any event can carry without imploding into daft hysteria.

Columnist Marina Hyde expresses dismay that the scandal has been such a disruption to the British government, calling it Britain’s “official resignation from international life.”

Yet it says something about the banquet of horrors on offer that Tuesday's most exquisite irony did not even occur in a Westminster committee room. That honour surely belonged to David Cameron, literally sweating in Lagos as he was forced to address the growing perception of Britain as a banana republic. The prime minister wasn't accompanied by the Nigerian president - presumably the latter declined to share the podium with him on the basis that doing so could appear to tacitly legitimise the corruption that appears to be systemic in his opposite number's country. "This is a big problem," conceded Cameron of Britain's rapidly unravelling establishment. "But we are a big country."

Are we? To both trained and untrained eyes on Tuesday, we seemed a very small country indeed.

The Sun

The remaining Murdoch-owned tabloid, The Sun, skipped over the boring stuff and went, perhaps unsurprisingly, for the shaving cream pie flung at Rupert Murdoch – and his wife’s surprisingly vehement response. “Rupert Murdoch attacked at phone hacking inquiry,” the headline read.

A noteworthy line: "As it resumed, Labour MP Tom Watson told Mr. Murdoch: 'Your wife has a very good left hook.' Mr. Murdoch and his wife were later seen holding hands in their car."