By now you’ve probably heard that Rupert and James Murdoch had a little Q&A with some Members of Parliament in London today. You may have also heard that things got a little interesting when a man opted to put a cream (origin unknown) pie in the elder Murdoch’s face only to have his wife, Wendi Deng, get a little medieval on the Three Stooges impersonator.
Before all the excitement, things were getting a little awkward, as Rupes came off as very unprepared and on at least one occasion, was slapping the table not unlike your own octogenarian grandfather wanting to know if someone could pass the goddamn mashed potatoes. At one point, the questioning turned to legal settlements and MP Therese Coffey asked the Murdochs if they knew “how much has been paid out in legal settlements.”
James Murdoch [said] he [did] not know total number but said its customary to try to reach out-of-court settlements in many cases. Rupert Murdoch points out News Corporation had a strong audit committee to review all these things.
Right! The audit committee, that’s who you want to talk to. Of course, that’s a pretty lame answer, as Dennis Howlett noted:
Who, exactly, are these capable audit committee members? Here’s the crew from the company’s most recent proxy:
• Sir Roderick I. Eddington, Chairman – currently the non-executive chairman for Australia and New Zealand of J.P Morgan. Also former CEO of British Airways. Director since 1999.
• Peter L. Barnes – Chairman of Ansell Limited. Director since 2004.
• Andrew S.B. Knight – Chairman of J. Rothschild Capital Management Limited. Was also the Chairman of News International (James Murdoch’s current position) from 1990 to 1995. Director since 1991.
• Thomas J. Perkins – Partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital company. Director at News Corp since 1996.
I’m sure all these dudes (News Corp has one woman on their board – Natalie Bancroft) are all quite capable but it doesn’t strike me a terribly robust audit committee. Having said that, it’s been reported that News Corp’s independent directors have retained Debevoise & Plimpton to represent them. The audit committee is comprised entirely of independent directors (calling Mr. Knight “independent” seems like a stretch but whatevs) and maybe they could rattle off the laundry list of legal settlements but at least it appears they’re sorta on top of things now.