Today’s events at the Leveson inquiry, with James Murdoch as the star turn, seem as I write to indicate the consequences of “charismatic authority” – a concept already nailed by Harold Evans as characterising Rupert Murdoch’s rule at the helm of News Corporation in the following way:
How much Rupert Murdoch knew and when he knew it may not be pinned down because he exercises what the sociologist Max Weber defined as “charismatic authority” where policy derives from how the leader is perceived by others rather than by instructions or traditions. The concept of charismatic authority as applied to the Murdoch empire may be best understood – as a concept, I emphasise, and not a personal comparison – in the use made of Weber’s definition by Sir Ian Kershaw, historian of the Third Reich. Kershaw argues that Hitler was not much absorbed by the day-to-day details of Nazi Germany’s domestic policy, but was nonetheless a dominant dictator. Kershaw explains the paradox by adopting the phrase of a Prussian civil servant who said the bureaucrats were always “working towards the Fuhrer”. They were forever attempting to win favour by guessing what the boss wanted or might applaud but might well not have asked for. Similarly, in all Murdoch’s far-flung enterprises, the question is not whether this or that is a good idea, but “What will Rupert think?”. He doesn’t have to give direct orders. His executives act like courtiers, working towards what they perceive to be his wishes or might be construed as his wishes. A few examples from the Times follow. They act this way out of of fear, certainly, because executions are so brutal but the fear also reflects a more rational appreciation of the fact that his “wild” gambles so often turn out to be triumphs lesser mortals could not even imagine.
It would appear to be a perfectly convenient example of an implementation of perverse Chinese walls of some kind – and whether intentional or accidental the kind of thing that would in other circumstances allow CEOs the world over to earn the salaries and bonuses their boards sanctioned on their behalf without running the risks of ultimate responsibility for everything that happened on their turfs and under their command.
Find it difficult to believe that all the above might take place in a modern business environment of clear rights and responsibilities? Take these pieces of information from today’s questioning:
Here’s a tweet from FT media editor Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson.
Jay sounding incredulous that James left underlings to offer £350,000 Gordon Taylor settlement without his authority #leveson
— A Edgecliffe-Johnson (@Edgecliffe) April 24, 2012
And then there’s this exchange:
In a key exchange, Jay puts to Murdoch that there was either a cover up or a failure of governance.
There are two possibilities here. Either you were told of the evidence that linked others at the News of the World to Mulcaire and this was in effect a cover up, or you weren’t told and you didn’t read the emails properly and there was failure of governance at the company do you accept that?
Murdoch maintains that Myler and Crone gave him “sufficient information” to settle the Gordon Taylor case at a higher figure, but not sufficient information “to go and turn over a whole lot of stones”.
He adds: “I was given repeated assurances newsroom had been investigated, that there was no evidence. I’ve been very consistent about it.”
See what I mean?
Quite a bit more than just curious.
And perhaps quite a bit more than just revealing too.