This hasn’t been Rupert Murdoch’s premier week. As CNN writes, “The phone-tapping allegations that forced the closure of embattled British tabloid News of the World may have a damaging ripple effect across Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire, according to some analysts.”
Which brings us to BP.
Last Friday (Associated Press) (New York Times), we learned about the grilling that former BP boss Tony Hayward, who was ousted months after the BP spill, underwent in June by lawyers for victims of the catastrophe, including governments. AP wrote about Hayward being questioned whether BP propped up the company's falling share price through his subordinates' daily briefings:
During the deposition, attorneys raised questions about Hayward's sincerity when he said he had the best interest at heart of all those hurt by the Gulf oil spill. Hayward famously infuriated Gulf residents during the height of the spill with his comment, "I'd like my life back."
In the deposition, an attorney for the state of Louisiana, Allan Kanner, asked Hayward about a June 25, 2010, email to BP's former head of exploration and production, Andy Inglis. According to Kanner, it said, "Andy, can you make sure we get the technical briefing on the relief well out today? There are all sorts of ridiculous stories going around. It's the main reason behind the share price weakness."
At the time, the well was still spewing oil into the sea. It wasn't capped until three weeks later. And it wasn't until September that a relief well finally sealed what had become the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The day of the email, BP's stock price closed at $26.53, a 6 percent drop from the previous day's close. A BP executive, Kent Wells, held a media briefing three days later saying the relief well was only 20 feet away from the blown-out well. He also told reporters that the company had a high degree of confidence in the relief well and a backup one it was drilling.
By June 30, 2010, BP's stock was back up to $28.35 -- slightly higher than what it closed at on June 24, the day before the Hayward email.
Hayward also “said he did not give much thought during the crisis to the amount of oil that was flowing, and that the amount would not have changed the way BP responded.” You will recall that about 206 million gallons of oil spewed into the sea.
The Times wrote this:
Robert T. Cunningham, an Alabama lawyer who led off the two-day deposition with a confrontational style, pressed Mr. Hayward to admit that the company’s inquiry into the disaster was incomplete. While BP’s team examined immediate causes and events leading up to the blast on the rig itself, it did not include what Mr. Cunningham referred to as “root causes,” those involving management and corporate culture, and which the company’s own policies call for after major accidents.…
Another contentious line of questioning involved BP’s expenditures on safety; Mr. Cunningham argued that cost cuts at BP had raised risk, but Mr. Hayward countered that whenever he spoke, he would emphasize that “reliable operations come first, whatever the cost” — and insisted that the corporate budget-cutting affected operations, not safety.
But Mr. Cunningham scoffed, “If the first words out of your mouth every time you open it were ‘I am Superman,’ that wouldn’t make you Superman, would it?”
To which a lawyer for BP responded, “Objection to form.”
So what does this have to do with Rupert Murdoch? Doesn’t everything?
Turns out, the depositions themselves have ended up on Murdoch’s New Corp.’s iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, and of course have also ended up on YouTube, which Google owns. A judge has ordered The Daily to take them down, saying they violated a prior court order. That order says that no “part of the video or audio record of a video deposition shall be released or made available to any member of the public unless authorized by the court.”
AP writes, “The order appears to be directed only at The Daily, which responded that it believes the order is ‘an extraordinary example of prior restraint’ and it has no intention of taking down the video clips from either site ‘until we've had the opportunity to present our case to the court.’” Seems like a U.S. First Amendment battle extraordinaire may be shaping up.
In an ironic twist, writes the Washington Post blog, “it now seems like Hayward may have had a case of the Streisand effect, in which an attempt to remove a piece of information has the unintended effect of publicizing it more widely.”
They’re right. We may not have even written about this otherwise.