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Murdochs Have A Lot Riding On Tuesday’s Command Performance

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If Rupert Murdoch turns in a performance in front of a Parliamentary committee Tuesday anywhere close to the one he gave in last week’s interview with his own Wall Street Journal, the chairman and CEO of News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). could wind up with one fewer title. News Corp. already has a ready-made CEO in house and, even better for damage control, he’s not named Murdoch: Chase Carey, the deputy chairman, president and COO Murdoch brought back in 2009 as a trusted operator and succession insurance policy.

The stage is already being set for a possible transition. Early Monday evening, Bloomberg reported that some independent directors would seek to replace Murdoch with Carey should his performance in front of the Culture Committee go awry, quickly countered with variations that have Murdoch considering the move on his own. Of course, both can be true — if the independent directors lose confidence, he can opt to jump rather than be pushed.

The stakes are even higher for son James, who has managed his public appearances during the unfolding scandal fairly well (aside from the unfortunate bits about keeping Rebekah Brooks on), especially for someone who can have a sharp tongue: his shot at succession, his chairmanship of BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) — and avoiding potential ammunition for eager prosecutors.

Brooks, who resigned as chief executive of News International Friday and was arrested, then released without being charged Sunday, is the highest ranking News Corp. executive to be arrested so far.

Her lengthy questioning that day has heightened speculation about the potential danger to James Murdoch, who was her boss in recent years and personally authorized high payments to hacking victims. He has said he regrets having agreed to the payments. Those payments are the biggest question mark for him in a scandal riddled with questions: were the hefty payments packaged with non-disclosure-agreements meant to thwart investigations into illegal practices by News of the World. She still plans to testify Tuesday in a separate session from the Murdochs.

Carey being upped to CEO wouldn’t obliterate the chances for James to be CEO one day; if he can avoid the personal legal fallout, Carey potentially could give him the cover he’ll need for exec rehab.

More to come — and more details in our News of the World archive.

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