Tony Blair Testifies in Inquiry Into Murdoch News of World Scandal, Protestor Shouts 'War Crimes!'

PHOTO: Britains former Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, looks on, May 28 2012, as a protester, top center in white shirt, is restrained by officials after he burst in through a secure corridor shouting, "This man should be arrested for war crimes!".PlayAP Photo
WATCH James Murdoch Defends Record in Hacking Scandal

It doesn't seem as if Tony Blair's media instincts have changed much since he was British prime minister.

There he was, in a courtroom in central London today, testifying in the ongoing British judicial inquiry into media ethics after the uncovering of phone hacking at Murdoch's News of the World, when an antiwar protestor barged into the room from a supposedly secure hallway and screamed that Blair should be arrested for war crimes.

"J.P. Morgan paid him off for the Iraq War!" shouted David Lawley-Wakelin, a filmmaker, who has heckled Blair in the past on the same topic. "The man is a war criminal!"

As the judge stood up in alarm and four security guards wrestled Lawley-Wakelin to the ground -- he delivered that last line from the floor -- Blair sat with his jaw on his left knuckle and did not flinch. He did not move an inch.

When the judge, Lord Justice Brian Leveson, apologized to Blair and told him he did not have to respond, Blair knew better. He knew the media would focus on that moment rather than on his other four hours of testimony.

In his experience, he said, "if you had 1,000 people in an event and somebody got up and shouted something, then it's as if the other 999 needn't have bothered showing up."

And so he denied the allegations.

But looking at those other four hours of testimony, it might be noticed that Blair argued he had essentially done the same thing when in power, from 1997 to 2007: Since he believed he could not "confront" the media, he did his best to try to "manage" it.

That puts some distance between him and current Prime Minister David Cameron, whose culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will appear in the same courtroom on Thursday to testify following an accusation that he essentially stacked the deck during a controversial bid for more media control by Rupert Murdoch and his son, James.

Blair argued today that his relationship with Murdoch was entirely professional when he was in office. Now, that is debatable. Blair's former press officer Lance Price once described Murdoch as the "24th member of cabinet." After Blair left office, he became godfather to Murdoch's child. Blair admitted he spoke with Murdoch three times in the two weeks leading to the Iraq War. And Blair himself admitted he was too close to Murdoch.

But nonetheless, Blair emerged from today's testimony less damaged than Cameron has. The current prime minister had to admit he was regularly texting one of Murdoch's most senior executives with the signoff "lots of love," even though he mistakenly used LOL to deliver that message.

It's not as if Blair and the media have had a loving relationship. He once called the Fourth Estate "feral beasts." When he was today read an editorial in the Daily Mail, which was particularly harsh on the Labor leader, that called the media "a great sloppy Labrador that repeatedly bestowed its affections on him," Blair said it was a description of the Mail "I don't totally recognize."

The audience laughed in understanding.

And so Blair used the occasion to argue that the inquiry not try to neuter the powerful British tabloid culture but instead try to "drain the poison."

"Certain newspapers are used by their owners or editors as instruments of political power, he said, "in which the boundary between news and comment is deliberately blurred."

As for Lawley-Wakelin, he has long made it clear he is no fan of Blair and Blair's decision to back the war in Iraq. He once accused Blair during "question time" on the BBC of being a "liar prepared to kill in the name of oil." In 2010, Lawley-Wakelin traveled to Iraq for a documentary called "The Alternative Iraq Inquiry" that asked whether Blair should be sent to the international criminal court.

But Lawley-Wakelin was not the only one who protested against Blair's policies today. Outside the court, a few dozen people held up signs with the words "Blair" and "the Hague for Blair." One of them threw an egg at Blair's Range Rover as he left the court.

It is a reminder that, even as Blair tries to distance himself from the Murdoch empire, he will never be able to distance himself from the policies that helped lead to his downfall. This will not be the last time Blair is heckled over Iraq. It will also not be the last time he sits stoically through the criticism, trying not to flinch.