LONDON // Not since an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President George Bush during a Baghdad press conference in 2008 has a lone protester's physical attack on a global figure so galvanised public opinion as the cream-pie toss at media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Jonathan May-Bowles, 26, was charged yesterday with behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress in a public place after he was seen on live television throwing a paper plate of shaving foam at Mr Murdoch as the media mogul testimony to British MPs on Tuesday.
British officials rushed to condemn Mr May-Bowles, a political activist and comedian, while Wendi Deng, 42, Mr Murdoch's wife, saw her reputation rise after she was seen launching herself in fury to defend her husband and strike the protester on his head with her right hand.
"Your wife has a very good left hook," Tom Watson, Labour member of parliament, told Mr Murdoch after the incident, which interrupted the hearing into phone hacking and corrupt practices for 20 minutes.
John Bercow, speaker or presiding officer of the House of Commons, said he had ordered an investigation into how Mr May-Bowles was able to pass security including an airport-style scanner with the shaving foam.
Mr May-Bowles was one of several members of the public who queued for access to the select committee hearing room, where he described his assault on Twitter. "It's a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat," he wrote seconds before the attack.
Friends of Mr May-Bowles described him as a failed stand-up comedian as well as a member of the UKUncut group, which has campaigned against tax-avoidance by large corporations.
"He's very committed politically," a friend told The Guardian. "I know him from working on a variety of different political causes. He was angry about the whole Murdoch thing, how we've got a powerful elite in this country."
If Mr May-Bowles intended to highlight Mr Murdoch's alleged wrong-doing then his plan might have backfired because much sympathy was extended towards the News Corp chairman. Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, said: "It's contemptible. This is no way to treat any witness, let alone someone over the age of 80."
Ms Deng, meanwhile, won plaudits around the world for her agility and sharp reaction.
"This adds value to the image of Chinese wives," said Jihua on the Chinese microblog Weibo, according to a report in the Guardian on how Chinese bloggers rushed to post their praise of Mr Murdoch's wife. "They have previously proved their ability to cook and run a business. Now they can add bodyguard."