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DON’T TELL DAD: “This is the most humble day of my life,” said Rupert Murdoch — interrupting his son James’ opening statement Tuesday afternoon during a hearing at Britain’s House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Murdoch Sr., who, for emphasis, periodically slapped the table behind which he was sitting, later told the committee he was “shocked, appalled and ashamed” when he learned that his now-defunct title News of the World hacked into the phone of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler. “We felt ashamed of what had happened at News of the World,” he said at the hearing. He and his son were dressed in near-identical grayish blue suits, blue ties and white shirts. “We had broken our trust with our readers.”
As humble as he may have been feeling, however, Murdoch Sr. refused to take responsibility for phone hacking at the British arm of his multibillion-dollar media company News International. Asked if he was ultimately responsible for what one member of Parliament called the “fiasco,” Murdoch said: “No. I am not responsible,” and pointed the finger at the people he trusted. “I worked with Mr. [Les] Hinton [former chief executive officer of Dow Jones] for 52 years. I trust him with my life,” Murdoch said.
He said he would not resign as chairman and ceo of News Corp.: “The people I trusted let me down and behaved disgracefully and it is for them to pay. And I am the best person to clean this up.”
Murdoch did admit, however, that he wasn’t paying enough attention to the goings-on at News of the World. “I lost sight of News of the World. It was so small in the context of the company,” he said, adding that it amounts to “less than one percent” of a company that employs 53,000 people. Bloomberg has reported that News Corp. wants to replace the 80-year-old Murdoch as ceo with Chase Carey, whose current title is chief operating officer. Murdoch would remain as chairman.
But how much oversight did Murdoch ever have of News of the World? The overriding impression the feeble-looking, and sometimes hard of hearing, Murdoch gave was that he spends much of his time out of touch with the day-to-day goings-on at his group. “It’s revealing in itself what [Murdoch Sr.] does not know,” said one of the members of the committee, clearly shocked by Murdoch’s ignorance of famous journalists’ names, enormous out-of-court settlements made by News International, and his admission that he talked to the News of the World editor “once a month” at least.
The hearing, which was set to last one hour, ended up lasting three, and the committee members were largely soft in their questioning. The only truly dramatic moment came toward the end of the questioning, when a member of the public attacked Murdoch with what appeared to be shaving foam. Murdoch’s wife, Wendi, who was seated in the front row of the audience, jumped instantly to his defense and tried to fend off the assailant. Murdoch — sans his sullied blue jacket — and his son returned 15 minutes later to wrap up the hearing. Commended by committee members for returning to the inquiry after the attack, Murdoch was cool. “A little theater doesn’t hurt,” he said.
Later in the day, shortly after 6 p.m., former News International chief Rebekah Brooks appeared — with her lawyer — before the same committee. She was arrested over the weekend on hacking charges. She protested her innocence to the committee and said she never paid a policeman or knowingly sanctioned payments to police in exchange for illegally obtained information. “In my experience, police information comes free of charge,” she said.
— SAMANTHA CONTI