LONDON (AP) - A protester splattered Rupert Murdoch with white
foam on Tuesday, interrupting a dramatic hearing in which the media
baron told British lawmakers he was not responsible for a phone
hacking scandal that has rocked his global empire.
Murdoch appeared by turns vague, truculent, sharp and concise as
he spoke alongside his son and deputy, James, calling the
parliamentary inquiry "the most humble day of my career" but
refusing to take personal blame for the crisis that has swept from
a tabloid newspaper through the top levels of Britain's police and
even to the prime minister's office.
Murdoch, 80, said he was "shocked, appalled and ashamed" at
the hacking of the phone of a murdered schoolgirl by his
now-shuttered News of the World tabloid.
But he quibbled with a suggestion that criminality had been
endemic at the tabloid and said he had seen no evidence that
victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack and their relatives
were targeted by any of his papers.
"Endemic is a very hard, a very wide ranging word," Murdoch
said. "I also have to be very careful not to prejudice the course
of justice that is taking place now."
Murdoch said he was not responsible for the hacking scandal, and
denied his company was guilty of willful blindness over hacking.
He laid blame on "the people I trusted but they blame maybe the
people that they trusted."
After more than two hours of testimony, a man in a plaid shirt
appeared to run toward Murdoch with a pie plate full of foam,
before being struck by the executive's wife Wendi Deng. The foam
hit Murdoch's suit jacket.
Police in the back of the committee room held an apparently
handcuffed man with the foam covering his face and shirt.
Media reports identified him as Jonnie Marbles, a British
comedian. Just before the attack, he wrote on his Twitter feed
that: "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever
done before (at)splat," a slightly altered quotation from the last
sentence of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."
Police said he had been arrested on suspicion of assault during
a public meeting.
The hearing resumed after a short break, with an apology from
Murdoch loyalist, Rebekah Brooks, who apologized for the
Two of Murdoch's top executives, Brooks and Les Hinton, have
resigned over the scandal - something Murdoch said was a matter of
regret. The uproar has also led to the arrest of Brooks, sunk
Murdoch's dream of taking full control of lucrative satellite
broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and raised questions about his
control of his global media empire.
Murdoch said he lost sight of News of the World because it is
such a small part of his company and spoke to the editor of the
paper only around once a month, talking more with the editor of the
Sunday Times in Britain and the Wall Street Journal in the U.S.
The value of the Murdochs' News Corp. added around $2 billion
while they were being grilled, trading 5.3 percent higher at
$15.74. The stock has taken a battering over the past couple of
weeks, shedding around 17 percent of its value, or around $8
James Murdoch apologized for the scandal, telling British
lawmakers that "these actions do not live up to the standards our
company aspires to."
The younger Murdoch said the company acted as swiftly and
transparently as possible. Rupert Murdoch acknowledged, however,
that he did not investigate after Brooks, the Murdochs' former U.K.
newspaper chief, told parliament years ago that the News of the
World had paid police officers for information.
Asked by lawmakers why there was no investigation, Rupert
Murdoch said: "I didn't know of it."
He said the News of the World "is less than 1 percent" of his
News Corp., which employs 53,000 people.
Murdoch also said he was not informed that his company had paid
out big sums - 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million) in one case - to
settle lawsuits by phone hacking victims.
James Murdoch said his father became aware of the settlement
"in 2009 after a newspaper report. It was a confidential
He said a civil case of that nature and size would be dealt with
by the executives in the country involved - in this case himself,
as head of News Corp.'s European and Asian operations.
Murdoch said he was surprised and shocked that his company paid
the legal fees for royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed in
2007 for eavesdropping on the voicemails of royal aides.
He told the committee he didn't realize the payments had been
made to the News of the World reporter, and he was not certain who
signed off on the payments.
Politicians also pushed for details about the Murdochs' ties to
Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of the British
Separately, Britain's Conservative Party said a recently
arrested phone-hacking suspect may have advised Cameron's
communications chief before the 2010 election.
Former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis was
arrested last week on suspicion of conspiring to intercept
communications as part of a broadening investigation into phone
hacking at the now-defunct tabloid.
In another hearing, lawmakers questioned London police about
reports that officers took bribes from journalists to provide
inside information for tabloid scoops and to ask why the force
decided to shut down an earlier phone hacking probe after charging
only two people.
Detectives reopened the case earlier this year and are looking
at a potential 3,700 victims.
Brooks testified after the Murdochs, opening her remarks with an
apology for phone hacking and described allegations of voicemail
intercepts of crime victims as "pretty horrific and abhorrent."
She said she was told by the News of the World that allegations
of phone hacking by the paper's journalists were untrue, and that
she only realized the gravity of the situation when she saw
documents lodged in a civil damages case by actress Sienna Miller
"We had been told by people at News of the World at the time,
they consistently denied any of these allegations in various
internal investigations," she said.
Asked whether she had been lied to by senior employees at the
newspaper, Brooks declined to answer.
"Unfortunately, because of the criminal procedure, I'm not sure
that it's possible to infer guilt until those criminal procedures
have taken place," she said. Brooks also said she had never
knowingly sanctioned a payoff to a police officer.
Rupert Murdoch is eager to stop the crisis from spreading to the
United States, where many of his most lucrative assets - including
the Fox TV network, 20th Century Fox film studio, The Wall Street
Journal and the New York Post - are based.
CNN host Piers Morgan, who was editor of the News of the World
for two years in the 1990s and is now based in the United States,
denied any link to the scandal.
"I've never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or
published any stories based on the hacking of a phone," he said.
London's departing police chief revealed that 10 of the 45 press
officers in his department used to work for News International, but
he denied there are any improper links between the force and
Murdoch's media empire.
News International is the British newspaper division of
Murdoch's global News Corp.
Stephenson denied wrongdoing, or knowing the News of the World
was engaged in phone hacking - but acknowledged that in retrospect
he was embarrassed the force had hired Wallis as a PR consultant.
Stephenson announced his resignation Sunday, saying allegations
about his contacts with Murdoch's News International were a
distraction from his job.
He was followed out the door by assistant commissioner John
Yates, who said that, with the benefit of hindsight, he would have
re-opened an inquiry into electronic eavesdropping of voicemail
London's Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it had asked a
watchdog to investigate its head of public affairs over the scandal
- the fifth senior police official being investigated. The
Independent Police Complaints Commission will look at Dick
Fedorcio's role in hiring a former News of the World executive as
an adviser to the police.
Cameron cut short a visit to Africa and is expected to return to
Britain for an emergency session Wednesday of Parliament on the
A former News of the World reporter, Sean Hoare, who helped blow
the whistle on the scandal, was found dead Monday in his home.
Police said the death was "unexplained" but is not being treated
as suspicious. A post-mortem was being conducted Tuesday.
Brooks' spokesman, David Wilson, said police had been handed a
bag containing a laptop and papers that belong to her husband,
former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks. Wilson said the bag did
not contain anything related to the phone hacking scandal and he
expected police to return it soon.
The bag was found dumped in an underground parking lot near the
couple's home on Monday, but it was unclear how exactly it got
there. Wilson said Tuesday that a friend of Charlie Brooks had
meant to drop the bag off, but he would say only he left it in the
Britain's Independent Police Complaints Commission also is
looking into the phone hacking and police bribery claims, including
one that Yates inappropriately helped get a job for the daughter of
Wallis. Wallis has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to
London police also confirmed that they once employed a second
former News of the World employee besides Wallis. Alex Marunchak
had been employed as a Ukrainian language interpreter with access
to highly sensitive police information between 1980 and 2000, the
Metropolitan Police said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)