The drama in the chamber, already at a peak, took a surreal turn when a man yelled “greedy” while tossing a plate of shaving cream at the 80-year-old Murdoch, prompting his wife, Wendi Murdoch, to leap out of her chair and belt the attacker. The melee forced a temporary suspension of a session watched by millions on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was the first time the Australian-born Murdoch has addressed such a forum, and he often turned to his 38-year-old son, who oversees the company’s British operations, to field questions for him. But he was pressed at times to answer himself — occasionally offering the blunt remarks of a hard-boiled newsman.
Murdoch, for instance, vowed not to resign, saying, “I feel that people I trusted . . . let me down . . . and I think that, frankly, I’m the best person to clean this up.”
More than his son James, who often appeared to shield himself behind legalese, the elder Murdoch said major mistakes had been made by News Corp. in the handling of the scandal — in which the News of the World hacked the phones of thousands of British citizens, including members of the royal family, over the past decade.
“There were people in the company which were apparently guilty, and we have to find them and we have to deal with them,” Murdoch said at one point.
“I didn’t know, I’m sorry. . . . News of the World was 1 percent of our company.”
Throughout the proceedings, Murdoch insisted that he was not informed about key developments in the scandal. He said, for example, that he did not know about legal settlements with phone-hacking victims in excess of $1 million and dating to 2008 — settlements that British lawmakers suggested were made to keep a lid on the scandal.
He also said he was unaware that in 2009, the same select committee he was appearing before had accused British executives at News Corp. of having “collective amnesia” about alleged widespread use of phone hacking at the tabloid.
“I don’t know who made that particular charge. I haven’t heard that,” he said. “You’re really not saying amnesia. You’re really saying lying.”
Others testify at hearing
Nevertheless, father and son mounted a rigorous defense of the company’s response to wrongdoing and mismanagement at News International, News Corp.’s British division, saying the company moved as fast as it could as details came to light. Murdoch said, for example, that he decided to close the 168-year-old News of the World after revelations that the tabloid had interfered in the investigation of Milly Dowler, a schoolgirl abducted and killed in 2002, by hacking into her phone. That hacking case, reported in the Guardian two weeks ago, exploded the long-festering scandal.