Rupert Murdoch Defends Record At Ethics Inquiry

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch appeared before the Leveson media inquiry on Wednesday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

A myth - that's the word Rupert Murdoch uses when anyone suggests that he misuses his enormous power. Murdoch, who is 81, spent today defending his record as the world's most powerful media baron. At an inquiry in London, he denied extracting favors from British political leaders by offering them the support of his newspapers.

NPR's Philip Reeves watched Murdoch testify and filed this report.

ROBERT JAY: Your full name, please, Mr. Murdoch?

RUPERT MURDOCH: Keith Rupert Murdoch.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This was an unprecedented occasion, a long close-up of a man who prefers to remain out of the limelight. For nearly four hours, Murdoch fielded questions about the way he does business and his links with those who rule Britain. He spoke softly and carefully with long pauses and occasional flashes of humor.

The counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, was curious about one of Murdoch's recent remarks on Twitter.

JAY: Now, some recent tweets of yours betray a hostile approach to right-wingers and toffs. Who were you referring to?

MURDOCH: (unintelligible) Don't take my tweets too seriously...

REEVES: The mood changed when Jay started to delve into Murdoch's relationship with Britain's leaders, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Murdoch denied asking Thatcher to help him in his highly controversial purchase of The London Times and Sunday Times in 1981. He said he never asked any British prime minister for anything. And he never promised them the support of his most popular daily tabloid in return for help with his business interests.

MURDOCH: That is a complete myth.

JAY: So, what's the myth Mr. Murdoch?

MURDOCH: That I used the influence of The Sun, or the supposed political power, to get favorable treatment.

REEVES: The inquiry heard how former Prime Minister Tony Blair repeatedly phoned Murdoch before committing British troops to Iraq in 2003. Murdoch said he was a personal friend of Blair, who's godfather to one of his children.

When Jay pressed for more information about the nature of that relationship, Murdoch pounded his fist on the desk.

MURDOCH: You're making sinister inferences. I want to say, Mr. Jay, that I, in 10 years of his power there, never asked Mr. Blair for anything. Nor, indeed, did I receive any favors.

REEVES: Murdoch's testimony provided intriguing details about the behavior of his friends in high places. He said on one occasion his son-in-law flew David Cameron to a meeting on a private yacht, before Cameron became prime minister. Murdoch said all politicians go out of their way to impress the press. But there was nothing wrong with his relationship with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF UPROAR)

REEVES: As Murdoch was speaking, Britain's Parliament, a mile away, was hearing a different story from Prime Minister Cameron.

DAVID CAMERON: And I think on all sides of the House, there is a bit of a need for a hand on heart. We all did too much cozying up to Rupert Murdoch...

REEVES: Cameron faced uproar in Parliament.

The inquiry that Murdoch addressed today has created a political storm. Yesterday, the inquiry published a batch of confidential emails. These imply a cabinet minister may have secretly funneled information to Murdoch's News Corp., to help it secure its biggest-ever takeover bid, the controversial buyout of the British satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

At the time, that minister, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, was adjudicating on that takeover which eventually failed. A beleaguered Hunt today assured Parliament he'd done nothing wrong but many are now demanding his resignation.

Tomorrow Rupert Murdoch takes the stand again. He'll likely face questions about the issue that started all this - rampant illegal phone hacking at the News of the World.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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