Murdoch Grilled By British Parliamentary Panel
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
And we begin this hour with new developments in the News Corp phone hacking scandal. Today, the man whose newspapers made him a fortune by exposing the faults of others found the spotlight turned on him. Rupert Murdoch, along with his son, James, was grilled by a committee of British parliamentarians about what happened at the now-defunct News of the World.
SIEGEL: In a moment, we'll hear about what was at stake today for News Corp and for Rupert Murdoch's role in the company he founded. But first, to today's proceedings, which were televised and watched by millions, including NPR's Philip Reeves.
PHILIP REEVES: Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's most powerful media tycoons, but his empire is badly shaken. Today, he stepped into the limelight. He said he wanted to put things right.
The hearing started with an apology delivered by his son and right-hand man, James.
JAMES MURDOCH: First of all, I would like to say as well just how sorry I am and how sorry we are to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families. It is a matter of great regret, of mine, my father's and everyone at News Corporation.
REEVES: Rupert Murdoch soon interrupted.
RUPERT MURDOCH: I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of life. Thank you.
REEVES: Murdoch looked old. He rambled at times and sounded out of touch, especially when Labour parliamentarian Tom Watson began asking questions.
Watson's been at the forefront of a campaign to unearth the truth about phone hacking. Was Murdoch aware, he asked, that one of his executives, Rebekah Brooks, told the same committee years ago that his British subsidiary, News International, made payments to police officers?
TOM WATSON: Did you or anyone else at your organization investigate this at the time?
WATSON: Can you explain why?
MURDOCH: I didn't know of it. I'm sorry. I'm - if I can just say something, and this is not as an excuse, maybe it's an explanation of my laxity. The News of the World is less than 1 percent of our company. I employ 53,000 people around the world who are proud and great and ethical and distinguished people.
REEVES: Murdoch made clear he didn't feel personally responsible for the crimes committed by The News of the World. He conceded, though, that things had gone badly wrong at the paper and said he was horrified when he found out the voicemail of the murdered 13-year-old British girl was illegally intercepted.
MURDOCH: I was absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case only two weeks ago.
REEVES: Much of the time, James Murdoch fielded the questions, sometimes diving in to help out his 80-year-old father. He was asked about recent reports that the voicemail of 9/11 victims in the U.S. may have been hacked into by The News of the World.
MURDOCH: I am aware of no evidence about that. We have - we all - I am well aware of the allegations and will eagerly cooperate with any investigation or try to find out what went on at that time.
REEVES: James Murdoch maintained he and his father thought the phone hacking issue was settled in 2007, when two people were jailed. Then late last year, he said new facts emerged.
One of the two imprisoned was a private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire. Committee member Paul Farrelly wanted to know if News International had been continuing to pay Mulcaire's legal fees.
MURDOCH: I do know that certain legal fees were paid for Mr. Mulcaire by the company, and I was as surprised and shocked to learn that as you are.
PAUL FARRELLY: Can you understand that people might ask why a company might wish to pay the legal fees of a convicted felon who's been involved - intimately involved in the destruction of your reputation...
MURDOCH: I can't...
FARRELLY: ...if it were not to buy his cooperation or silence?
MURDOCH: No, it's not. It's - I can understand that, and that's exactly why I asked the question. It's exactly what - when I - when the allegations came out, I said how can we - are we really - are we doing this?
REEVES: Then, this happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOCKED CROWD)
REEVES: A man rushed up to Rupert Murdoch and tried to throw a shaving cream pie in his face, spattering his jacket. Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng, tried to attack the assailant.
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible).
REEVES: The protester was led away in cuffs. The hearing resumed, with a jacketless Rupert Murdoch.
Conservative parliamentarian Louise Mensch had a question.
LOUISE MENSCH: Mr. Murdoch, have you considered resigning?
MENSCH: Why not?
MURDOCH: Because I feel that people I trusted - I'm not saying who. I don't know at what level - let me down, and I think they behaved disgracefully, betrayed the company and me, and it is for them to pay.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.
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