Rupert Murdoch attacked at Parliament, appears unharmed
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News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch endured not only verbal blows but also an attempted physical attack Tuesday during his historic appearance before a committee of the British Parliament to account for the alleged illegal activities of reporters at his newspapers accused of hacking people’s cellphones.
The hearing was interrupted when it appeared that someone tried to strike the 80-year-old Murdoch, perhaps with shaving cream.
The crowd gasped, and his son James Murdoch -- who was sitting next to him at the witness table -- leaped to his father’s defense. Rupert Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, who was sitting behind the mogul, jumped up and reached out to slap the offender.
Murdoch’s glasses appeared to come off and his ever-present gray-haired bodyguard jumped to help police apprehend the person trying to accost the mogul.
The disruption occurred during the final questions. The television feed did not show what exactly happened, but a CNN reporter in London said the offender, a young man, approached Murdoch and splashed his face with some substance, perhaps shaving cream, and accused him of being ‘a greedy billionaire.’
Murdoch and his son appeared uncomfortable in the opening minutes of Tuesday’s hearing, with Murdoch sometimes cupping his hand to his ear to better hear questions and interrupting his 38-year-old son.
‘This is the most humble day of my life,’ the powerful mogul said.
But Murdoch -- wearing a blue pinstripe suit and blue tie -- a few minutes later told members that he did not think he was ultimately responsible for the phone-hacking scandal that brought down the News of the World tabloid, a 168-year-old institution, and now threatens his global media empire.
If not him, then, who was responsible, Murdoch was asked.
‘The people I trusted and the people they trusted,’ Murdoch said emphatically, alluding to the people he felt should take the fall for the crisis that has torn through the United Kingdom, led to the closure of a tabloid a week ago and derailed a $12 billion-dollar deal. The out-of-control crisis has led to two high-level resignations and even an arrest of a top executive at News Corp.
British residents lined up for eight hours on Tuesday for a seat in the committee room, according to British press reports. They came to see the two Murdochs grilled by members of Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee -- an event televised around the world on cable TV.
Britain has been gripped by the drama unfolding over charges that News of the World routinely engaged in hacking into the voicemail accounts of celebrities, the royal family and even victims of crime and terrorism and their families.
During questioning, Murdoch appeared to try to distance himself from the imbrogilio.
‘Perhaps I lost sight,’ he said when asked how involved he was in the operations of News of the World. Murdoch tried to defend his lack of knowledge of what was happening at one of the biggest newspapers his company owns, saying the now-defunct tabloid accounted for ‘less than 1% of our company.’
‘I may have been lax for not asking more,’ he said.
James Murdoch, who has been in charge of News Corp.'s European operations since 2007, was put on the spot when one Parliament member asked him, ‘Are you familiar with the term ‘willful blindness?’ ' James Murdoch, smiled, hesitated, and then asked the member to elaborate.
Rupert Murdoch interjected, ‘I am aware of the term and we were not ever guilty of that.’
The senior Murdoch said he worked 10- to 12-hour days and ‘can’t tell you the multitude of issues that I have to handle every day’ adding that if he was blind to what was going on at News of the World, it was because the paper is ‘so small in the general frame of our company.’
That proved to be a hard sell to some members.
‘It is revealing in himself what he doesn’t know and what executives chose not to tell him,” said committee member Tom Watson of Murdoch’s seeming lack of detailed knowledge as to what transpired at the paper.
It appeared that James Murdoch, who wants to one day succeed his father to run the global empire, was trying to play the dual role of protector of his gray-haired father and the executive in charge of knowing all the details of the inner operations of News of the World. In addition, he tried at times to persuade lawmakers that many of the revelations regarding the culture inside News of the World was news to him.
‘We are trying to establish the fact,’ he said, adding later that he was ‘surprised’ to learn that the company had been paying legal fees of two former News of the World operatives who had been convicted of phone hacking.
Father and son were not always on the same page. Asked by a committee member if News Corp. planned to launch a new tabloid to replace News of the World, James rushed to say no while his father indicated that no decision on that subject had been made. James Murdoch then concurred.
James Murdoch tried to explain that many of the events being probed happend before he assumed oversight of News Corp.'s European operations. Soon after he arrived in late 2007, he learned some of the sordid details about how at reporter and private investigator hacked into emails.
At that point, Rupert Murdoch, interrupted.
‘My son had only been with the company for a few weeks at that time,’ he said.
Said James, ‘It was a few months.’
Asked later if he would resign, Rupert Murdoch said no, adding that he was ‘the best person to clean this up.’
-- Joe Flint and Meg James