Hearing disrupted by shaving cream 'pie' as Murdochs give little ground in testimony

UPDATE (11:55 a.m.): The hearing was abruptly interrupted, and the camera went to a blank wall as a result of a disturbance in the hearing room at about 11:55 a.m. as the last questioner was addressing a question to Rupert Murdoch.  A replay of video showed a  spectator approaching Rupert Murdoch with a plate of white shaving cream. A CNN staffer in the room reports that the shaving cream hit Murdoch "squarely in the face." Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng, leapt to her husband's defense by throwing a punch at the man. Murdoch did not seem injured, and the spectator was removed by police. The hearing resumed after about 15 minutes.)

After saying what sounded like a prepared remark that this was "most humble day" of his life, it only took about 25 minutes before Rupert Murdoch let slip what appear to be his real feelings about one of the most wide-reaching scandals in 20th century media history.

"A lot of people had a lot of different agendas to build this hysteria," Murdoch said, echoing words published Monday in his Wall Street Journal saying the trouble Murdoch''s empire finds itself in is the work of his rivals and enemies in large part.

"...They caught us with dirty hands," Murdoch said, apparently referring to phone hacking of the voicemail of a murdered 13-year-old girl. "And a mood developed that made it impractical to go ahead" with a bid to purchase total control of a British satellite news service.

Murdoch and his son, James, testified Tuesday before a committee of Parliament looking into a scandal that has already led to resignations of several top of executives of News. Corp. and the closing of a tabloid newspaper, News of the World, with a circulation over 2.5 million.

In general, the 80-year-old Murdoch acted as if he couldn't remember details. Again, in what seemed like a lawyered, prepared statement that "News of the World" accounted for only 1 percent of his empire and that he employed more than 53,000 workers, Murdoch stuck to the position early on that he couldn't be expected to know details of payouts, bribes and firings already documented.


Rupert Murdoch, striking a pose of forgetfulness and inability to accees names and facts, said he didn't know who signed checks ranging up to 600,000 pounds for what one committee member characertized as "hush money."

Rupert Murdoch also said that he didn't know that the company was paying legal fees for the convicted felon who actually hacked into the voicemail of the 13-year-old murder victim. The revelation of that outrage by The Guardian newspaper set off the firestorm that led to Tuesday's hearing.


Think of an ancient mafia don testifying before a Senate committee that he could not recall or was never consulted on matters that might now be considered criminal, and you have a basic sense of the way Rupert Murdoch played it in his testimony before members of Parliament Tuesday.

James Murdoch tried at several points to draw committee questions away from his father, with questioners politely but repeatedly telling him they wanted to ask his father the question -- not him.

"Your father is responsible for corporate governance, and it's revealing in itself what he doesn't know," one exasperated committee member, Tom Watson, said, as James Murdoch tried to interrupt for the third time during Watson's time for questions.

James Murdoch struck me as one of the most untrustworthy witnesses I can remember seeing since some of the characters who came before the Senate committee in Watergate.

Clearly, the plan was for James Murdoch to do all the speaking in a bland management vocabulary while his father acted slightly foggy and possible befuddled.

At one point, James Murdoch described News Corp. as being "generous, thoughtful and compassionate" in the way it is handling the hundreds of people it put out of work when it abruptly shut down "News of the World" in what is generally considered an attempt to control damage.

If there was one theme to Rupert Murdoch's testimony it was this: He didn't know about any transgressions at News of the World until recently, and he is not therefore responsible for anything.

And, of course, when he did find out, he was "shocked."

Rupert Mrdoch said he never considered ersinging and believes he is the best person "to clean this up."

(That statement is is direct contradiction of widely-cited Bloomberg report Monday night that Murdoch was on the verge of stepping down -- and his continuance depended on how he performed at the hearing Tuesday.)

The hearing opened with protesters carring signs calling Murdoch a "news criminal" removed before the first question was asked.

One of the most intriguing questions came at the very end of the session that ran almost three hours when a conservative MP asked James Murdoch about CNN host Piers Morgan bragging in a book he wrote of knowing how phones are hacked by tabloid reporters. Morgan was writing as a former editor of the Daily Mirror and News of the World.

My sense of the Morgan quote is that he stopped short of saying anyone in his shop hacked phones. But, as I said earlier, I wonder if Morgan's UK tabloid baggage is going to come back and haunt him and CNN for hiring him.

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