Murdoch defiant: I'm best person to fix mess

Rupert Murdoch gives evidence on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, in Portcullis House in central London Tuesday, July 19, 2011. AP Photo

LONDON - Rupert Murdoch sparred with British lawmakers Tuesday, appearing at times confused and frustrated, but flashed some of his legendary toughness amid questions about the phone-hacking scandal that has threatened his global media empire.

Murdoch was generally apologetic but also refused to take personal blame for the controversy that has swept from a tabloid newspaper through the top levels of Britain's police and even to the prime minister's office.

He also told lawmakers that he hasn't considered resigning and remains the "best person to clean this up."

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The hearing was not without its drama. A protester splattered Murdoch with white foam in a foil pie dish on Tuesday, interrupting the proceedings temporarily.

Murdoch appeared by turns vague, truculent, sharp and concise as he spoke alongside his son and deputy, James, calling the parliamentary inquisition "the most humble day of my career" but refusing to take personal blame for the crisis that has swept from a tabloid newspaper through the top levels of Britain's police and even to the prime minister's office.

Murdoch, 80, said he was "shocked, appalled and ashamed" at the hacking of the phone of a murdered schoolgirl by his now-shuttered News of the World tabloid.

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But he quibbled with a suggestion that criminality had been endemic at the tabloid and said he had seen no evidence that victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack and their relatives were targeted by any of his papers.

"Endemic is a very hard, a very wide ranging word," Murdoch said. "I also have to be very careful not to prejudice the course of justice that is taking place now."

Murdoch said he was not responsible for the hacking scandal, and denied his company was guilty of willful blindness over hacking.

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He laid blame on "the people I trusted but they blame maybe the people that they trusted."

After more than two hours of testimony, a man in a plaid shirt appeared to run toward Murdoch before being struck by his wife Wendi Deng.

Police in the back of the committee room were holding an apparently handcuffed man with white foam covering his face and shirt. The foam also appeared to have hit Murdoch's suit.

The hearing resumed after a short break.

Two of Murdoch's top executives, Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, have resigned over the scandal — something Murdoch said was a matter of regret.

"I've worked with Mr Hinton for 52 years and I would trust him with my life," he said.

Murdoch also told the committee that he didn't believe the FBI had uncovered any evidence of hacking of Sept. 11 victims in a recently launched inquiry.

He said he lost sight of News of the World because it is such a small part of his company and spoke to the editor of the paper only around once a month, talking more with the editor of the Sunday Times in Britain and the Wall Street Journal in the U.S.

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The value of the Murdochs' News Corp. added around $2 billion while they were being grilled, trading 5.3 percent higher at $15.74. The stock has taken a battering over the past couple of weeks, shedding around 17 percent of its value, or around $8 billion.

James Murdoch apologized for the scandal, telling British lawmakers that "these actions do not live up to the standards our company aspires to."

The younger Murdoch said the company acted as swiftly and transparently as possible. Rupert Murdoch acknowledged, however, that he did not investigate after the Murdochs' former U.K. newspaper chief, Rebekah Brooks, told parliament years ago that the News of the World had paid police officers for information.

Asked by lawmakers why there was no investigation, he said: "I didn't know of it."

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He says the News of the World "is less than 1 percent" of his News Corp., which employs 53,000 people.

Murdoch also said he was not informed that his company had paid out big sums — 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million) in one case — to settle lawsuits by phone hacking victims.

James Murdoch said his father became aware of the settlement "in 2009 after a newspaper report. It was a confidential settlement."

He said a civil case of that nature and size would be dealt with by the executives in the country involved — in this case himself, as head of News Corp.'s European and Asian operations.

James Murdoch said news organizations need to put a stronger emphasis on ethics in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, telling lawmakers that "we do need to think in this country more forcefully and thoughtfully about our journalistic ethics."

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