I knew nothing, and I'm sorry.
That was the line that Rupert Murdoch gave over and over again during his marathon appearance before the British Parliament on Tuesday—one which was thrown into complete disarray when a protester attacked Murdoch with a foam pie.
Murdoch, his son James and former News International chief Rebekah Brooks all appeared before the committee to give evidence about the phone hacking scandal which has plunged Murdoch's News Corp into grave crisis and is roiling the political and police establishment in Britain. All three gave variations on the same theme: we were not aware.
"The News of the World is less than one percent of our company," Murdoch said in one typical exchange. "I employ 53,000 people around the world."
Murdoch was quick to apologize for the wrongdoing committed by News of the World journalists. He called his appearance "the most humble day of my life," and said he was shocked and appalled when he found out that his employees had hacked into the phone of Milly Dowler, the murdered 13-year-old.
But he insisted that any false statements he had made about the extent of phone hacking were the result of false information given to him, said there was no chance of him resigning his position, and refused point-blank to accept any responsibility for what had happened. Rather, he said, the "people I trusted" to manage his British newspapers should "pay" for the crisis. "I'm the best person to clean this up," he said.
Murdoch did not name who, exactly, betrayed him, and he pledged unswerving loyalty to Les Hinton and Rebekah Brooks, the two News International chiefs who have now been forced to resign as a result of their connection to the scandal. He did criticize former News of the World editor Colin Myler, who he said had conducted an insufficiently aggressive internal investigation of the newspaper that Murdoch set up to find out "what the hell was going on" there.
Towards the beginning of the testimony, Murdoch often appeared surprisingly uninformed about his company, claiming not to know about high-profile figures at the News of the World and saying that he only learned of a $700,000 payment made to settle a phone-hacking lawsuit by soccer star Gordon Taylor when he read about it in the newspaper.
Murdoch also said he rarely spoke to the editor of the News of the World, calling him maybe once a month, and only then to discuss what was in the next day's paper. By contrast, he said, he spoke to the editor of the Sunday Times once a week, and to the editor of the Wall Street Journal all the time.
James Murdoch repeatedly stepped in to explain the finer points of the News International operation. He trod into sticky territory when he admitted that News Corp might still be paying the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who was jailed in 2006 for phone hacking. (Many reports have asserted that the company is absolutely still paying those fees.)
He was, he said, "very surprised" to find that the payments were still being made. Rupert Murdoch pledged to stop paying the fees.
James Murdoch also claimed not to have been aware of any wider phone-hacking operation until at least late 2010, saying that multiple investigations had cleared the company's name.
For a complete recap of the hearing, see below. And watch the video of Murdoch being attacked.
07/19/2011 2:20 PM EDT
The Last Questions
About the closeness of the police and politicians to News International. Brooks says the bigger picture is illegal hacking.
And that's it, almost five hours later! Brooks gets hit by no pies, and closes out by apologizing profusely once more and saying she wants to discover the truth. She also says she wants to come back when she is free from "legal restraints."
The committee didn't manage to land a finger on Brooks, who was by far the smoothest customer of the three witnesses today.
07/19/2011 2:14 PM EDT
Brooks also denies that she had anything to do with getting David Cameron to hire Andy Coulson.
07/19/2011 2:08 PM EDT
Brooks repeating what Rupert Murdoch said: that she was closer (professionally) to Gordon Brown than to David Cameron. (Cameron, however, is a personal friend of hers.) She says she never met Cameron in Downing Street, whereas she was a "regular" visitor to Downing Street under Brown.
07/19/2011 2:00 PM EDT
Brooks says she spoke to Rupert and James Murdoch "much more regularly" since becoming CEO of News International than when she was a newspaper editor. On average, she says, she talked to Rupert "every other day."
07/19/2011 1:59 PM EDT
House Speaker Speaksq
John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, says he is "very concerned" that the pie attacker was able to get through and have a go at Rupert Murdoch.
07/19/2011 1:53 PM EDT
Brooks says she is sure that questions were asked about the provenance of the Milly Dowler story, and is equally sure that nobody would have said the story came through illegal means. "it wasn't a practice that was condoned or sanctioned" at the paper, she says.
07/19/2011 1:51 PM EDT
Brooks asked about her infamous (alleged) statement that she wanted Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to wind up "on his knees begging for mercy" for his look into the NOTW. She denies ever saying it, of course.
She's also asked whether she called up Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre when the Guardian's initial reporting about phone hacking hit to try and coordinate coverage with him. She says she doesn't remember.
07/19/2011 1:49 PM EDT
More On Neil Wallis And Coulson
From the Tories:
There have been some questions about whether the Conservative Party employed Neil Wallis. We have double-checked our records and are able to confirm that neither Neil Wallis nor his company has ever been contracted by the Conservative Party, nor has the Conservative Party made payments to either of them.
It has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. We are currently finding out the exact nature of any advice. We can confirm that apart from Andy Coulson, neither David Cameron nor any senior member of the campaign team were aware of this until this week.
07/19/2011 1:42 PM EDT
MP Paul Farrelly asks, again, how Brooks could profess to be a hands-on editor and, at the same time, not know where so many stories were coming from. She says that, after she found that her own phone had been hacked, she was "ring-fenced" from the investigation and thus was not aware of what was going on until she became CEO in 2009. It's a rather odd defense!
07/19/2011 1:33 PM EDT
Brooks says she "really, really" wants to understand how the Milly Dowler hacking happened.