James Murdoch firmly denied that he misled Parliament about the extent of his knowledge of the phone hacking scandal during a lengthy grilling on Thursday.
Murdoch appeared before a parliamentary committee for the second time this year to answer questions about his role in the scandal that has plagued News Corp., his family's company, for months. He insisted that he had not been informed about the widespread criminality at the News of the World newspaper, and said that top editors and lawyers at the company had misled Parliament by testifying that they had made him aware of such evidence as early as 2008.
The nearly three hour session was dominated by clashes between Murdoch and Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has become the leading parliamentary campaigner against phone hacking. In the most electric exchange, Watson compared Murdoch to an underworld crime lord.
"You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn't think he was running a criminal enterprise," he said. Murdoch called the comment "inappropriate" and "offensive."
Other MPs were similarly dubious about Murdoch's claims. One lawmaker told him that, if his testimony was to be believed, he was a "cavalier" chief executive. Another called him deeply "incurious" and said he found it inconceivable that he was as in the dark as he claimed to be.
At the heart of the hearing was the discrepancy between Murdoch's version of events and the one laid out by former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former News International legal director Tom Crone. Both have testified that they explicitly told Murdoch that phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World in 2008. Murdoch has been equally vehement in his denial of this. A flurry of recent revelations has put a dent in his credibility, however.
On Thursday, he said that Myler and Crone had misled Parliament, and that Myler "should have told me" about the scale of criminality at the News of the World.
Murdoch also addressed the potentially looming specter of a criminal investigation at The Sun, another News International tabloid. A top reporter was recently arrested at the paper on charges of bribing police. Murdoch did not rule out shutting down The Sun—an extraordinary thing to do, given that it is the biggest-selling daily in Britain.
For a complete, blow-by-blow recap of the hearing, please read the liveblog below.
11/10/2011 8:38 AM EST
And we're done!
That didn't clear up much. Expect more hearings, and especially to hear more from Colin Myler and Tom Crone.
11/10/2011 8:29 AM EST
Paul Farrelly goes for the final question. It's about the million-dollar phone hacking payoff to super-PR man Max Clifford. Murdoch (surprise!) says he wasn't involved, though he was made aware of the settlement.
He then goes for a final final question, about Glenn Mulcaire. Murdoch says that NI will pay damages on behalf of Mulcaire, since he was doing work for the company. Farrelly says that this effectively means that NI is backing up the man who hacked Milly Dowler's phone.
11/10/2011 8:26 AM EST
"Wow" is the basic reaction everyone has to Murdoch saying he could shut The Sun down. That would be a huge deal.
11/10/2011 8:18 AM EST
Murdoch now asked if employees at The Sun commissioned phone hacks. Murdoch says he shouldn't comment. The MP asks him if he was aware that the words "The Sun" appeared in Glenn Mulcaire's private files. Murdoch says he's not aware. MP asks him if he'll shut The Sun down if evidence of phone hacking surfaces there. Murdoch says he's not going to rule anything out.
11/10/2011 8:11 AM EST
Watson now asking about computer hacking, but is cautioned by committee chair Whittingdale that he is straying into murky legal waters and backs off.
11/10/2011 8:10 AM EST
Murdoch says that the use of private investigators was too widespread, and has been severely restricted. Watson, who was spied on, says it is a "great relief" to hear this.
11/10/2011 8:02 AM EST
Murdoch also apologizes "unreservedly" to Tom Watson for NI spying on him. Mensch says that it seems like every few weeks, another scandalous practice emerges from News Corp. and NI. Why not just release all the shady info at once? Murdoch says that the company has been as transparent as possible.
11/10/2011 7:57 AM EST
Mensch asks about reports that Tom Crone asked private investigators to spy on hacking lawyer Mark Lewis. Murdoch says that this was "shocking" and "appalling," and that he just found out about it.
11/10/2011 7:54 AM EST
There's been an arrest at The Sun recently, but James Murdoch says he can't talk about that. He says that he has "no knowledge" of phone hacking beyond NoW, but does not want to "prejudge" any investigations. So...there might be?
11/10/2011 7:52 AM EST
Louise Mensch takes over. She asks about the internal reviews that the company has promised to take. Murdoch says he thinks they're going well.