News Corp. executives Rupert and James Murdoch have just begun their testimony before Parliament in the hacking scandal that began at the now-defunct tabloid News of the World and has spread to infect other parts of their company. They’ll answer questions from MPs for an hour, followed by an hour of questions with recently resigned News International boss Rebekah Brooks. We’ll be live-blogging here.
9:36: It’s started with conflict already — the Murdochs believed they would be able to begin with a written statement. They were denied and will need to submit it in writing. Giggles.
9:38: Wendi Murdoch is sitting behind her husband and stepson, in a demure pink outfit.
9:39: James Murdoch is asked about his statements around the closing of the News of the World newspaper, which turned out not to be true. He starts by apologizing. “I would just like to say as well how sorry I am, and how sorry we are, particularly to the victims of voice-mail interceptions and their families,” he said. Before he could go on, Murdoch chimed in. “This is the most humble day of my life.”
9:42: James Murdoch is asked if any of the executives who previously testified had lied to Parliament. “I do not have direct knowledge of what they knew and at what time,” he said, after some hemming and hawing. Joel Klein, the News Corp. point man on this front, looks very grim behind him.
9:48: James is asked whether Les Hinton or Rebekah Brooks knew about the hackings. “I have no knowledge and there is no evidence that I’m aware of that Mrs. Brooks or Mr. Hinton or any of those executives had knowledge of that. Certainly Mrs. Brooks’ assertion to me of her knowledge of those things has been clear. Nevertheless, those resignations have been accepted.”
9:49: An MP to Rupert Murdoch: “In October 2010 did you still believe [that the hacking scandal was limited to what was known] when you made your Thatcher speech?”
MP: “So if you were not lying then, someone was lying to you. Who was it?”
Murdoch: “I don’t know.”
MP: “But you acknowledge that you were misled.”
9:51: Murdoch makes a brief speech, although he says it is not an excuse. “The News of the World is less than one percent of our company, I employ 53,000 people around the world who are proud and great and ethical and distinguished people, and professionals … and I’m spread appointing people whom I trust to run those divisions.”
9:53: Rupert Murdoch looks confused and slightly hard of hearing. This is not a polished presentation.
9:55: James Murdoch keeps trying to answer questions for his father, but the MPs are determined to pin down daddy Rupert. He didn’t remember who told him about an out-of-court settlement with a hacking victim. He guesses it was his son.
9:59: MP Tom Watson: “Mr Murdoch, at what point did you find out that criminality was endemic at News of the World?”
Murdoch: “Endemic is a very wide-ranging word … I was absolutely shocked, appalled, and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case two weeks ago.”
10:00: MP: “We found your executives guilty of collective amnesia. I would have thought someone would have brought that to your attention.”
“You don’t mean amnesia,” Murdoch grumbles. “You mean lying.”
10:05: MP: “Why did you decide to risk the jobs of 200 [NotW employees] before pointing the finger at the executives responsible?”
Murdoch: “When a company shuts down, people lose their jobs.” (He went on to explain that they were trying to find new jobs for many of these people.)
10:07: New MP talking, Labour’s Jim Sheridan. He harkens back to a suspicious-seeming visit Murdoch made to the prime minister at his home.
Sheridan: “Why did you use the back door of No. 10?”
Murdoch: “Because I was asked to.”
Sheridan: “I find it strange that heads of state manage to go in the front door, and you have to go through the back door.”
At that moment, James snapped irritably that his father wasn’t responsible for deciding which door he should enter a government building, or why.
10:10: The MPs clearly have no interest in hearing from James Murdoch. They all want to go after Rupert, but he doesn’t have the answers, James does. So are we going to hear them attack a confused old man for another twenty minutes? Or are we going to hear them try to get some useful information on the record? We’ll give you one guess.
10:12: Rupert casts vague aspersions on the media coverage of the scandal. “A lot of people had different agendas, I think, in trying to build this hysteria.”
10:13: Sheridan: “Mr. Murdoch, do you accept that ultimately you are responsible for this whole fiasco?”
Sheridan: “Who is responsible for this fiasco?”
Murdoch: “The people I trusted.”
10:17: Now Conservative MP Therese Coffey is talking. She asks if it was a commercial decision to shutter News of the World. Rupert Murdoch says, “Far from it.”
10:20: Wonder what News Corp.’s shareholders are thinking watching Rupert’s stumbling performance today. It may get him off the hook with the MPs, but what about independent investors?
10:22: James Murdoch doesn’t know how much they’ve had to pay out in settlements.
10:25: Joel Klein is beginning to look like he smells something disgusting directly in front of him.
10:27: As a commenter points out, the stock price of NWS (News Corp.) is actually up today from yesterday.
10:30: Rupert Murdoch: “This country does benefit from having a competitive press and therefore a transparent society, and that is sometimes inconvenient for people.”
10:31: Watson asks: “Is it your intention to launch a new Sunday paper?”
Rupert says, “No,” emphatically. James adds: “There are no immediate plans for that … That is not the priority. In the past week it has come up in the company.”
10:34: We’ve now gone over the allotted time for the Murdochs. Meanwhile, James Murdoch has used the term voice-mail intercepts probably two dozen times. It’s really a wonderful euphemism for phone hacking. Makes it seem sporty!
10:37: A few times, while speaking, Rupert Murdoch has slammed his hands on the table. This is apparently not out of the ordinary for him, according to Piers Morgan.
10:41 MP Adrian Sanders asks if James Murdoch is familiar with the term willful blindness, coined during the Enron scandal, referring to the act of purposefully turning a blind eye to wrongdoing. James said he hadn’t heard of it. “I’ve heard of it before,” Rupert snapped. “And we were not ever guilty of that.”
10:44: Rupert is asked how often he speaks to the editors of his newspapers. “Very seldom. Sometimes I would ring the editor of the News of the World on a Saturday night and say, ‘What news have you got?’ But it was just to keep in touch.” This goes against some things we’ve read about his habits — Murdoch loves gossip and has been reported to be a regular on the phone with his editors. “I’m not really in touch,” he insisted, anyway. “If there’s an editor I’ve spent the most time with, it’s the editor of The Wall Street Journal because we’re in the same building.” Realizing perhaps how this sounds, he backtracked a bit immediately. “But to say we’re hands-off is wrong. I work a twelve-hour day.”
10:57: I don’t know why Piers Morgan wants to stick his head so much into this scandal, but he keeps tweeting about his own experience at News of the World. This time it’s to say: “Rupert called me every week for 18ms on News of the World - rarely asked about anything but what stories we had that week.”
11:00: Conservative MP David Davis asks about the resignations of Les Hinton and Rebekah Brooks and why they occurred. “Les Hinton resigned sadly this Friday, following Rebekah Brooks’ resignation,” Murdoch said, explaining that Hinton said, “I was in charge of the company during this period we’re under criticism for, and I feel I must step down.” Davis asked whether the Murdochs had asked the pair to leave, and Murdoch explained that “they both asked to leave.” When Davis asked why Murdoch didn’t first accept Brooks’ resignation, he replied: “Because I believed her, and I trusted her, and I trust her … In the end she just insisted. She was in extreme anguish.”
11:01: Davis asks how much Brooks and Hinton were paid upon exit. Murdoch wouldn’t say, but noted it would be significant in the case of Hinton because he’d worked there over 50 years.
11:02: Davis asks about the rumor that the News of the World was shuttered as a sacrifice to save Rebekah Brooks’ job. Murdoch replies that “the two decisions were totally unrelated.” Davis points out that Murdoch was quoted as saying his priority was protecting Brooks. Annoyed, Murdoch snapped: “I walked out of my flat, and I had about twenty microphones in my face, and I don’t know what I said.”
11:18: James Murdoch is asked whether, when he read e-mails about what royals editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had been up to, he used an expletive. “I try not to use expletives,” he said.
11:34: The Murdoch’s have been asked about a typical week in their lives. They don’t even know where to begin.
11:35: MP: “You’ve been kept in the dark, Mr. Murdoch …”
Rupert: “Nobody’s kept me in the dark. I may have been lax in not asking more, but it was such a tiny part of our business.”
11:39: An MP brings up nepotism. “Do you regret, Mr. Rupert, that it has become really a family organization?” he asks. “When the job became available, head of BskyB, several people applied, including my son,” Rupert replied. “He passed through all sorts of — not just board committees, but outside experts — who made the conclusion that he was the right person. The press all had a field day. When he left to go to — I promoted him to take charge of much wider responsibilities, we had calls from many big shareholders saying it was a terrible thing to take him away because he’d done such a wonderful job.”
11:48: Murdoch gets a bit emotional, recalling his father’s bequest to him. “Just before he died, he bought just a small paper,” he said. “Specifically in his will he said he was giving me the chance to do good.” He said he hoped that “my sons and daughters follow” in the family tradition of journalism. “If they’re interested.”
11:49: Murdoch: “Sorry, my son has just told me not to gesticulate.” Laughter.
11:54: Whoa, something just happened that interrupted the hearing and incited gasps. Someone rushed in toward either James or Rupert Murdoch and was apprehended by security. The hearing has suspended for ten minutes.
11:55: Okay. An unidentified man just rushed the table where James and Rupert Murdoch were seated and appeared to fling a white plate full of some sort of foam or cream at Rupert’s face. As security grabbed him, Wendi Murdoch managed to get in a firm swat at the man’s head.
12:22: An MP gives the Murdochs a bit of an out on the hacking practice. “Did they not see it as evil as it was because it was so widespread?” James replies: “I think it’s important we don’t say, ‘Listen, everybody was doing it so that’s why people were doing it.’”
12:25: Rupert is asked whether he’s considered resigning. He says, “No.” Why not? “Because I feel that people I trusted, I’m not saying who, but I know what level, have let me down,” he said. “I think I’m the person to see this through.”
12:26: Watson: “Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook.”
12:28: Murdoch gave a closing statement. “My son and I came here with great respect for all of you, for Parliament and for the people of Britain whom you represent. This is the most humble day of my life,” he repeated. “I knew that we needed to be here today. James and I would like to say how sorry we are for what has happened. Especially with regards to listening to the voice mails of victims of crimes.”
Murdoch went on to list how many papers he’s owned over the years, and how many honest journalists he’s employed. “At no time do I remember being as sickened as when I heard what the Dowler family had to endure,” he said. “Nor do I recall being as angry as when I was told the News of the World could have compounded their distress. I want to thank the Dowlers for graciously affording me the opportunity to apologize in person.”
12:31: The MPs thanked the Murdochs, apologized for the pie incident, and went to break.
12:45: It’s Rebekah Brooks’s turn. Man that lady has a lot of hair. She’s speaking slowly and quietly. Before she answers the first question, she added her own apology to the Murdochs. She noted that she had been recently arrested and pointed out that she was accompanied by legal representation who would steer her away from answering questions that would interfere with police investigations.
12:47: Brooks reports that she first caught on to the tradition of hacking after the Gordon Taylor settlement and the evidence of hacking into Sienna Miller’s voice mail.
12:53: Brooks is explaining how sources and private investigators are paid for. It was obviously no secret, although she doesn’t remember discussing any particular payments with junior editors. “I was aware that the News of the World used private investigators, as every paper on Fleet Street did.”
1:01: Brooks does not know who hired private investigator and accused blackmailer Jonathan Rees, although she pointed out that he worked for many papers. MP Watson expressed disbelief when she claimed that she didn’t know what he did.
1:02: “My use of private investigators as editor of News of the World was purely legitimate,” said Brooks. She said that she used them for hunting down pedophiles.
1:04: Watson: “Do you have any regrets?”
Brooks: “Of course I have regrets. The idea that Milly Dowler’s phone was accessed by someone paid by someone at the News of the World, or at the instruction of someone at the News of the World, is as abhorrent for me as it is for anyone in this room.”
1:09 “I’ve never paid a police office myself, I’ve never sanctioned or knowingly sanctioned the payment of a police officer,” Brooks says. “In my experience of working with the police, the information they give newspapers comes free of charge.”
1:15 “Once you’ve lost the trust of the readers, there’s no going back,” says Brooks, explaining why they shut down the paper. “For the last few months and for the last few years, the [NotW] had been leading the headlines for the wrong reasons.” She reemphasized that they were seeking out new job opportunities for every single one of the laid-off employees, across News Corp.
1:33: MP: “It seems incredible that you as editor would be so unaware of the situation.”
Brooks: “I think quite the opposite. I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would approve of or sanction the listening of voice mails of someone like Milly Dowler.”
1:36: Brooks is far too bright for her oblivious act to work as well as it did with Rupert Murdoch. The MPs don’t seem to be buying it, at all.
1:53: Brooks gets into the Milly Dowler story. “I am sure questions were asked about where that information came from,” she said, listing the night editor, the news editor, and the lawyer as among those who might have asked such questions. “I can tell you now that it would not have been the case that someone said, ‘Oh yes, that came from an illegal voice-mail interception.’” She realizes that “it seems now inconceivable” that no one would have known that reporters or private investigators were hacking into phones, but “it was not a practice that was sanctioned under my editorship.”
2:07: Oh, here we go. We made you a Wendi Deng slap gif:
2:14: They’ve been getting into Brooks’s allegedly superclose relationship with Prime Minister David Cameron. She denies urging him to hire her former News of the World deputy Andy Coulson as his communications director, and went on to deny many of the stories about the pair. “I have never been horse riding with the prime minister,” she said. “I don’t know where that story came from. I was asked three days ago to disclose the racehorse that I owned with the prime minister. I was asked later to explain why I owned some land with the prime minister, which I do not.” When asked to clarify their relationship, she said: “The truth is that he is a neighbor and a friend, but I deem the relationship to be wholly appropriate. And at no time have I ever had a conversation with the prime minister that you here in the room would disapprove of.”
2:12: Brooks ended with a repeated apology and offered to return when she was at more legal liberty to discuss the situation. She managed to escape without a pie incident.