"This is the most humble day in my life," said Rupert Murdoch, the world's most powerful media mogul and chairman of News Corporation, to a British parliamentary committee. He and his son James, who oversees European and Asian operations for News Corporation, repeatedly expressed their apologies for the phone hacking scandal that threatens to bring them both down.
The nearly three hour session was abruptly disrupted near then end by a man who hit Rupert Murdoch in the face with a shaving cream pie. The attacker said to Murdoch, "You are a greedy billionaire." Murdoch's wife Wendi leapt out of her chair behind Murdoch and took a swipe at the assailant as others restrained him.
The disruption broke the tense atmosphere that prevailed throughout the session. The Murdochs bobbed and weaved questions by offering little new information. Rupert Murdoch was contrite, "I was shocked, ashamed and appalled" by the phone hacking scandal. James Murdoch said their top priority is to, "Restore the trust" in News Corporation. When asked whether families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City were hacked both said they were not aware of any evidence they had been.
What was most remarkable was how little both men appeared to know. Rupert Murdoch seemed totally detached from the scandal. He appeared old, he's 80, and was often slow to respond. At one point the chairman admitted, "I am not really in touch... News of the World, I lost sight because it is small." His son politely offered answers to most of the questions. But the tone of their testimony was, "We don't know how it happened; we are cooperating; and we will make sure it never happens again."
At one point Rupert Murdoch blamed the executives who ran his businesses. "What we did was terrible," he said, "were mistakes made in the organization, yes." James tried to reassure the committee by saying, "Breaking the law is a very serious matter and things like phone hacking have no place in our business." His father was even more emphatic, "Invading people's voice mail is wrong, paying police officers is wrong... saying we're sorry is not enough."
Rupert Murdoch referred several times to how large his global empire is, with more than 50,000 employees. But it also was clear he might not have been fully in the information loop on the developing scandal that began as early as 2007. This led to many questions from one MP regarding Murdoch's role in corporate governance.
Murdoch said he delegated responsibility to his business leaders and trusted them. But he also admitted that some of his employees were not honest and forthcoming. When asked if he would resign, Murdoch said no, explaining, "Because I feel that people I trusted let me down...I think I am the best person to clean this mess up."
This committee hearing may only be the beginning of the end for the Murdochs. Public outrage has focused an unprecedented scrutiny on News Corporation and its tawdry business culture. For sure, Rupert Murdoch is a fierce competitor who is fueled by an overwhelming desire to accumulate power and ruthlessly wield it. He has many powerful enemies who have now been galvanized into action. In the end, Murdoch may have gotten it right when he said, "Saying we're sorry is not enough."