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Murdoch's moment: What's at stake for News Corp. in phone-hacking hearings(VIDEO)

Media barons Rupert and James Murdoch, as well as Rebekah Brooks, testify in Britain's House of Commons today in the wake of outrage over revelations of widespread phone-hacking and influence-peddling at News Corp.

By Staff Writer / July 19, 2011

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is driven along Whitehall in central London, July 19, with reflections seen in the car window. Murdoch and his son James Murdoch are scheduled to be questioned by a parliamentary committee of British lawmakers Tuesday over the phone hacking scandal.

Matt Dunham/AP

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London

The top three executives of the Murdoch empire that owns 40 percent of the British press and the biggest TV market here will today be publicly questioned about a hacking scandal that this week alone forced the resignations of Britain’s top two police officials and has brought the prime minister home early from Africa over questions of his leadership.

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In a scandal whose momentum has been breathtaking, it may be another new peak of drama.

For Mr. Murdoch, the stakes could be extremely high. A committee room of assorted politicians asking frank questions is not seen as the Australian-born mogul's best setting. Should he appear too sharp, combative, dismissive, or insincere, he could permanently lose the British public, analysts say.

Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, his son James Murdoch, who had oversight of News of the World (NotW), and Rebekah Brooks, the recently arrested NotW editor and former CEO of Murdoch's British newspaper arm, will go before a House of Commons committee to answer what they know about the scope of phone hacking at NotW – and when they knew it.

Together they are being called “the Wapping Three” after the area of London where Murdoch’s press empire is centered.

Questions will also be put to Sir Paul Stephenson, who resigned Sunday as head of the Metropolitan Police Dept., and John Yates, his deputy, who stepped down Monday.

The scandal – some call it “Murdochgate” – has shown enough daily twists to satisfy a crime series drama. The private conversations and voice mails of some 3,870 Brits were hacked mainly by the NotW in a scandal that has, overnight, exposed cozy relations among media, politicians, and police, as well as a culture of avarice in gaining material for London's hard-hitting tabloid world.

Page 1 headlines this morning detailed the discovery of the body of Sean Hoare, the former NotW reporter who first blew the whistle on the scale of News Corp. phone hacking, in his apartment outside London. Mr. Hoare’s death has been described as “unexplained” but not “suspicious” by police officials in Watford where he lived.

Hoare described the extent of phone hacking at NotW in a way that shattered a previous News Corp. story that hacking was done by a lone "rogue reporter.”

Hoare described a “culture of bullying," fingered police involvement, and significantly described former NotW deputy editor Andy Coulson as deeply implicated. Mr. Coulson, now under arrest, worked under Ms. Brooks at the paper, and “encouraged” hacking, according to Hoare. Coulson was then hired by Prime Minister David Cameron to be his chief press secretary and was widely regarded as one of Murdoch’s chief allies inside 10 Downing St.

How the Murdochs and Brooks will “come across” and acquit themselves is the chief talk in London this partly cloudy morning.

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