Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and Rebekah Brooks all expressed sorrow over phone hacking practices of News of the World (NotW), the shuttered News Corporation-owned tabloid that Ms. Brooks once ran, sticking closely to a script that has Mr. Murdoch's executives now doing all they can to cooperate with investigators.
But in more than an hour before a special committee of Parliament, the elder Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp., refused to directly say that he or any of his executives were responsible for what one questioner called the “whole fiasco” of hacking that appears to have touched nearly 4,000 Brits.
In his highly anticipated testimony to Parliament in the midst of a volcanic scandal that could harm his empire and fortune and continues to see arrests and resignations, the mogul kept his head down and his answers short. He often said he forgot specific details and relied heavily on James, who took over the answering of questions at many points.
“This is the most humble day of my life,” said the Australian-born billionaire in the first minutes of the hearing. But “yes," “no,” and “I don’t know” were often the answers that followed.
The younger Murdoch was often the spokesman for the two. In a direct question to him about who was involved in hacking from NotW, James' answer was noncommittal: “We are cooperating.”
At one point, the senior Murdoch, questioned by Labour MP Tom Watson about why he did not pursue and investigate evidence of wrongdoing, said, “The News of the World is less than 1 percent” of his holdings and that “I employ 53,000 people around the world” and could not keep track of every new problem.
After more than two hours of testimony, the hearing was abruptly interrupted when a man carrying a foam pie ran toward Murdoch before being struck by his wife Wendi Deng. The foam appeared to have hit Murdoch's suit.
Media reports later identified the protester as Jonnie Marbles, a British comedian. Just before the attack, he wrote on his Twitter feed: "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat," a slightly altered quotation from the last sentence of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities." He was arrested on suspicion of assault.
When the questioning resumed, Ms. Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, the British arm of News Corp., sat before the committee.
She said she was told by the NotW that allegations of phone hacking by the paper's journalists were untrue, and that she only realized the gravity of the situation when she saw documents lodged in a civil damages case by actress Sienna Miller last year.
"We had been told by people at News of the World at the time, they consistently denied any of these allegations in various internal investigations," she said.
Asked whether she had been lied to by senior employees at the newspaper, Brooks declined to answer.
So far, the spiraling scandal has seen the arrest of several News Corp. employees, including Brooks and Andy Coulson, a former NotW editor and ex-media adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Les Hinton, formerly the executive chairman of News International and most recently publisher of The Wall Street Journal, resigned from the Journal last week.
Murdoch separated the practice of hacking, which he said he was “appalled and shamed” about, from the broader scandal, which he attributed to sections of the British media that “caught us with dirty hands … and whipped up hysteria.”
Material from the Associated Press use used in this report.