NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A protester splattered Rupert Murdoch with white foam in a foil pie dish on Tuesday, interrupting a dramatic hearing in which the media baron told British lawmakers he was not responsible for a cell phone hacking scandal that may have affected relatives of 9/11 victims, a scandal that has rocked his global media empire.
Murdochs News Corp. is the world’s second-largest media conglomerate and owns many New York-based assets including Channel 5, Fox News Channel, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Murdoch appeared by turns vague, truculent, sharp and concise as he spoke alongside his son and deputy, James, calling the parliamentary inquisition “the most humble day of my career” but refusing to take personal blame for the crisis that has swept from a tabloid newspaper through the top levels of Britain’s police and even to the prime minister’s office.
Murdoch, 80, said he was “shocked, appalled and ashamed” at the hacking of the phone of a murdered schoolgirl by his now-shuttered News of the World tabloid.
But he quibbled with a suggestion that criminality had been endemic at the tabloid and said he had seen no evidence that victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack and their relatives were targeted by any of his papers.
“Endemic is a very hard, a very wide ranging word,” Murdoch said. “I also have to be very careful not to prejudice the course of justice that is taking place now.”
Murdoch said he was not responsible for the hacking scandal, and denied his company was guilty of willful blindness over hacking.
He laid blame on “the people I trusted but they blame maybe the people that they trusted.”
Last week, The Daily Mirror reported that an American investigator was approached by News of the World workers who offered money for phone records of Sept. 11 victims but he turned them down.
WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reports: 9/11 Families Seek Answers
A group of 9/11 family members are now pushing for more action by U.S. lawmakers into the alleged hacking of terror victims’ phones. The Justice Department, on Tuesday, said that Attorney General Eric Holder would welcome meetings with the families of 9/11 victims.
A spokesman said the attorney general has already met with some of the families on numerous occasions and is currently reaching out to schedule a meeting to discuss any concerns they have.
The FBI started a preliminary investigation into the allegations last week after Long Island Rep. Peter King put on the pressure demanding action.
“I want them to investigate and investigate fully. I have a lot of 9/11 families in my district, they’re entitled to know if their privacy was violated,” King said.
In a letter sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Holder, family members said, “It is upsetting there now exists an allegation that a newspaper would seek to illegally obtain information about their loved ones.”
Sally Regenhard, whose 28-year-old firefighter son, Christian, was killed in the attacks, wants to meet with FBI officials to learn more of the investigation and to determine whether her son’s cell phone was hacked.
“This is really a disgrace and it’s also a criminal act of these in fact were hacked into,” Regenhard told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “This is very important because these are the sacred and privileged conversations of a 9/11 victim.”
Regenhard is horrified at the thought of an outsider hearing final words to her son or from him.
“It’s something that really should be reserved in a private and sacred manner between the recipient and the victim,” Regenhard said.
Murdoch’s son, James, and the former CEO of his British papers, Rebekah Brooks, also testified before Parliament.
Brooks was editor of the News of the World newspaper when dozens of phones were allegedly hacked by people working for the paper in order to break stories. She stepped down as CEO and was arrested this past weekend.
James Murdoch apologized for the phone hacking at the newspaper owned by his father and told British lawmakers that “these actions do not live up to the standards our company aspires to.”
The elder Murdoch said he lost sight of the now shuttered News of the World because it is such a small part of his company — adding that he only spoke to the editor of the paper about once a month. He said the tabloid “is less than 1 percent” of his News Corp.
Murdoch said he shut down News of the World because of criminal allegations — denying that it had anything to do with finances. There was speculation that he wanted to merge the Sunday paper with the Sun which would then be published seven days a week as a opposed to six.
“For critics of Rupert Murdoch this is the best thing that has ever happened,” Brian Stelter of the New York Times told CBS 2. “This is the best case they’ve ever had to argue against Murdoch and say he has had too much power.”
The committee hearing is the latest in a series of dramatic events involving the phone hacking scandal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short an overseas trip to deal with the crisis. Two top UK law enforcement officials have stepped down for not investigating the hacking earlier.
“The metropolitan police service inquiry must go wherever the evidence leads. they must investigate without fear or favour,” Cameron said.
On Monday, a whistleblower, former New of the World reporter Sean Hoare, was found dead in his home. Police don’t have an explanation for his death but say it doesn’t appear to be suspicious.
Is this a witch hunt or is News Corp. legitimately in trouble? Sound off in our comments section below…
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