Rupert Murdoch took the stand in London this morning for the second day of his testimony before the public inquiry into the controversy his U.K. media empire has inspired, and the focus finally turned to the issue that sparked crisis in the first place—phone hacking.
Asked how the problem had gone on for so long at his News of the World tabloid without the knowledge of Murdoch or his senior executives, as has been claimed, Murdoch had a simple explanation: cover-up.
In response to questions from Robert Jay, the chief counsel to the Leveson Inquiry into corrupt practices in the British press, Murdoch said he had been “misinformed and shielded” from the problem. He casted the blame downward, away from himself and from trusted executives such as Les Hinton, Rebekah Brooks and his son James, who have all held top positions at News International, the U.K. arm of Murdoch’s New York-based News Corp. “I do blame one or two people for that who perhaps I shouldn’t name because for all I know they may be arrested,” Murdoch said. “There is no question in my mind [that] maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret.”
Murdoch added that one of the suspects he had in mind “was a friend of the journalists and a drinking pal and a clever lawyer. […] This person forbade people to go and report to Mrs. Brooks or to James.”
Murdoch seemed to be referring in part to Colin Myler, who was appointed as editor-in-chief of News of the World in 2007 with the mandate, in Murdoch’s words, “to find out what the hell what was going on.”
He later said that Myler, who was installed by Hinton, would not have been his first choice for editor at News of the World. Myler has since become editor-in-chief of the Daily News, the rival New York tabloid to Murdoch’s New York Post.
Both Myler and Tom Crone, the legal affairs manager at News International at the time, have argued that in 2008 they had alerted James Murdoch to the existence of a wider phone hacking problem at News of the World than the so-called “rogue reporter” defense the company had long claimed.
After Murdoch’s testimony, Crone fought back against the perceived attack in a statement released via former News of the World public-relations chief Hayley Barlow. “[Murdoch’s] assertion that I ‘took charge of a cover-up’ in relation to phone-hacking is a shameful lie. The same applies to his assertions that I misinformed senior executives about what was going on and that I forbade people from reporting to Rebekah Brooks or to James Murdoch,” the statement reads. “It is perhaps no coincidence that the two people he has identified in relation to his cover-up allegations are the same two people who pointed out that his son’s evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee last year was inaccurate.”
Murdoch responded angrily when Jay insinuated that Murdoch may have wanted the cover-up—saying that only “minds like yours” would see things that way, before quickly apologizing.
“At this, the head of the inquiry, Lord Justice Brian Leveson, interceded to ask Murdoch “whether you really did try to understand what was going on, or you felt you didn’t really need to understand what was going on, it’s over, move on?”
“I also have to say that I failed,” Murdoch said. “And I am very sorry about it.”
Murdoch added that, in hindsight, he should have taken control of the crisis in 2007 when it emerged that former royals editor Clive Goodman—who had been jailed for hacking members of the Royal Household—had claimed that other members of the news room were involved in phone hacking. “I should have gone in there and thrown all the damn lawyers out of the place and seen Mr. Goodman one-on-one […] and examined him myself,” Murdoch said. “And if I had made up my mind that he was telling the truth, then I would have torn the place apart, and we wouldn’t be standing here today.”