James Murdoch has turned on former journalists and executives at the News of the World in a second appearance in front of British politicians investigating phone-hacking practices at the now-defunct UK newspaper.
In a dramatic exchange in front of a parliamentary committee, Murdoch, who is in charge of non-US operations of father Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation media empire, rejected suggestions that he had operated like a “mafia boss”.
Asked whether News Corporation’s British newspaper business had operated according to a Mafia-style code of silence, Murdoch said: “Absolutely not. I frankly think that is offensive and that’s not true.”
“You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t think he was running a criminal enterprise,” said Tom Watson, the British member of parliament asking the questions.
Murdoch replied: “Mr. Watson, please, I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Murdoch, earlier blamed Colin Myler, the last editor of News of the World, for giving him incomplete information about the extent of phone hacking, and accused Tom Crone, the newspaper’s ex-legal chief, of misleading MPs investigating the hacking.
“This was the job of the new editor who had come in… to clean things up, to make me aware of those things,” said Murdoch.
He also said Crone had ordered the surveillance of public figures by the News of the World – revelations of which have further damaged the company this week.
The News of the World, Britain’s best-selling Sunday newspaper until its closure, was revealed this year to have hacked into the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, as well as celebrities and politicians.
Previously, News Corp had maintained the hacking was the work of a “rogue” royal reporter, Clive Goodman, and private detective Glenn Mulcaire. Both went to jail for the offence in 2007.
In 2008, James Murdoch approved a payoff of about $1.2m to Gordon Taylor, a football union official and hacking victim who had in his possession an email of hacking transcripts appearing to show the hacking went beyond Goodman.
He reiterated to MPs on Thursday that he had approved the unusually large payoff only because he was following legal advice, and not because he knew the so-called “For Neville” email could implicate other journalists.
“I was given sufficient information and only sufficient information to authorise the increase of the settlement offered, that Mr. Crone and Mr. Myler had already eagerly been increasing in order to achieve a settlement even before it had come across my desk,” he said.
Watson asked Murdoch: “Do you think Mr Crone misled us?” Murdoch answered: “It follows that I do, yes.”
James Murdoch adopted a more contrite tone than on his previous appearance before the committee together with his father Rupert in July.
“It is a matter of great regret that things went wrong at the News of the World in 2006. The company didn’t come to grips with those issues fast enough,” he said.
James Murdoch was brought into News International after the date of the last known phone-hacking, but has been accused of failing to ask the right questions at least, and possibly of participating in a huge corporate cover-up.