- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

LONDON — A protester splattered Rupert Murdoch with white foam on Tuesday, interrupting a dramatic hearing in which the media baron told British lawmakers he was not responsible for a phone hacking scandal that has rocked his global empire.

Murdoch appeared by turns vague, truculent, sharp and concise as he spoke alongside his son and deputy, James, calling the parliamentary inquiry “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.”

After more than two hours of testimony, a man in a plaid shirt appeared to run toward Murdoch with a pie plate full of foam, before being struck by the executive’s wife Wendi Deng. The foam hit Murdoch’s suit jacket.

Police in the back of the committee room held an apparently handcuffed man with the foam covering his face and shirt.

Media reports identified him as Jonnie Marbles, a British comedian. Just before the attack, he wrote on his Twitter feed that: “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before (at)splat,” a slightly altered quotation from the last sentence of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Police said he had been arrested on suspicion of assault during a public meeting.

The hearing resumed after a short break, with an apology from Murdoch loyalist, Rebekah Brooks, who apologized for the intercepts.

Two of Murdoch’s top executives, Brooks and Les Hinton, have resigned over the scandal — something Murdoch said was a matter of regret. The uproar has also led to the arrest of Brooks, sunk Murdoch’s dream of taking full control of lucrative satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and raised questions about his control of his global media empire.

Murdoch said he lost sight of News of the World because it is such a small part of his company and spoke to the editor of the paper only around once a month, talking more with the editor of the Sunday Times in Britain and the Wall Street Journal in the U.S.

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