Credibility fading, James Murdoch returns to UK

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LONDON (AP) - Contradicted by key former executives and challenged by his company’s ex-lawyers, James Murdoch is expected back in Britain for Thursday for a second grilling in Britain’s Parliament over the phone hacking scandal that has shaken his father’s media empire.

Although the senior News Corp. executive has long insisted he knew nothing of the culture of criminality whose exposure has been called “Britain’s Watergate,” mounting evidence suggests otherwise and one observer who follows the phone hacking scandal said Murdoch would be likely to have to make some kind of concession.

“What I expect to happen is that James will acknowledge that mistakes have been made, probably even apologize to the committee,” said Paul Connew, a media commentator and former tabloid editor. He explained that Murdoch might acknowledge that “perhaps he wasn’t as proactive as he should’ve been,” although he warned that there was a limit to how far any mea culpa could go.

“What I think he won’t do _ can’t afford to do _ is accept that he deliberately misled Parliament,” Connew said.

James Murdoch has repeatedly insisted that he was blind-sided by the scandal over phone hacking at what was once his company’s most powerful tabloid.

Revelations that journalists routinely intercepted the voicemails of public figures, including celebrities, politicians, police, and even crime victims sent shock waves across the British establishment, forcing the closure of the News of the World and scuttling its parent company’s multibillion pound (dollar) bid for full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Murdoch’s company had long insisted that the practice had been limited to a single rogue journalist, royal editor Clive Goodman, who had been jailed for phone hacking several years earlier. But in dramatic testimony to parliamentarians on July 19, Murdoch acknowledged that had never been true.

“We _ the company _ had not been in full possession of the facts,” Murdoch told lawmakers. He said that when he took over at News International, News Corp.’s British newspaper arm, “there was no reason at the time to believe that the issue of the voicemail interceptions was anything but a settled matter.”

He and his father blamed others for the lapse, with Rupert Murdoch saying he’d been betrayed by those he trusted.

Lawmakers were immediately skeptical of James Murdoch’s explanation, pointing to the fact that he personally signed off on a massive settlement for phone hacking victim Gordon Taylor, a prominent sports figure who was given hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation in return for staying mum about the deal.

The junior Murdoch would have had a motive to keep Taylor quiet, they argued. That’s because Taylor’s team had uncovered an email carrying transcripts of illegally intercepted voicemail messages written by a junior News of the World reporter and marked “for Neville,” an apparent reference to senior journalist Neville Thurlbeck.

Because it implicated others in the phone hacking, the document blew a hole through the claim that only a rogue reporter had been involved in the hacking.

In a performance described as cool and lawyerly, Murdoch denied knowing anything about “for Neville” document when Taylor’s case was settled.

But since July 19 that the credibility of that denial has been frayed under the weight of contradictory testimony from former executives and senior lawyers.

Murdoch wasn’t telling the truth when he said he’d been kept in the dark by his underlings, according to former News International lawyer Jonathan Chapman.

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