LONDON -- Rupert Murdoch apologized Thursday for the phone-hacking scandal that has tarnished his global media empire, declaring: “The buck stops with me.”
But he also blamed underlings at News Corp. for keeping him in the dark and trying to keep a lid on evidence of widespread hacking at the News of the World tabloid, which he shut down last July when the scandal broke wide open.
On his second day testifying before a British judicial inquiry on media ethics, the Australian-born tycoon said he has spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” on the legal fallout of the hacking allegations and on cleaning up his newspapers to make sure such lapses didn’t happen again.
“I failed. And I’m very sorry about that,” Murdoch, 81, told the court, adding: “It’s going to be a blot on my reputation for the rest of my life.”
Three separate criminal investigations have been launched as a result of the hacking scandal, and dozens of journalists at two of Murdoch’s papers -- the News of the World and the Sun -- have been arrested, although none has yet been charged.
But in sometimes combative testimony, the chairman of News Corp. defended the two papers, scoffing at descriptions of them as purveyors of titillation and gossip. Both titles are well-known for their sensational, often intrusive stories about celebrities, politicians and other high-profile figures, but Murdoch sought to characterize them as nobler publications dedicated to promoting the public good.
When the examining lawyer prefaced a pointed question with the comment “some people might say,” a peevish Murdoch snapped back: “People like you.” He quickly said he wished to withdraw the remark.
Murdoch acknowledged that the hacking scandal and the public opprobrium directed at News Corp. forced him to abandon his cherished bid to take over broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting last summer.
He expressed dismay that News International, the British arm of his company, had been obstructive during the investigation into phone hacking and other alleged wrongdoing at News of the World. He blamed misguided employees within the organization.
“There’s 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 said.
And he apologized to News of the World employees who now find themselves out of work.
“I’m guilty of not having paid enough attention to the News of the World," he said. "It was an omission by me, and all I can do is apologize to a lot of people, including all the innocent people in the News of the World who lost their jobs.”
Murdoch wrapped up his testimony early Thursday afternoon.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Rupert Murdoch, left, looks to his wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, as they are driven from The Royal Courts of Justice after he gave evidence to The Leveson Inquiry on Thursday in London. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images