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 inquisition "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 before being struck by his wife Wendi Deng.
Police in the back of the committee room were holding an apparently handcuffed man with white foam covering his face and shirt. The foam also appeared to have hit Murdoch's suit.
The hearing resumed after a short break, with an apology from Murdoch loyalist, Rebekah Brooks, who apologized for the intercepts.
Media reports identified the protester as Jonnie Marbles, a British comedian. Just before the attack, he wrote on his Twitter feed: "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."
Two of Murdoch's top executives, Brooks and Les Hinton, have resigned over the scandal — something Murdoch said was a matter of regret.
"I've worked with Mr Hinton for 52 years and I would trust him with my life," he said.
Murdoch also told the committee that he didn't believe the FBI had uncovered any evidence of hacking of Sept. 11 victims in a recently launched inquiry.
He 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.
The value of the Murdochs' News Corp. added around $2 billion while they were being grilled, trading 5.3 percent higher at $15.74. The stock has taken a battering over the past couple of weeks, shedding around 17 percent of its value, or around $8 billion.
James Murdoch apologized for the scandal, telling British lawmakers that "these actions do not live up to the standards our company aspires to."
The younger Murdoch said the company acted as swiftly and transparently as possible. Rupert Murdoch acknowledged, however, that he did not investigate after Brooks, the Murdochs' former U.K. newspaper chief, told parliament years ago that the News of the World had paid police officers for information.
Asked by lawmakers why there was no investigation, he said: "I didn't know of it."
He says the News of the World "is less than 1 percent" of his News Corp., which employs 53,000 people.
Murdoch also said he was not informed that his company had paid out big sums — 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million) in one case — to settle lawsuits by phone hacking victims.
James Murdoch said his father became aware of the settlement "in 2009 after a newspaper report. It was a confidential settlement."
He said a civil case of that nature and size would be dealt with by the executives in the country involved — in this case himself, as head of News Corp.'s European and Asian operations.
James Murdoch said news organizations need to put a stronger emphasis on ethics in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, telling lawmakers that "we do need to think in this country more forcefully and thoughtfully about our journalistic ethics."
Rupert Murdoch's wife, Deng and News Corp. executive Joel Klein, who is overseeing an internal investigation into the wrongdoing, sat behind him as he spoke.
The elder Murdoch denied that the closure of the News of the World was motivated by financial considerations, saying he shut it because of the criminal allegations.
There has been speculation that Murdoch wanted to close the Sunday newspaper in order to merge its operations with the six-days-a-week Sun, which some have speculated will relaunch as a seven-day publication.
Politicians also pushed for details about the Murdochs' ties to Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of the British political establishment.
In a separate hearing, lawmakers questioned London police about reports that officers took bribes from journalists to provide inside information for tabloid scoops and to ask why the force decided to shut down an earlier phone hacking probe after charging only two people.
Detectives reopened the case earlier this year and are looking at a potential 3,700 victims.
The scandal has prompted the resignation and subsequent arrest of Brooks and the resignation of Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton, sunk the Murdochs' dream of taking full control of lucrative satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and raised questions about his control of his global media empire.
Brooks testified after the Murdochs, opening her remarks with an apology for phone hacking and described allegations of voicemail intercepts of crime victims as "pretty horrific and abhorrent."
She said she was told by the News of the World that allegations of phone hacking by the paper's journalists were untrue, and that she only realized the gravity of the situation when she saw documents lodged in a civil damages case by actress Sienna Miller last year.
"We had been told by people at News of the World at the time, they consistently denied any of these allegations in various internal investigations," she said.
Asked whether she had been lied to by senior employees at the newspaper, Brooks declined to answer.
"Unfortunately, because of the criminal procedure, I'm not sure that it's possible to infer guilt until those criminal procedures have taken place," she said. Brooks also said she had never knowingly sanctioned a payoff to a police officer.
Rupert Murdoch is eager to stop the crisis from spreading to the United States, where many of his most lucrative assets — including the Fox TV network, 20th Century Fox film studio, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post — are based.
CNN host Piers Morgan, who was editor of the News of the World for two years in the 1990s and is now based in the United States, denied any link to the scandal.
"I've never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone," he said.
Internet hacking collective Lulz Security took responsibility for that hacking attack via Twitter, calling it a successful part of "Murdoch Meltdown Monday."
Lulz Security, which has previously claimed hacks on major entertainment companies, FBI partner organizations and the CIA, hinted that more was yet to come, saying "This is only the beginning."
It later took credit for shutting down News International's corporate website. Another hacking collective known as Anonymous claimed the cyberattack on The Times' website.