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British phone hacking scandal: Rupert Murdoch testifies before lawmakers

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University of Glasgow psychologist Patrick O'Donnell said James Murdoch gave a careful, lawyerly performance, "a little bit stressed, a bit evasive."

Rupert Murdock (photo courtesy David Shankbone via Flickr)

And despite the younger Murdoch's best efforts, the lawmakers seemed more interested in quizzing his father, who, as Labour lawmaker Tom Watson pointed out, "is responsible for corporate governance and serious wrongdoing has been brought about in the company."

And as the session, slated to last an hour, stretched past two and then toward three, Rupert Murdoch got into his stride.

He grew in confidence; the power balance shifted. While at first the elder Murdoch had turned to his son to amplify his answers, he later seemed quicker to grasp the thrust of questioning.

When James Murdoch seemed to struggle to understand a question about whether News Corp. had been guilty of "willful blindness," his father quickly stepped in - "We were not ever guilty of
that."

Judi James, a body language and behavior analyst, said the father and son ultimately made an effective team.

"They took these two extreme roles," she said. "James is the scrubbed-up PR face of the business," while Rupert played the "curmudgeonly father act."

"Prior to the custard pie, the tension had relaxed in the room and it no longer felt like a witch hunt," she said.

Then came the extraordinary moment when a protester approached Rupert Murdoch with the foam pie he'd managed to smuggle in. Some of the white goo ended up on Murdoch, but more landed in the attacker's face thanks to the split-second timing of Rupert's wife, Wendi Deng.

She struck back at the attacker in a flash. By the time the man had been bundled away, Rupert Murdoch was still seated and James had sprung up but remained shocked and immobile.

When the session resumed after a brief break, Rupert Murdoch - now in shirt sleeves, his soiled jacket removed - looked like a man in control. He seemed to know the worst was over. He even showed a hint of emotion as he paid tribute to his father, founder of the Murdoch media empire, "who was not rich but was a great journalist."

The elder Murdoch finished by reading out a statement stressing "how completely and deeply sorry I am."

London media analyst Claire Enders said the Murdochs had appeared to be "on top of most questions."

"They came across pretty well," she said. "Overall, it was a good performance by the Murdoch family."

Shareholders also appeared satisfied. News Corp. shares, which as of Tuesday morning had fallen by 17 percent since the scandal broke, rose 82 cents, or 5.5 percent, to close at $15.79 in New York.

The members of the committee, among them firm foes of Murdoch's media dominance like Watson, appeared impressed - though they were even more impressed with Deng.

"Your wife," Watson told Murdoch, "has a really good left hook."

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