Murdoch ‘determined to put things right’ as phone-hacking scandal continues to simmer

Joe Pompeo

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch seemed docile and doddering when he appeared before a British parliamentary committee for several hours of questioning (and a shaving-cream pie to the face) on July 19. Parliament is investigating the phone-hacking scandal that has enveloped the U.K. arm of his company.

But the 80-year-old mogul came out swinging on News Corp.'s closely monitored quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts and the press Wednesday afternoon, his first public comments since last month's testimony.

In aggressive prepared remarks at the beginning of the call, Murdoch reiterated his position that the scandal is confined to past transgressions that occurred in a "small corner" of the company--the now-defunct tabloid News of the World--despite mounting speculation that the fallout may yet spread, perhaps even across the Atlantic.

"I've run this company more than 50 years," said Murdoch. "The kind of behavior that occurred in that newsroom has no place at News Corporation."

He continued: "I'm thoroughly determined to put things right when it comes to News of the World. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to prevent something like this from ever happening again. There can be no doubt about our commitment to ethics and integrity."

Murdoch also said the scandal has "had no material effect on our operations outside the closure of News of the World." And he brushed off rumors that he may cede his role as the company's chief executive officer to News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey, who was also on the line. (Murdoch holds the joint title of chairman and CEO.)

"Make no mistake, Chase Carey and I run this company as a team," he said.

Later, during the brief press Q&A portion of the call, one reporter asked Murdoch if he thought the News Corp. board would support the eventual elevation of his son, James, to the CEO perch. James Murdoch has come under increased scrutiny as inquiries into the alleged phone-hacking drag on. Former executives have claimed the younger Murdoch knew several years ago that phone-hacking at News of the World was more widespread than the company let on at the time. That allegation directly contradicts James Murdoch's own testimony before parliament last month.

"Chase and I have full confidence in James," said the elder Murdoch. But "in the end, this decision is a matter for the board."

Murdoch also addressed, albeit vaguely, News Corp.'s efforts to probe potential malfeasance in other areas of the organization, which includes major American media properties such as the New York Post and Fox News.

"We're cooperating with all investigations and indeed inviting in legal pros to help us check through," he said. "We are totally committed to absolute transparency throughout the whole company."

The event drew to a close with a mea culpa. Speaking of News Corp.'s failure to fully examine initial reports of phone-hacking in the mid-2000s, Murdoch said: "In retrospect, we should have continued investigating."