Humble pie for Murdoch, wife Wendi lashes out

19th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

On what he called the most humble day of his life as British MPs grilled him Tuesday on phone hacking, things then got worse for Rupert Murdoch as he was attacked with a plate of foam.

In a key moment in the scandal engulfing Britain's press, politicians and police, the media baron faced a three-hour examination from lawmakers in a highly-charged committee room.

But the tense atmosphere spilled over in extraordinary fashion when a member of the public approached the 80-year-old and attempted to slap him in the face with a plate of white foam.

The News Corporation chairman and chief executive was about to face the last questioner over his knowledge and involvement in the scandal at the News of the World tabloid.

The Australian-born tycoon was appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport committee, a 10-member, cross-party panel of lawmakers from parliament's lower House of Commons.

He appeared alongside his son James, the chairman and CEO of News Corp.'s Europe and Asia division, which houses News International, the corporation's British newspaper publishing arm which closed News of the World in the wake of the scandal which engulfed the Sunday tabloid.

The Wilson Room in Portcullis House, a 10-year-old office block across the street from the famous clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, was crammed with reporters and members of the public who had queued up for hours to get in.

Murdoch had started the session seemingly ill at ease, taking his time and giving one-word answers but had warmed up as the session went on.

The attack happened as the Murdochs were about to face the last questioner, MP Louise Mensch.

Someone shouted "no, no, no, no!" as a man in a checked shirt approached the pair from their left and attacked Rupert Murdoch with the plate.

He attempted to protect his head and took his glasses off. Foam could be clearly seen across his right shoulder.

But the heroine of the day was Murdoch's wife Wendi Deng, sat just behind her husband in a pink top, who leapt up and clobbered the assailant as Murdoch, seated throughout, was left with white foam on his shoulder.

An uniformed policeman rushed across to apprehend the assailant as a man shouted "outrageous!".

Police detained the attacker outside the room, who had white foam across his face and shirt. He was handcuffed behind his back and led away by a single officer.

Witness Andy Thompson, a member of the public from Vancouver, western Canada, told AFP he saw the attacker lunge towards Murdoch holding a green bag with shaving foam in it.

A second witness said the assailant was in the back row of the public gallery when he launched the attack. Deng managed to push the plate into the assailant's face, leaving him covered in most of the foam.

When the session resumed, Murdoch was without his jacket.

Wearing a pinstripe suit, a plain white shirt and a spotted blue tie, the Murdochs' session had begun at 2:35pm (1335 GMT).

Within seconds, two people stood up three rows behind them with signs reading "The People Vs Murdoch".

"Excuse me, can we not have that, please?", the committee chairman John Whittingdale asked, before having the pair removed.

Murdoch put his hand to his ear as Whittingdale made his opening remarks and during the questioning often asked people to repeat their questions or seemed to struggle to hear.

The US media baron had prepared a statement to read to the committee, but was not allowed to read it as the panel went straight into questions. He did manage to squeeze in a sentence, telling lawmakers: "This is the most humble day of my life."

Murdoch underwent a sustained examination from opposition lawmaker Tom Watson, who has played a key role in bringing revelations about News of the World to light.

His son, closer to events on the ground, reguarly tried to intervene and provide more in-depth answers but Watson refused to let him in, keeping his focus on Murdoch senior.

Returning after a short break following the assault, Murdoch concluded by reading his statement, and looked the vision of the no-nonsense media tycoon as he did.

Members of the committee apologised for the assault he endured.

Watson finished by saying: "Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook."

© 2011 AFP

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