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Lots of 'pregnant pauses': CNN journalists describe hacking hearing

By Richard Quest, Dan Rivers and Jonathan Wald, CNN
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Murdoch: 'We had broken our trust'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Throughout, his wife came across as protective, says Jonathan Wald
  • Rebekah Brooks was impressive and didn't hide, Richard Quest says
  • Dan Rivers: Rupert Murdoch "came across as completely unaware"

London (CNN) -- Media baron Rupert Murdoch, his son James Murdoch and former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks testified Tuesday in front of a parliamentary hearing in London on phone hacking. CNN's Richard Quest, Dan Rivers and Jonathan Wald, who all attended the hearings, give their impressions.

Richard Quest: It had been a gorgeous, sunny day in London right up until the second the Murdochs started giving evidence. Then the dark clouds rolled over and it absolutely bucketed down with rain.

It was the day we wept for the state of the free press here. The responsibility of the press in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal had sunk so low that it had come to this: special hearings in Parliament to discover the depths of phone hacking and press and police corruption.

Rupert Murdoch seemed genuinely shell-shocked by the whole affair. But the times when he did speak, it was definitive. It was at these times you saw flashes of what made him the man he is today.

In contrast, every answer from his son James came from a management-speak textbook. He just rambled. He couldn't give a straight answer to anything.

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Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor, was an impressive act. Even though she is on bail and maybe charged, she didn't hide behind her lawyers.

She didn't answer the questions, though, questions about payments and employing former police officers. Don't forget she'd been arrested earlier in the week, and there's a judicial hearing coming up to go into all of that.

As for the shaving foam pie incident, well, that was a disgrace and terribly embarrassing for Parliament. Yes, there were security checks and bag searches, but a small tin of shaving foam might not have caused suspicion. However, people who come to give evidence have a right to do so without being assaulted.

Dan Rivers: My overwhelming impression was that Rupert Murdoch came across as completely unaware of what was going on. There were these pregnant pauses after specific questions. It seemed he didn't know what to say or didn't know what the answer was. He was shockingly candid about his ignorance.

There was a protest in the room at the beginning. About three people stood up holding derogatory signs about Murdoch.

The hearing as it happened

Security was very tight, although members of the public were allowed in. It must have been one of the most over-subscribed committee hearings ever. It was first-come, first-served. There was a fairly random selection of the public, some political geeks, students. None of them were taking notes. One man actually fell asleep. Outside, there were a handful of protesters but many more cameras and crews.

Jonathan Wald: As the final member of the committee started asking questions, a man appeared who had been sitting in the back came to the front row. He appeared right in front of me. He spoke to Rupert Murdoch with an inclination like he was scolding a naughty child. He said "You're a greedy billionaire," plunging a plate with some gunk on it firmly in Murdoch's face. I identified it as shaving foam because some of it fell on me.

The first to react was his wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch. She picked up the plate an hit him back with it. As we were leaving the room. Mrs. Murdoch, who was sitting on the perch where her husband was sitting, was smiling to herself. She was saying words to the effect that she was pleased with having hit the attacker back.

Video: Protester hits Murdoch with pie Video

One of Murdoch's people, someone on his security team, was accosting one of the members of the police, saying, 'How on earth can you left this happen?' Rupert Murdoch seemed shocked, but he was clearly uninjured. They tried to clean the stain off his jacket and realized they couldn't do it, so when they returned from recess he finished the hearing without his jacket.

Before the hearing there was a disturbance. Three people stood up with signs, one of which said "The People vs. Murdoch". He laughed at this. But not James, he was very stone-faced.

His wife, Wendi Deng, put a comforting arm on his back throughout the hearing. Every now and then she would comfort him with a stroke or pat. Rupert had a habit of hitting the microphone and this was picked up quite loudly by the microphone. Wendi put her hand between him and the microphone.

Every person and every committee member had a big bottle of water, maybe a 2-liter bottler. James finished his bottle of water. Rupert didn't touch his. He was slow, he was relaxed and he had very pregnant pauses before his answers. James seemed nervous, he drank a lot and he repeatedly said "I have no knowledge."

He was clearly the least comfortable. When his father spoke he gulped often and at one point interrupted him. In the first line of questioning from Tom Watson, James kept trying to interrupt, but Tom wouldn't let him do it and proceeded with his questioning.

There was a bit of humor when Rupert Murdoch said in answer to a question, "There's never an excuse to break the law, but one should campaign to change it." Also when Damian Collins said, "You've had frequent meetings with prime ministers," Murdoch replied, "I wish they'd leave me alone."

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