LONDON — Rupert Murdoch was humbled Wednesday by a committee of lawmakers who grilled one of the world's most powerful media moguls and his son on their role in a phone-hacking scandal that has embroiled some of Britain's top politicians, police and journalists.
Appearing frail and confused, the elder Murdoch at first seemed repentant — he banged his hands on the table and said the day was the most humble of his life — but he became increasingly flustered when committee members peppered with him questions, often turning to his son James for answers.
In a tense question-and-answer session with lawmakers, 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. He 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.
Murdoch also told the committee that he didn't believe the FBI had uncovered any evidence of hacking Sept. 11 victims in a recently launched inquiry.
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 the Murdochs' former U.K. newspaper chief, Rebekah Brooks, 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 James Murdoch, the head of News Corp.'s European and Asian operations.
Rupert Murdoch's wife Wendi 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 said will relaunch as a seven-day publication.
Asked by a Tuesday whether there was a financial motive for closing the paper, Rupert Murdoch said: "Far from it."
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 held a separate hearing to question 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.