Murdochs fight back, but big battles lie ahead: press

LONDON, July 20, 2011 (AFP) - Media boss Rupert Murdoch and son James emerged from a day of high political theatre with their reputations enhanced but faced further scrutiny over the phone-hacking scandal, Britain's press said Wednesday.

The father and son team fended off questions from British lawmakers over the snowballing crisis at News International, and garnered sympathy after being assailed by a "custard pie" wielding "moron".

AFP - A screen grab image taken in London on July 19, 2011, shows a man (Top L) hitting Rupert Murdoch (2nd Row Seated L) in the face with a plate of foam as he and son James (2nd Row Seated R) give evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the phone hacking scandal

However, Murdoch-senior's apparently faltering memory -- interpreted by some as a ploy to evade tricky queries -- raised more questions than answers and brought into focus the 80-year-old's ability to run the News Corp media empire.

"The Murdoch family gave as good as they got during yesterday's Commons select committee hearing into what they knew (or didn't know) about the phone-hacking scandal," The Daily Telegraph argued.

Despite a largely positive performance, the broadsheet concluded that the duo's chastening appearance meant: "The spell that Rupert Murdoch has held over British politics was broken in three hours".

Murdoch-owned title The Times struck an unsurprisingly upbeat tone, but conceded that James Murdoch's admission that the company paid the legal fees of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the scandal, was cause for concern.

"Rupert and James Murdoch struck an apologetic tone...but the session left a number of questions unanswered," its editorial said. "There is clearly a great deal of heat left in this scandal."

The left-leaning Guardian, a constant thorn in News International's side throughout the crisis, was less impressed, accusing the duo of showing "little contrition" and exploiting the attention to further commercial goals.

"The drama and the symbolism of the day should not blind us to the fact that the family's minds remain on a bigger game: impressing on parliament and public opinion their fitness to retain and expand their control of the British media market. On this they failed," the paper reasoned.

Murdoch interrupted proceedings to announce he was suffering "the most humble day of my life", which was soon made even worse when his face was splattered by an activist's plate-full of shaving foam.

"What an embarrassment for the country that some fool thought he could improve the civil inquiry by attacking an 80-year-old man," The Times said.

Joining in the condemnation of the attack, Murdoch-owned tabloid The Sun ran with the headline "Moron's foam pie on Murdoch".

"It's embarrassing for Britain. And mortifying for the Met (police force)," bemoaned the daily.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail's Max Hastings extended criticism to members of the committee.

"These dripping wet inquisitors achieved the impossible feat of making us feel sorry for Rupert Murdoch," he scoffed.

The Independent, Guardian and Express succumbed to the pun temptation, all splashing "Murdoch's humble pie" across their front pages.

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