September 28, 2020

British Leader Defends His Actions in Hacking Case

Mr. Cameron’s appearance before a special sitting of the House of Commons offered one more remarkable moment of passion and spectacle, following the separate appearance of Rupert Murdoch and his son James before lawmakers on Tuesday for nearly three hours of questioning of one of the world’s most powerful media moguls by British legislators.

Their appearance — made yet more dramatic by a protester’s attack on Rupert Murdoch with a plate of shaving cream — did not seem on Wednesday to have come close to answering many of the questions the father and son faced about phone hacking in the British outpost of their media empire in 2002.

Indeed, one of the two parliamentary panels investigating the widening scandal released a scathing report on Wednesday accusing Murdoch companies of “deliberate attempts” to thwart its investigations, and said police inquiries had been a “catalog of failures” to investigate the issue.

The events played out against a backdrop of huge public revulsion over the central allegation that The News of the World, a now-defunct tabloid closed down by Mr. Murdoch earlier this month, ordered a private investigator to hack the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl abducted and murdered in 2002. So great is the interest in the affair that the BBC devoted live television coverage on Wednesday to what it said was the Murdochs’ executive jet flying out of Luton airport north of London. Its destination was not announced.

The gathering of so many emotive issues, laced with big money deals, tabloid scandal and long-running British suspicion of the Murdoch machine, has crystallized into the most serious crisis of credibility and confidence of Mr. Cameron’s 15 months in office — a crisis in which he seemed to be trying on Wednesday to regain some of the initiative seized earlier by the Labour opposition leader, Ed Miliband.

Mr. Cameron returned home early from an African trade tour late Tuesday to face questions about his relationships with former senior figures at News International, the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s global News Corporation, particularly his choice of a former Murdoch employee, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications.

Mr. Coulson, a former editor of The News of the World tabloid, resigned from the prime minister’s office in January and was among 10 people who were arrested in the affair.

Referring to his decision to hire Mr. Coulson, Mr. Cameron said, “I regret and I am extremely sorry about the furor it has caused.”

“With 20-20 hindsight and all that has followed,” he said, “I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it. But you don’t make decisions in hindsight, you make them in the present. You live and you learn and, believe you me, I have learned.” He added that Mr. Coulson had been properly vetted before joining his staff and had given “assurances” that he had not been involved in phone hacking.

It was the closest Mr. Cameron has come to an apology, and seemed to show that the prime minister was distancing himself from his former aide.

But Mr. Cameron continued to defend Mr. Coulson’s work as director of communications and said he had “an old-fashioned view about innocence until proven guilty.” If it is proved that Mr. Coulson lied to him, he said, “that will be the moment for a profound apology.”

“It was my decision” to hire Mr. Coulson, Mr. Cameron said, “and I take responsibility.”

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition, responded by saying Mr. Cameron’s position had been compromised by his association with Mr. Coulson. “Why doesn’t he do more than give a half-apology?” Mr. Miliband asked.

Referring to Mr. Cameron, Mr. Miliband said: “He says in hindsight he made a mistake by hiring Mr. Coulson. He says if Mr. Coulson lied to him, he would apologize. That isn’t good enough. It’s not about hindsight, it’s not about whether Mr. Coulson lied to him. It’s about all the information and warnings the prime minister ignored. He was warned and he preferred to ignore the warnings.”

Mr. Cameron was questioned repeatedly about a  New York Times investigation into The News of the World that was published in September 2010.

“There was no information in The New York Times September 2010 article to make me change my mind about Mr. Coulson,” Mr. Cameron said.

The article found that hacking was widespread, and quoted two former News of the World journalists as saying that phone hacking was discussed in Mr. Coulson’s presence.

Jo Becker contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bdfe840ed7b92910c39e5d7d30c9f3e6

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