News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch on Thursday admitted he "failed" to prevent widespread phone hacking at his News of the World tabloid that has since shamed his media empire, led to the the shuttering of said newspaper and spawned wide-ranging investigations into his news operations.
He made the confession during his second day of testimony to the Leveson inquiry, a British governmental investigation into media ethics and phone hacking.
Murdoch said he believed one or two News Corp. employees led a cover-up of the hacking, and that he failed to realize what was happening at the News of the World.
"I also have to say that I failed," he said, falling silent for 20 seconds. When his questioner spoke again, he added, "And I'm very sorry about it … I'm guilty of not paying enough attention to the News of the World at any time that I was in charge of it."
The scandal, which derailed News Corp.'s attempt to buy British broadcaster BSkyB and muddied the line of succession at the media conglomerate, came to light last July. It was revealed that the newspaper had hacked into the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was later found murdered.
Murdoch quickly shut down the News of the World, and he said Thursday he wished he had done it sooner. He also said closing it was an act of "panic."
"You could feel the blast coming in the window," Murdoch said of the atmosphere within News Corp. at the time. "I can say it succinctly. I panicked. And I am sorry I did."
Murdoch, like his son James before him, portrayed the scandal as outside his control, blaming his lieutenants and employees for much of what happened.
He said that Colin Myler, the final editor of the News of the World and now editor of the New York Daily News, did not take enough steps to investigate phone hacking or prevent further incidents. He also said it was Les Hinton's decision to hire Myler.
Hinton worked for Murdoch for more than half a century, resigning last summer as the scandal picked up steam. Hinton had overseen an internal investigation into phone hacking at News International, News Corp.'s British publishing group.
Hinton had to conduct the investigation after a News of the World reporter and a private investigator hired by the newspaper were jailed for hacking. Murdoch said Thursday that if he'd known how widespread the hacking was at the time — more than a dozen News Corp. employees have since been arrested — he "would have torn the place apart and we wouldn't be here today."