The 81-year-old mogul electrified the judicial inquiry on Wednesday, robustly rejecting accusations that he had used his media empire to play puppet master to a succession of British prime ministers.
The appearance at the inquiry of a man who has courted prime ministers and presidents for the last 40 years is a defining moment in a scandal that has laid bare collusion between British politicians, police and Murdoch’s News Corp.
Wearing a blue tie and black suit, as he had on Wednesday, Murdoch entered the Victorian Gothic courtroom smiling and looking relaxed before facing additional questions about his links with British prime ministers.
Under questioning by one of London’s top lawyers on Wednesday, Murdoch had appeared calm and considered, displaying only flashes of his reputation as one of the world’s most menacing media tycoons.
Prime Minister David Cameron appointed judge Brian Leveson last year to examine Britain’s press standards after journalists at Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid admitted hacking into phones on a massive scale to generate exclusives and salacious front page stories.
The admission last year, and the revelation that journalists had hacked into the phones of ordinary people and crime victims, forced the closure of the 168-year-old tabloid and prompted many to question whether the police had declined to properly investigate the scandal because of Murdoch’s influence.
Critics argue that staff at the mass selling Sunday tabloid felt they were above the law as their boss and owner regularly dined with the prime minister and senior police officers.
Andy Coulson, a former editor of the tabloid who stood down over phone hacking, went on to become Cameron’s personal spokesman. He has since been arrested.
Murdoch, whose newspapers claimed to decide who won British elections, dismissed Cameron in just three words on Wednesday. Asked if, as reported, he had initially found Cameron to be lightweight, Murdoch replied: “No. Not then.”
While most British newspapers splashed Murdoch’s appearance at the inquiry on their front page, his own Sun newspaper reserved the news for page 10 on Thursday.
The Sun also printed an aggressive editorial about the government under the headline “Dipsticks”, a play on the fact that new data had just shown that Britain’s economy may have fallen into a double-dip recession.
“The Tory leadership are adrift,” the Sun said. “They muddle on, hoping something might turn up.”
“And indeed it might. If there were an election tomorrow, who could say Ed Miliband might not win it?”
The rival, left-leaning Daily Mirror tabloid pictured Murdoch with former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair with current leader David Cameron in his pocket, under a headline “Empire of the Sun”.
Murdoch was the first newspaper boss to visit Cameron after he took office in 2010 - entering Downing Street via the back door - and politicians from all parties have lived in fear for decades of his press and what it might reveal about their personal lives.
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